Writing For Music Libraries

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How much music should I have online, and should I have different tracks in different libraries? Can I even do that, or do the libraries want my tracks exclusive to them?

Its a mixed bag with a large number of libraries wanting different specifics to there deal. Some prefer all tied in exclusivity whilst the rest can happily work with non exclusive music. Should you have music spread among varies libraries?? Absolutely, and this is the key to ensuring longevity when writing for varied markets and making sure you cover a wider base as possible.

Each library/agency, will be shooting for certain clients and some are very specific honing right in on there core strong performers and this is a reflection of what we as composers. You recognize the performing, money making areas and ‘adjust’ your focus from the responses and trends you see appearing in the market.

Having the ability to sell non exclusive clearly gives you added mileage to your work but you will find the exclusive deals more lucrative as one off deals upfront can really make a big impact on your immediate situation as making money from library music is no easy talk by any means! Its a calculated play on what you think will sell and sell again constantly making a small revenue stream against that one off deal that secures bigger money upfront over a finite period. I have several libraries i work with and you adapt to there needs, there system of working and what specific market they are tailored for.

For example, you may find one library agency has a strong ‘band’ or ‘live’ element to there client base.A lot of teen and music network commissioned shows use a great deal of these cues which are always thin on the ground when directly compared to ‘out the box’ home studio vst tracks. So effectively, your mind set has to perfectly hone in one each library.

A lot of these big network clients do specify exclusivity for there shows music.They really don’t want to switch on the box, flip a few channels and here the same cues placed elsewhere. Some of the bigger cable networks also work this way and prefer an identity to there final output that isn’t being diluted by the same work heard elsewhere.

In some cases the network and/or show supervisor works with several shows, has there deal with the library where they can licence a bunch of cues and drop them into the show that suits.So they like to have the exclusive take on a batch of cues they sign up for.

 Say I co-write something with someone else and we want to put it on AudioJungle or a similar place. Who does the accounting? Do they send us both a check or does one of us need to act as “accountant” and pay the other when the check comes in? How do we structure the agreement between the two of us as partners on the cue?

Audio jungle is a royalty free enterprise, that is to say, the client can pay for one of two main set licence deals where licence one gives them a certain amount of coverage and application and an extended licence basically means it can be used for anything from tv/movie placement, advertising etc at no extra cost to them.

Audio jungle is a perfect example of having a catalog of cues you can constantly sell over and over on an unlimited basis with either an exclusive rate which is around 31% or exclusive authorship approx 50% take on the final fee which is determined by track duration, package deals and special promotions.

Most people who write for these agencies especially AJ as a perfect example, often work as a solo composer, producer and therefore what you end up with is your pot to keep. Nothing submitted to AJ can be registered with a performing rights organisation. hats the whole point of how its run, so splitting any earnings in this instance as about as simplistic as it gets.

The account registered, lists in detail each cue and how much it has sold, on what month etc.The stats aren’t  fully comprehensive, but sufficient to establish how to divide payment if you do work as a partnership or larger team.

With tracks submitted to libraries where your tracks are registered to a PRO, these cues are tagged and depending on the library, meta tagged although some remove this meta data and replace it with there own.The agency i work for as my main concern, tags all the cues and registers them etc with BMI in my behalf.They do this as my publisher for these exclusive works. Such deals vary from 50 to 100% publishing so by all means try and grab those elusive deals where you retain all writers share and then scoop as much publishing as you can. Be sure to register with your PRO as a self publisher or that cash pot will stay on the table or be consumed by your agency. BMI charge around 150 bucks to register whilst im told that ASCAP do not make a formal charge for this registration. Other PROS my vary.

When you do co write music with another party, you can specify in writing to your agency the full details for you both including PRO member number and determine the split of your writers share. Asssuming you have settled for a 50/50% split of writers share, it need not become any more complex than it needs to be.

If its a collaborative album where several composers on the team submit a few tracks each, again, these will be registered and assigned to your membership account details.So if its entirely your cue on the next Inception trailer, then its your 100% share.

Any side ruling to this working relationship that specifies a split regardless, requires a very precise contract and a good lawyer.

Its worth reminding folks that having people session for you isn’t the same as a co writing credit and everything needs to be firmly established upfront before this cue is registered etc.If you come to an arrangement with a session player that there guitar riffing or sax solo is paramount to the core of the cues identity and/or motif, then this session has now morphed into a potential co writers cut.When you involve any session musician or  co writer, leave no detail unsaid,unwritten.Get it down and signed!

What should I have in place as a business entity to start writing library music? Should I “incorporate”, start an LLC, or be a sole proprietorship?

If this is something you are merely dabbling with  or testing the water in regards to selling your music for the first time, i would personally give it time before i committed into any specific means of representing yourself financially and as a official entity/brand/company etc.

