How Many Tracks Do You Need To Start Pitching Your Music?

Posted by Aaron Davison on Monday, July 18, 2016

Today’s blog is the second in a three-part series written by Gary Gray,’s Los Angeles based resident producer/engineer. This new blog series was inspired by a recent string of publishing and licensing deals -- not only for Gary, but for several of his students and clients.

For the last 14 months, Gary has been beta-testing a new curriculum for teaching the basics of Music Production for Licensing, and the results have been even bigger than expected.

In this blog, Gary lays out an important, yet elusive truth about producing music for licensing, uncovering the lie on top of it that stops many people from achieving lucrative returns on their music.

Over to you Gary. . .

Thanks Aaron!  In the last blog, I covered a technical area of mixing, and dismantled the lie, “Pay extremely close attention and keep your eyes on individual meters and fader levels and ‘headroom’ while mixing or quality will suffer,” and stressed LISTENING to your mix instead of watching your mix so much.

I also pointed out the importance of improving one’s knowledge of music theory as a vital tool in order to create recordings that can compete and win in the marketplace. In case any readers didn’t see part 1, I also included three brilliant resources for improving one’s knowledge of music theory, especially for anyone wanting to crack the lucrative end of music licensing.

Here are those links again for anyone who wants to immediately start improving the quality of their productions:

The Mugglinworks ChordMapMidi App

Today’s blog covers a simple but very important question: What’s more important when it comes to producing music tracks for licensing – Quantity or Quality?

This subject as well as other key components to producing music for licensing are taken up in great detail in the upcoming course Music Production FundaMENTALs, which will be released on the 22nd of July.

This blog is actually an excerpt from that 8-part course, with 10 videos, lots of photos, screenshots, pdf’s, and sample recordings – including mixes, masters and stems for you to mix per the instructions on the course, and reference mixes, masters and stem files of tracks that are license-ready – so that you’ll never again need to ask “What does ‘radio-ready’ quality mean?” Or “what should I listen for when I’m mixing?” Or “How do I get my tracks to sound like they should sound to get licensed?”

The course also includes the basics of how to put together a proper home studio from which you can crank out quality productions that increase your chances for landing licensing deals. 

Check out the trailer for the course here:

Alright, let’s get right into it. So, the question is: “What’s more important when it comes to producing music tracks for licensing – Quantity or Quality?”

Many times I hear this answer to that question, stated in so many ways:

Throw enough music against the wall and something will stick. In other words, the answer here is quantity. 

Actually, that answer is not wrong.

It’s the QUESTION that’s wrong.

The question is the lie.

Like so many areas of life, if you ask the right question, the correct answer will usually tumble right out at your feet.

The fact is, and the correct answer is that both quantity AND quality are both very important in music licensing.

A recent real-life example of asking the right question happened when I met face-to-face with Joe Rangel of Hitcher Music in Los Angeles.  

Founded in 2012 by Joe, a film & TV executive, and by music publishing and management powerhouse Pulse, Hitcher is an LA based boutique music services firm specializing in licensing, supervision, marketing and original music production. Beyond handling sync for Pulse’s roster of Grammy Award Winning songwriters, producers and artists, Hitcher represents major as well as independent artists, labels, publishers and management companies around the world. 

Joe’s background reads like the American Dream for any aspiring music industry executive. For 5 years starting in 1994 Joe worked in the mail room of Virgin Records.  From there he was promoted, and from 1999 to 2001, he worked as the Director, Music Supervision & Licensing for Mirimax Films/Dimension Films. In 2004 Joe became the Creative Director for EMI Film & TV. In 2006 he was promoted to Senior Creative Director. In 2008 Joe was promoted to Creative VP. In 2011 he was promoted to Creative VP of both EMI Music Publishing and EMI-Capitol Records.

To say I was excited about having a face-to-face with Joe is an understatement.

It just so happened that in the time slot before our meeting, Joe had scheduled a listening session with 12 independent songwriter/producer/engineers (some of them were only songwriters who had outside producers and engineers). I got there early, and Joe could see that his listening session was going to be a bit long, so he invited me in to observe. A fine example of being at the right place at the right time, for sure. 

Maria Gronlund, Grand Prize Winner of the International Music Licensing Contest, Joe Rangel of Hitcher Music and Gary Gray. 

Hitcher Music, unfortunately, does not take unsolicited material. It has to be either discovered by Hitcher independently (which they often do online), or someone connected with Hitcher has to bring your music to them. They don’t take submissions. And this isn’t because Joe doesn’t want to listen to it. It’s because they have to somehow smartly organize the flow of material that they do listen to, and they have to make sure that the people who claim they wrote and produced the material actually wrote and produced the material. They also want to make sure that the quality of the music production is up to competing in the marketplace.

In this case, these 12 independent songwriters each received an on-the-spot critique of their tracks. I can tell you this. Production quality was the number one subject. If the production quality was good enough, Joe wanted them to submit more. If it was under par for the industry, he politely let them know that they had more work to do, but that he wasn’t interested in hearing any other tracks from them at this time.

