The Biggest Mistake Songwriters Make When Licensing Music

Posted by Aaron Davison on Thursday, May 21, 2015 Under: May 2015

Let’s consider a scenario.  You spend several months writing your best album yet.  You have an amazing batch of songs that you know are going to make an impact on the music industry.  So you spend another few months saving up enough money to record your album and get your songs to a level of quality that will be competitive in the marketplace.  You record your album and go into debt in the process, but at least you have a great album that’s ready to marketed and you’re confident that you’ll be able to license a few of the songs.

So you spend the next few months shopping your CD around and sure enough you find an interested publisher who signs several of the tracks and is confident they’ll be able to license your music on your behalf.  So what do you do next?  Well, if you’re like a lot of songwriters I know you probably buy a bottle of champagne and decide to celebrate.  You deserve a pat on the back you think, after all you’ve put a lot of hard work and effort into getting this far.  But, wait, not so fast…

The reality is that at this point you’re work has just begun.  Think about it. You’ve spent thousands of dollars recording your music and you’ve spent several months writing, recording and marketing your music.  You’re on the right track, but the reality is you haven’t made a dime yet.  You’re still in debt and from a business standpoint, you’ve yet to turn a profit.  This is where the real work begins and where the rubber needs to meet the road.

See, writing and recording great music is, unfortunately, only half the battle.  Signing with a great publisher is a great next step, but until they actually make you money, well you haven’t actually earned any money from your efforts.  This is why I recommend songwriters and musicians take a more diverse path when it comes to licensing and monetizing their music.  You need to have a game plan that will allow you to recoup your initial expenses and see a profit.  If you’re in this to be a professional musician, you need to think like a business person.  Business is all about cash flow.  You need to have more money coming in than you have going out to stay in business.  It’s that simple.  Any scenario other than this is simply speculation.  It’s great to bet on yourself and hope that things will work out, but I’d rather devise a strategy based on something more concrete and tangible.

The Solution

The solution to the problem of cash flow for musicians is diversification.  You need to take a diverse approach both within the niche of music licensing and with your approach to monetizing your music as a whole.  Music licensing is a great way to make money, but the whole industry is set up in a way that it takes a long time to actually see a return on your investment.  Licensing music is more of a long term strategy for building up passive income.  In the beginning, you need to have other revenue streams that will allow you to earn money more quickly, either from a “day job” or through other revenue streams related to music so that you’re not worried about getting paid from your licensing projects.

For example, while you’re waiting for licensing deals to pan out you could also be setting up revenue streams via Itunes and Youtube with the same songs.  You can obviously do things like perform and teach music that will bring in enough revenue to meet your basic, immediate expenses.  Making a full time living from music is more than possible, but it’s not as straightforward as many professions where you get a steady paycheck.  You really need to create your own opportunities and make sure you’ve created enough revenue streams from your music to create the lifestyle you want to live.

(See my videos, “How To Make $50,000 A Year Teaching Music” and “How To Make $60,000 A Year Working 25 Hours A Week As A Musician” for more ideas on how to supplement your income as a musician.)

Within the niche of music licensing, you need to be pro-active and not rest on your laurels.  If you sign your music with a great company that’s awesome.  But as soon as that happens you should start thinking about other projects you can license your music to.  If you’re pro-active enough, long enough, you’ll start to build up a residual income stream that is consistent.  But don’t make the mistake of signing one or two deals and then laying back and slacking and just hoping things work out. 

Like Alec Baldwin said in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always Be Closing”.

In : May 2015 

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