The art of writing this music is quite a tricky beast to tame and some days you cannot get anything close to those given briefs and pitchs while other weeks will see you hitting a home run cue after cue.You need to get some solid returns and some evidence that this is something you will see yourself investing a great deal of time and expense over.

This is exactly what i did and road i traveled. I was working full-time doing a regular job and in those stolen spare hours, i would write library cues and create some sets.Lets say, 10 full on Die hard esque action cues, trailer cues,dramedy and more advertising friendly material etc.I would submit for various briefs and even cold calling on established libraries to garner some feedback on overall production quality, usefulness etc.

There came a point where these cues stared to sell by the set too.And the requests came in thicker and faster as they were being picked up,signed,placed and aired.

So i sat down with a good accountant and showed them everything in my world on the table in black and white.

Due to the amount of work i have been doing, my partner takes on a lot of the administration duties,helps look for new work for me, makes sure im doing everything i need to at the right time.Basically my wife is my live in PA!

So it was beneficial for me to start up my own company under my name.This gives a lot of breathing space financially as a company compared to a sole proprietor .Being a limited company provides a great deal of legal buffering.As such you are not liable, your company is.You wont lose your house, you can lose your bunnies etc.

You cannot be sued, the company can and on it goes.And depending on your forecast for potential earnings that you have hopefully gathered over a 6 month+ period, this can determine if a company status can serve you much better with returns and tax breaks.I would also like the freedom to know that if i chose to expand what i do now and possibly take on several composers and form a small production crew, my company is in place,my education as to how to run a company grows daily and trust me, you need as much business savvy as you can get.Listen and don’t be afraid to ask a LOT of questions if you know a legal eagle or live next door to an accountant or financial advisor drinks in your local bar.Be sure to thank them and buy them a few beers!

 Do you pay attention to current trends when writing? How do you strategize for the highest potential usage for your catalog?

Yes and yes!!

Researching your library/agency is probably one of the most simple but overlooked strategies there is.99% of those big library companies like to brag about who there hooked up with.Its a two way street as they want strong composers batting for them, and the whole world to know all those big client names they have under there belt. Its as competitive as you imagine it is.

Trends and fads are transient.They can last a few months,in some cases a year to 18 months and just rarely, a fleeting passing phase.But study and break down everything you hear.The structure, instrument choice, tempo,melodic content or lack therein and understand what is selling over and over again. Writing for popular big selling trend cues means working very fast.And none of this stuff is going to have a life span like more safe, tried and tested staple music thats used regularly .You need to get a batch of this music and hit the ground running.

Places such as Audio Jungle which we mentioned before, is a perfect proving ground for this. When i first signed on ,all i did was listen to the top authors who had sold several hundred of a certain cue.

Sometimes there is just a feel or a magical combination of sounds etc that just works.So break it all down and almost become a little analytical of it.To a degree it helps.It enables you to see inside the machine and what all those cogs and gears do.And then start hitting this yourself.

I know that when i write for certain genres, that some are always going to be reliable and sell.The most popular are the tension/action cues and the comedic quirky cues.But as safe a bet as they are, a 1000 other composers are also playing it safe in your back yard.So you then end up with a saturated market and a genre specific issue.

So trends can be for that short duration, your ploy to stick your head out of the crowd and break in.

I  have around 600 cues in my catalog and i would say over 2 thirds of those are signed and published.All of those bread and butter cues will always find a home at some point.Its a continuous steady stream of traffic and due to the rate of placements ive been lucky to get, ive benefited from having a solid reliable reputation.

So your odds of your catalog being ventured into become greatly enhanced by this.Its pure common sense.If your someone who comes up with the goods time and time again, your catalog becomes the most important thing you have.

This is why i write at high volume.Your standing and reputation plus the ratio of placements based on this, means your batting average is greatly increased = more fluid returns over and over.

The way to make sure you do get placed over and over?? Listen to the brief, if your not sure and need more info, ask and ask again.Research as much as possible to placed cues that are in this ballpark.Again, break it down and understand the basic mechanics of why they do work and go for it.

When you start getting briefs that you do nail, you have a happy boss,happy show clients and you move yourself into the prime spot on the shop floor.

Same principle as when you walk into a big chain shop and the good stuff is eye height on the best shelves with all the promotion around it. Thats effectively you and this market place.

If you sell often and your reliable, you move closer to the front of store and get more exposure,more chance of pitching for the bigger gigs.

If you aren’t selling well, you can end up further back in that store, less fuss being made of you and a bigger fight to climb back into the selling region you come to crave and love! 

How do you approach potential libraries runners and what is a good “pitch” strategy for someone like me who is unproven in this field?

The overall factor that’s sometimes a much bigger one than the music itself, is charm and approach-ability.