And some of the under par produced tracks were brilliant songs and instrumentals. Prior to 1999, a brilliantly written song or instrumental submission could get your foot in the door, regardless of production quality. In 2016, except for rare exceptions, the door opens when the production quality light lights up. It was fascinating to see that if the production quality was there, Joe was actually willing to help the songwriters with artist development and help them write even better songs.

Isn’t that interesting. Joe was willing to invest artist-development time into those individuals who had achieved an industry standard of production. He was willing to help them develop their songwriting skills, knowing that the result would be a long-term lucrative relationship for the artist as well as for his company – because their production chops were very good already.  

My job, on the other hand, which I love just as much as Joe loves his job, is to spend time mentoring and putting time into artist-development with songwriters who want to create industry standard productions, but who aren’t there yet in terms of industry standard tracks. When I do my job, I create artists who open doors at places like Hitcher Music.

So, a question was asked of Joe by one of the songwriters there: “I have one song fully produced. Is that enough for me to get started and to get a licensing placement, or should I have more than one fully produced track to begin with? I have 10 other tracks that aren’t produced as well. Should I present them as well when I’m shopping?”

Joe answered his question the same way I would have, with 3 very specific questions of his own: “How many tracks can you produce in the next 6 months that sound as good as your one fully produced track? How prolific are you as a songwriter AND a producer/engineer? And if you don’t produce your own tracks, how many tracks can you put together with your producer in the next 6 months that I could then shop?”

The songwriter answered, “I can put together 5 more tracks in the next 6 months.”

“Excellent. Do it.”

There’s a moral here to this story. Asking the right question delivers to your door the right answer. The right question really is this:

“How many tracks minimum do I need that are fully produced to industry standards in order to open doors and create momentum for my career?”

The correct answer seems to be “at least 6.”

But the hidden answer is ONE.

In other words, because this songwriter had at least ONE fully produced track, Joe Rangel of Hitcher Music was willing to work with him and to listen to more of his material.

Of course, if he had 6 or more fully completed tracks right there on the spot, Joe might have started shopping his material right away – as he DID do for several people in that room.

Joe further explained to the dozen songwriters in that room, all of them eating up every word, “The Music Supervisors and the Publishers and the Agencies that we work with at Hitcher Music are actually disappointed if we ever bring to them a brilliant track without at least 4 or 5 more right behind it. It’s too much work for them, and it’s also emotionally a big let down for them to put all kinds of time and effort into clearing and placing a track into a major film, a national ad campaign, a huge video game release or a national television show, and then move on to another source for music. They absolutely love the emotionally rewarding part of their jobs when they can help someone’s career. For them, it’s not just about placing that one song, that one track. Remember, these sups and publishers and agents are live human beings. This industry is, always was, and always will be a people business.”

And that brings me to the bottom line of this blog.

If you truthfully are not able to discern the difference between an industry-ready recording and a demo, then my advice to you is to partner up with a mentor, or a teacher, or someone in the industry who knows how to teach you how to tell the difference, and better yet, who knows how to create recordings to those standards with a current track record. Collaborate. Learn while you collaborate.

If you can tell the difference, keep studying, keep learning, find a Mentor if you can to take you over the top. That’s how I did it.

I have students all over the world who, while they are learning how to record, mix and master to industry standards, hire me to produce their tracks in the meantime so they can start shopping those tracks now. If they can’t afford that, they just put their nose to the grindstone and work very hard as students until they can produce tracks to that quality. My job is to help them take the time out of the equation by teaching them effectively, so that they can achieve industry standard recordings in a matter of months instead of years.

And the sequel to the story is this:

Even though it seems to have very little to do with producing quality tracks, the concept of quality, if missing from your communications to supervisors, publishers, labels and agents (as well as to your fellow collaborators), can make everything you work so hard for, fail within a sentence or two.

We often deal with written communication when pursuing our dreams in music licensing. Emails, texting, IM’ing, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  If you take as much care in creating your messages and emails as you do with your music, you will go a long way. Being polite, using appropriate positive light humor when called for, sincerely helping the other person when you can, keeping your word, going above and beyond, keeping communications as short as possible but still thorough, using spell check – these points of communication quality are really just as important as the quality of your music.

And if you CAN nail own face-to-face meetings, the same applies – but even MORE so. Keep your cellphone on Airplane Mode and engage in a professional and friendly conversation.  This industry is built on the foundation of relationships. If you work just as hard on your business relationships as you do on your tracks – you’ll find yourself succeeding more and more.

More than once, I’ve seen people submit brilliant tracks, only to be ignored and even shunned, losing the opportunity after they were rude, or sloppy or irresponsible.

So, keep the pedal to the metal on both Quality AND Quantity – and you will go far!

Here’s to Masterpiece Mixes!

Gary Gray

Los Angeles

17 July 2016

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