How To Get Songs Placed On TV And In Movies
By Ari Herstand
Last weekend at the ASCAP Music Expo at the Loews Hollywood Hotel I attended the Music Supervisor panel containing 5 music supervisors who actively place music in film and television.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had about 30 TV placements (20 in the last year from my new record). I’ve gotten songs placed on high profile shows that are known for their music, like One Tree Hill and shows you’ve never heard of, where music is very much “background,” like Friendzone. And everything in between.
And I’ve also been 1 week away from having a song on So You Think You Can Dance. Contracts were signed. The only problem was, the contestant who was going to dance to my song got bumped. Balls.
There is no one way to get music placed on TV (or in film). In addition to how I’ve gone about it, I’ve spoken with many of my musician friends who make livings on song placements about this.
According to the Guild of Music Supervisors, the definition/role of a music supervisor is defined as:
“A qualified professional who oversees all music related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games and any other existing or emerging visual media platforms as required.”
Music supervisors are the actual people who take the cues from the producers and director when the “picture is locked” and underscore the picture with songs. The composer underscores the picture with original, scored compositions written specifically for that scene.
Sometimes (most of the time) music supervisors use the instrumental version and most of the time it’s just a small snippet of the song (however, now I have to brag a bit, One Tree Hill used all 3:43 of my song – words and music. But that’s very rare).
On the ASCAP panel sat Rebecca Rienks, who currently places music for E! (you know those promo montage spots that always seem to have Ryan Seacrest looking… Seacresty); Holly Hung, who primarily places music in film trailers; Jeff Gray just finished a feature film; Lindsay Wolfington (who placed me in One Tree Hill), mostly works on TV shows; and the moderator, Jason Kramer, is a music supervisor at Elias Arts, a music production company that specializes in original music composition and sound design for TV, films and commercials. Kramer is also a host on Los Angeles’ KCRW.
They rapped for just over an hour about what types of music they look for, day to day challenges (mainly dealing with producers who say stuff like “can you make this more purple?”) and showed us some of the spots they’ve placed music in.
“As long as it fits and tonally hits everything that it needs to hit, it doesn’t matter if it’s an indie band, somebody not signed, somebody just dropped, if it works it works.” – Holly Hung, Music Supervisor
Hung told a story about working on a trailer for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. She said they had a Coldplay song as temp music and she spent 3 weeks looking for a replacement for it. She scoured iTunes and found a band who had just gotten dropped by their label and the singer was currently working at Starbucks. She used the song and the band got $80,000 for the placement.
Getting Music To The Music Supervisors
As you can imagine, music supervisors get inundated with emails from people wanting their music placed. Be it musicians, licensing companies, publishing companies, managers or just fans of the supe (that’s short for music supervisor – and yes they have fans), supes can get overwhelmed and are very picky about HOW they will take submissions.
DO NOT ATTACH MP3s
There’s no correct way to get music placed, but there are a few incorrect ways. All supes on the panel said do not attach mp3s to an email. It clutters up their inbox and will go directly to the trash (and your email will probably get blocked).
How To Get Your Email Opened
Hung said to put who you sound like in the subject line. Like “Sounds like Coldplay.” Keep the body short and to the point and only send the songs that make sense for the project that supe is working on. So, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Do not send your tear-jerker ballad to Rienks who needs upbeat, fun, exciting music for her E! spots.
How To Get Your Song Listened To
In the email, include links to where the song can be quickly listened to (without having to be downloaded) where there is ALSO an option to download it if they want to use it. Also, directly below the song, include a link to the instrumental.
Wolfington mentioned that she loves Box.com. Box.com (unlike Dropbox) will open a window with a player and it has a download link in the upper right hand corner. Very convenient.
Do not include links to ALL of your music. Send the best 1-3 songs that will work for that supe’s current project.
If the supe wants more of your music, she’ll ask.
In the email, it may help to list a couple distinctive adjectives below each song or key lyrics. Like:
epic, explosion at end,
key lyrics: “I will find the artist inside me”
full wav: link to box.com
instrumental wav: link to box.com
And yes, always upload .wavs. Not mp3s. If the supe wants to experiment with your song in the spot, she isn’t going to want to have to REEDIT in the wav once she realizes it’s a low-quality mp3.
If you don’t have a publishing company, there are companies out there who solely pitch music to music supervisors. Unlike publishing companies, they do not own any part of your song. Similarly, though, they will not go hunt down your mechanical royalties around the world for you (like publishing companies will).