If your nice to speak to,communicate with, from the first talk, your on a good road.No one likes working with a smart ass regardless of how good the music is.You wont get a chance to prove how awesome your music is on screen and how much money it will make everyone etc, you wont get past the first post.

If you have no previous history this is not a big an obstacle as you would first imagine. Other peoples perception of writing music for tv for example, is as mixed bag but most assume your making phenomenal money left right and center and flying across the world every other day no matter what level your on in this work.

But its really not like this at all when your looking to leave the starting blocks.Its much easier to break into than you would appreciate.The shows being produced per week are countless, the amount of pressure the show producers are under is insane, deadlines are cut throat and relentless.

So if you submit some cues to a music supervisor or agent who deals with a lot of libraries as a mediator, and it happens that your music is what they need for the next episode of XXXX factor, that’s your ‘in’

It can be as simple as that. I work now with several library companies and each of them are very different in how they work and how an approach worked ‘for them’

In one instance, it was pure timing. I scoured the net for opportunities and someone was asking for music for a Discovery network show. A type of tension cue was needed. Well i know i had a ton of them and they were literally just sitting there doing nothing.

I had nothing to lose by submitting to this guys email.I was very polite and i kept it short and professional. Your not begging for the chance, your not so high and mighty that they owe you a meeting or a car outside your door either. You just take a shot.

I get an email back within 5 mins and was told they would pass these cues over to the library who in turn green-lit these to submit to the music supervisor for the show. He loved the cue and wants 10 more just like it.

And bingo, out of the blue comes an ‘in’ They had there backs against the wall, you appeared with 10+ cues that fill the brief. So you get asked again for other briefs.

Hopefully you have continued to do your homework and researched similar shows. So you write again and fingers crossed, some of these cues are picked up.

One of the other ‘ins’ for me was a composer already signed to a library and recommended me to them. The owner asked me to call him at a set time so that’s what i did.

We hit it off within seconds. I kept it short and sweet and just relaxed. hats the worst that can happen?? So just be friendly, be yourself. When you do get to meet or phone these guys, make the most of it.

Nothing comes across via email but when you meet or talk, you do get that shot to be charming! So use this for all its worth.

We came away with an agreement,im happier with a new additional place to home my cues and you move forward.

I think one of the worst pitch strategies you can employ is writing a lifeless generic email and copy and pasting this into everyone very full inbox.Not being personable, knowing nothing of what they do, what they need etc.To mind mind that is a pretty statistically challenged route.

But keeping your ear to the ground, looking for those chances and acting upon them appropriately are much, is a much more effective system of practice.

Have a very great looking website that’s very easy to use and make out on all platforms. All your mobile and tablet based platforms. Everyone is looking and listening on the move.So make sure those web based audio preview sites are working!!! That the quality of good enough for audition purposes and that navigating your site is a pleasure and not a chore. Don’t feel the need to over animate or clutter what your trying to show off.

How fast do you like to browse and find solutions???? Its the same for your client/library.Why should they feel any different?? If your name above the door looks messy,too busy and half of it doesn’t work, its not a great first impression and i personally wouldn’t be fighting my way through this to find your music etc.

Can i make a living from just library music alone as my main source of income??

Again, this one of those questions that has no definite yes answer that will work for everyone.It just has too many variables and too many people writing for libraries to say with any certainty that this is something you can invest ALL your working hours and see the returns you need to survive day to day.

Music libraries going back 2 decades, were not buckling under by the sheer volumes they are now.The crowd your fighting with is 100 fold than it was all those years ago.

The typical home PC is now powerful enough to get you into a basic position but guess what?? This now accessible to everyone down to the 16 year old with there dads home PC a midi keyboard a few plug in vst sounds a lot of which you can find for free these days.

So you will need to work harder than everyone else, produce higher quality music than the next guy, be more committed, be more focused,do more research and want it more.

If you have an edge or an angle you have a added asset not everyone has.You pay live guitar and you can sing,you just cut down your competition in half in one swoop.

As good as any virtual instrument or sound set is, its not as gritty and real and organic as the real deal.So if you can play more than one instrument, you have a big arsenal of places you can go where others don’t and when they do, they only sound half as good as you do.

Not only does this work you more desirable with a lot of genres, it means your chances for greater earnings as vocal cues,theme tunes and foreground cues make a lot more money than a fleeting 10 second background instrumental.

Make sure you become fast and proficient and that you don’t go to pieces when your asked to do more than 3-4 things at any given time.Be very flexible with your time and your attitude.

If someone does want that extra mix or a Mongolian hairy yak version of a cue you spent all night writing, then do it.With all the edits and 30 – 60 versions b morning.

Make all those sacrifices. If you need to invest in better tech, then somehow you need to bite the bullet.It means you can take on the next gig and be armed for future encounters.

