An Interview With Sarah Gavigan 

I recently interviewed music supervisor Sarah Gavigan about how to license music in commercials.  Sarah is a music supervisor who places music in commercials.  She's worked on thousands of projects and knows all about the world of licensing music in advertising.  Read and learn!

Aaron: Hi Sarah, I know you're currently working as a music supervisor for commercials as well as an educator about the music licensing industry, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to this line of work?

Sarah: My background is not a traditional one, I can tell you that, but I wonder if there is a traditional route? Anyway. I started out as a Talent Agent for Cinematographers and Production Designer in the Commercials and Music Video world. I owned my own agency and sold it in 2000. That was when I saw the need for Indie Artists and Labels to have someone representing them to Advertisers and pitching their tracks for potential licensing placements. At our height, my company Ten Music represented over 45 record labels worldwide.

So I guess you could say my background is in sales, with a major passion in music and connecting people to opportunities

Aaron:What are some of the projects you've worked on?

Sarah: Literally thousands of tv commericals. The best way to see my work is on my YouTube channel at So many brands and Ad Agencies, but every job is different.

Aaron: In my newsletter and programs I write mainly about licensing music in the context of TV shows and Films, can you tell us a little bit about the world of licensing music in commercials and how that differs from TV and film licensing.

Sarah: It differs in two very distinctive ways. First is the content itself. We are telling a story in 30 seconds, not an hour or two hours, so the song IS the story. We never use negative or polarizing music as brands only want to be associated with positive and motivating images and sounds.

The second way in which it differs are the types of people involved and who the decision makers are. In Film and TV this is very clear. Every TV Show and Film has a Music Supervisor. This is not necessarily so on every commercial that is made, so learning the landscape and the best marketing practices takes a deep inside look at the business to understand the rules of the road and where to find what I call "The Music Influencers."

Aaron: How much can artists make licensing their music in commercials?  I'm sure it's a wide range, but can you give us an idea of possibilities in terms of licensing fees and royalties for placements in commercials?

Sarah: You are right, it does range quite a bit and it ranges based on the amount of usage they are asking for. Lets say, for an unsigned, unknown artist, for one are some basic numbers:

Internet only license (say for a web film) - $2500-$10,000

All Cable and Paid TV - $10,000-$80,000

You can see it is much higher then film and TV and ranges quite greatly. We do much more negotiating then Music Sups do in Film and TV - our budgets are a little more loose dependent on the desire level for the track.

Aaron: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see writers who are trying to enter the world of commercial music licensing making?

Sarah: Making music for commercials is very specific. We are looking for songs that have distinct movement in 30 seconds, The formula is steadfastly; a build till around 20 seconds, a break, a pause and a payoff. Genres can vary, tempos and instrumentation can vary as well. The best way to learn what we are looking for is to watch commercials for the music!

Aaron: Should writers trying to enter the world of licensing write music specifically for the medium of commercials?  Are there parameters unique to the world of commercial licensing in terms of styles of music that tend to get placed frequently?

Sarah: Some people have music that is naturally licensable for ads. For others their music will simply never work for the medium, and they have chosen in thier down time to create a catalog of tracks that DO work for ads. I think this is a great way to run your business as a musician. The more you  write, the better you get. And a catalog with licensing history is worth money. The end game here would be to have a catalog that ends up being purchased by a publisher! It happens. Three things to keep in mind when writing for ads; lyrics must have a general theme that can apply to a myriad of emotions. Long intricate stories are a no no. Positive, and inspritational is great, but if you are emotional in your music, it must not be sad. Then lastly, follow the formula I mentioned above. Build, Break, Payoff.

Aaron: How do artists get started licensing their songs in commercials?  What's the best approach and who should they contact first? Ad agencies? Music supervisors? Someone else?

Sarah: First you need to evaluate if your music is appropriate for the medium. You want to have 10 tracks plus to market and you want to reach out to Advertising community based on very good research. There are distinct influencers all over the business, but they do not all hold the same title. This is specifically what I teach in my course. I show you the business from the inside and I teach you how to hunt for information that will help you find the Influencers and how to connect with them.

Aaron: What other advice can you share for writers who want to break into licensing their music in commcercials.

Sarah: Watch TV - the more you watch - the more you will begin to understand how an Ad guy thinks, and that is over half the battle.