Six Tips to License the Song You Want

by Philippe-Aubert Messier

This is the first in a series of posts offering tips and advice on licensing music for brand content. Why? Because you’re worth it. No silly. That’s not why. It’s because if you work in this industry you know the headaches that can come from trying to license the perfect track for your project. Dealing with publishers and labels is usually no picnic. Most publishers’ offices are understaffed and their licensing departments are no exception. These days they are typically 1-3 person operations managing all sync licences for enormous catalogues. Licensing agents have very little time to process each request and your project is just one of a dozen getting treated that day. So you need to use the little bit of time and attention you receive efficiently. And I’m not saying your project isn’t the greatest project in the world, of course it is. It’s simply because there’s a very finite amount of staff to tend to and approve the flood of licensing requests that pour in every day.

By following these simple tips you will put yourself in a much better place from the get-go when reaching out to publishers or labels, no matter what your budget is.

1- Make The Time

Smaller publishers and labels are often not used to advertising turnaround times, and are often not very well organized. In some countries it could take weeks just to get to the right people. In France and Germany, because of the so-called “moral rights”, authors and composers must personally approve every request, which will often prolong the process. These are just some of the many factors that can derail a licensing project if the proper amount of time wasn’t allotted. Make sure you give yourself as much time as possible in order to avoid frustration.

Plus, you’ll actually get to negotiate a better price because your back won’t be up against the wall.  Generally speaking, the less money you have, the more time you’ll need. So when U2 comes up in the brainstorming session for your charity spot, read the rest of this post, and get to work.

2- Have a Plan B, or C

You can kick and scream all you want, some people just don’t care and won’t licence their music. Producers should insist on getting a couple of plan Bs or Cs from their creatives. Producers with backup plans move on to the next idea, while those without manage tantrums. Which one do you want to be?

3- Know exactly what you want before reaching out

Confirm the terms with your team before putting in your request. If it’s still an early stage project ask for more media, more territories, and a longer time than what you think you need. The reason for this is that it’s way easier to subtract than to add. Any add-on or change you make to the initial proposed terms (like adding a cutdown or internet streaming), will invariably lead to an increased fee by publishers and labels. However, these same ‘peripheral’ needs might not necessarily affect your quote if they’re bundled together in the initial terms.

4- Be Specific (and use our template)

Leaving out any one salient bit of info is enough to have your request shelved for days or weeks (publishers are busy don’t forget). Use a form, or checklist, to make sure you’re not leaving out any important information. Here’s mine:

unnameddownload my Sync License Request Template 

5- Propose a Licensing Fee

You can save a lot of time by offering a reasonable fee in your initial request. This will anchor the negotiation or will often be accepted as is. Plus, if you work outside of the major ad markets you’ll save the licensing agent some head-scratching trying to figure what the placement is worth in your patch of land. I should note that this works if and only if you have a general idea of what an acceptable fee would be. If you have no point of reference then you would benefit from working with a music supervisor, such as one of Canada’s finest, Laetitia Lebedeff.

6- Provide Options

Thinking of a second cycle? A full year? You will often get a better deal if you package everything at the onset. If you don’t lay out all possible options you can say goodbye to that tiny little bit of leverage you may have now. Media crossover options, renewals, whatever you have in mind, put it down in your initial request as different options. And by the way, the standard practice for renewals is original fee + 10%.

With that, I would like to wish you the best of luck in getting your dream song. If for any reason you can’t we’ll always be here for you with awesome music that is ready to go. In part two of this article we will take a look at some things to avoid in order to get fast replies from publishers.