A lot of libraries do not pay anything up front.This can be simply the budget for composers, the project/show your writing for is extremely limited and paying everyone to pitch is not going to happen.

Your looking to get 100% of the back-end royalties and getting those placements as often as you can.

Sometimes and in some cases which i have done myself, i have sacrificed more of the back-end on the basis that i can gain a lot more placements by sheer volume and there fore credits than waiting for the bigger better deal and none of my music is being used for a long long time.

I might be able to get 100% on the return but ive had to wait months for my catalog to be raided and those few elusive cues placed.

So i play across several knowing all there methods of working and frequency of placement etc according to the shows they facilitate, and rates of pay.

Making a sole living from this is brutal.You don’t get to drop off the face of the earth for 2 weeks on holiday, you need to be highly competitive and ultimately take the knocks as they come and move forward.

It can take a few years to get the material to bolster your catalog of works, making extra contacts and establishing a good reputation with those you hook with with.

I have been very lucky to some degree as i write for a up front money as one stream,royalty free for another,and just royalty returns for others and i keep them all moving constantly. You maintain what you build.So it is a constant environment of creating opportunities, maintaining what you spent all that time building and striving to be better, faster and more on the ball than the next guy.Using non exclusive libraries is another strategy in that once you have say, 100 solid cues, you can then upload these to dozens of places, all registered to a pro and all sitting there waiting to be licensed. Most non exclusive libs don’t pay upfront at all, Its rare so be warned.

But most do give you your full writers share and some offer a chunk of your own publishing which you should pursue as 150% of all available monies, can REALLY add up!! .The down sides i have noted are the sheer saturation of this kind of work plus a lot of networks and shows like brokering exclusive deals, blanket deal arrangements thus ensuring they have a pool of cues no one else has.

What makes a good library cue? And should i write in one style only, or is varied the best approach??

You have to take into account the wide base of library companies and for which segment of the industry they are aiming to breach.TV placement music isn’t the same market place as a movie trailer promotions company, and its also not the gaming audio sector either, despite the fact that sometimes these areas have been known to overlap.

If your writing music aimed for TV, then as i have outlined previously, you would need to research heavily into what is selling and by whom.

If you have begun to forge a relation ship with a library company, then you will be aware of who there client base is, what type of cues are common for them, what they need for certain show types and also the type of custom work you will need to undertake.

I never write blindly for any library music.There is always a reason im doing it.I never write in the hope that it ‘may’ be useful and may get picked up for some odd show scene.Its just totally counter productive to write for no purpose at all.

So find out what people do want to hear, what the production companies are hot for right now.

When you get yourself established with a company that is servicing the needs of lots of big shows, you will then start to get a number of briefs for needed cues.They can be as vague as ‘give me some mid tempo tension,no synths, play it straight’, you might get a lot of detail about the show and a rough idea of where that scene is going.

You rarely get to see any visuals as your not scoring to the show, you making the incidental music that allows it to progress and move.

A good library cue from all i have learned, is one that either doing every single thing the supervisor,producer wants, and/or you have a format that allows for easy editing and multiple applications, not just for that show, but for future shows and episodes.

No one likes to hear a minute+ of long winded intro.It doesn’t help propel the cue.Most of which can be placed for as little as 5 seconds right over a minute and onwards and everything in-between.

The cue needs have a intro means of bringing you gently into the content, then show them your theme, make some development,variation and move forwards with this, nothing overly messy and busy.

Break the cue down, and finally send it home with a strong developed main theme with a nice strong no messing ending!!

If the cue is picked up and the show requires it to be shorter,longer,instruments replaced, etc etc, then they will let you know! And quite possibly this process will carry on and on into the night as you re write,tweak and perfect the cue to there needs.Quite often you will say to yourself, ‘this would work better my way’ but the bottom line is, your not paying, they are.

So learn to separate yourself and your art, from the world of placement music.It is a commodity and it isn’t going to be awarded any Academy awards or Baftas etc.Its functional for the most part, so a good cue is one that adheres to all these staple trends and has the potential to be placed over and over.

The standard for a finished cue is very high.The audio quality of critical and you simply cannot ‘busk’ your way through hoping that no one will noticed the grainy effects or lack of production values.

All your competitors know this and so should you.The typical master format i use to deliver my files i exporting to a 48k 24bit file in Aiff format. AIFF is common place in most editing suites and allows seamless integration into those mostly Apple based applications.I have been asked to print off masters at a number of file types so expect to see a lot of requests in equal measures for the trusty Wav format.

48k is the broadcast audio rate for US tv.So i was informed a year ago, it doesn’t appear to phase anyone if you master down to 44k as they can convert to 48k with little to no loss from there end and at no extra time expense.Its clearly more professional and advantageous to get all these details right if you want a long working relationship with these networks and present your work in a professional and concise manner.

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