By Ed Teja
In response to my blog A Songwriter’s Marketing Strategy, Muhammed Babajide commented that he had written a number of songs, and then asked: “are these songs good enough, and if they are who would my contact be at the library? What do libraries use them for and when do I get paid?”
There are several important questions here, and the answers might be appropriate for a number of readers, so I thought I would take a break from my planned topics to answer them. In the course of thinking them through, I developed some generic rules that should lead you to your own unique answers, the same way music theory should lead you to creating your own songs. I’ve provided some links to other blogs in this series because together they provide a fuller picture.
1) Are the songs good enough?
Actually this winds up being two questions, because there is the issue of the quality of the song itself and then one of the quality of the recording. I recently had a track rejected by a very fussy library that told me they thought the track was great but that they didn’t like the playing. Fair enough. Other folks loved it.
As I mentioned in the blog on The Seven Steps to Songwriting Success, you can use critiquing services to determine if your songs meet commercial standards (“good” probably isn’t the issue), as long as you can let the person doing the critique how you envision the song being used. Don’t send in a Hank Williams tune in and ask if the reviewer thinks Alicia Keys will sing it. You need to know your market. (Read the article for more ideas.)
As far as the quality of the recording itself goes, the best thing you can do is listen to the music samples on the sites of the music libraries and compare. Do you measure up? If you lie to yourself, it’s no good. If you don’t like the kind of music they have, I’d skip that library (different strokes for different folks and all that). And don’t be afraid to try songs out to test your judgment of how well they fit. For both parts of this question, the rule is:Get to know your market. That means study the music you are competing with.
2) Who would my contact be at the library?
Some of this you will find in the blog on music libraries, I wrote a short time ago. If you go to their web sites, the contact information is usually there. If it isn’t clear, there is usually some kind of info@…. email address where you can ask. But the contact will be a catalog manager, or sometimes a music supervisor. The title doesn’t matter. The important part is directing the song to the person they ask you to send them to, in the format they ask for. Some libraries want mp3s (to start with), or they may ask for a CD, or a link to your web site. Here is the rule for this question: However they do business is the right way to do business with them.
3) What do libraries use them for?
The real answer to this question is that libraries don’t use them at all. Libraries, like music publishers, find homes for songs. They are the connection between you and television, movie, video game, and video producers who need music. Some libraries come out of one of those industries, have good connections, and know exactly what their clients want. These tend to be very picky, and if you haven’t worked in those industries, you have a lot to learn before you will consistently connect.
Some libraries are more generic. They look for what they consider good music, and try to promote themselves as a source for it. Their success is less consistent, they probably generate less income (for you as well as themselves) than the higher end libraries, and both their catalog and client list is broader. This translates into more opportunities for composers and songwriters trying to break in. The rule that applies here is: Start with libraries that deal with the same kinds of clients you could deal with yourself if you had the contacts.
4) When do I get paid?
Unfortunately, the answer here is complicated and best summarized as “it depends.” Libraries collect license fees for the use of your music and split that with you. A 50/50 split is common, but there are other ratios as well. Some libraries register your song under another name (see the article on retitling) and collect the publisher share of the performance money as well. There is no standard practice here, and what passes for standard changes constantly as libraries, like publishers and record labels, try to sort out the rapidly changing music business.
In general, you will paid your share of the license fee shortly after the library gets paid. How long that is after a deal is made depends to an extent on the accounting practices of the client. Get a big movie deal and they might string you out a bit to use your money for a little longer before they pay up.
The performance money payments depend on when the client files the cue sheet, when the video is aired or sold, and the reporting cycles of your PRO. In other words, until you have a lot of music in that pipeline, don’t hold your breath or run up your credit card.
So our last rule is: Don’t spend it until the check clears.
Written by Ed Teja for Insider Music Business
The Hit Music Academy | 2010
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