Some will take a back-end percentage of your performance royalties (like from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN), and others won’t. Some will work with you non-exclusively and others (the more established ones) will require you to work exclusively with them.
Typically licensing companies will take about 30-50% of the total sync fee and 30-50% of the back-end performance royalties.
All network TV shows have a budget for music. Most higher profile cable TV shows have a budget for music. Most reality shows have a very tiny budget for music and will not pay you for the placement unless they have to.
Network TV shows will typically pay $3,000+ (depending on the spot and your level of clout). Cable TV shows will typically pay $750+ and reality shows on cable mostly pay indie artists nothing. Movies, trailers and commercials typically pay the most: $20,000+.
But these are very loose numbers. I’ve heard of major label artists getting $30,000 for a cable show and indie bands making $80,000 for a trailer.
Before you breakout the pitchforks for the reality TV show producers, you won’t NOT get paid EVER for these spots, you just won’t get paid up front. Meaning, many of these shows will ask you for the rights to place your music for free, knowing that you’ll make back-end songwriter/publisher performance royalties from your PRO (Performing Rights Organization – ASCAP, BMI, etc). If you get a bunch of these kinds of placements, they can really add up. It just takes about 9-18 months to see that check, though. These shows also (to compensate for their lack of payment) do a decent job of maximizing the band’s exposure. Most shows have an entire music section on their websites that list all music from each episode with links to iTunes and Spotify and to the bands’ websites. The Real World also puts the name of the song and the artist on the screen while the song is playing.
So, it’s not completely free. It can be pretty decent exposure.
And hey, if you don’t want to let them use your song for free, there is no one forcing you to.
Also worth noting, you don’t make any performance royalties when the movies are shown in theaters. There’s no legitimate reason why. It’s one of those messed up parts of the music business.
Pay To Submit Companies
There are companies like MusicXray.com, Sonicbids.com and Taxi.com who charge you to submit to music supervisors (oh you also have pay to become a member) for consideration. Taxi.com openly admits that only 6% of their artists get some kind of deal (who knows how many paid submissions they already submitted). But one of the music supervisors on the panel (I’ll withhold who) when asked about these companies, said, “it’s bad business.”
I’ve never actually heard of anyone getting a placement through these services. If you have PLEASE post it in the comments.
You have to see it from the supe’s perspective. They want music from people they trust, like licensing companies, publishing companies and musicians who they have a relationship with. Not some service that pushes out music where the only barrier for entry is a fee.
How To Get In The Door
Now that you know HOW to submit, how do you know WHO to submit to? Well, simple, do your research. The first handful of placements I got were from watching TV shows, noting the kind of music they used, looking at who the music supervisor was (they’re always listed in the ending credits – or on IMDB), Googling a bit to find their email, and cold emailing. Actually, I tweeted Lindsay Wolfington my song for One Tree Hill.
They’re all mostly on Twitter too.
Above all DO NOT SPAM them. This is a quick way to get blacklisted and blocked. Be polite and respectful. Make sure your emails are short and to the point.
If you don’t get a response don’t think they’re not interested. Wolfington mentioned that she puts all of these emails in a folder and when she’s looking for music, she sifts through the folder. So make sure your links don’t expire.
If you want to find a licensing company, there are a ton out there. Google around for a bit. Ask your friends who have gotten placements who they use. Check the credits of films to see who the song is “Courtesy of” – if it’s not a label, it’s most likely the licensing or publishing company.
I get asked all the time who are some good licensing companies out there, and the fact is, I don’t know all of them. I don’t know most of them. I’ve worked with a handful of them and have a few now who pitch me (non-exclusively), but it’s pointless for me to share this information because then the few licensing companies I know would get flooded by your emails. Do your research and find the company that’s the best fit for you.
Getting songs placed on TV shows and in movies is a highly sought after part of the music industry. Some musicians make their entire income off of it. Many companies do exclusively this. Like any avenue in the music industry, if you want to do well, you must put in the time necessary to master it. You can’t blast out 50 emails to 50 music supervisors and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. It takes years of building up relationships, networking and trial and error. And again, DO NOT send out music that is not right for the show (or underdeveloped). That gives a bad name to all self-pitching artists. Every time a supe gets an email from an artist with shitty music or music that is completely different from what she places, she is less likely to open another email in the future. Don’t hurt your fellow independent musicians. Be respectful and be professional.