Tips for Evaluating Music Licensing Opportunities

We’ve looked at a ton of different music licensing services here at themusicsnob, and today’s tips on music licensing are a guest blog by Kevin Breuner, musician, blogger, and CD Baby employee. 

Licensing Companies – What to look for and what to avoid

This past week, I had a number of artists ask me about potential music licensing deals that they had on the table. The common concern was whether or not the deal they were being offered was legit. This is something that could be discussed in great detail on a case by case basis, but I thought I would give a few brief bullet points on some things to considerbefore getting involved with a licensing company.

Are they a licensing company or a music library? – The lines can be a bit blurry here, but a general distinction between the two is that a licensing company will pitch individual tracks, where a music library might supply clients with a searchable hard drive of music with thousands of tracks. In general, a licensing company will get higher fees.

What rights are they asking for? – At a minimum, you have to grant a licensing company the right to represent your music, but there can be varying levels of artist involvement for each placement they negotiate. Some contracts are pre-cleared(Meaning they don’t have to get the artist to sign off on each individual placement), and others give the artist the right of refusal before the deal goes through. Most indie artist will encounter pre-cleared contracts. Another thing to look for is if it’s exclusive or non-exclusive.

What type of placements do they typically get? – All licensing companies are not created equally. Most of them have areas of strength and weakness, so one company may be really strong on network TV, but not as great at getting songs placed in film trailers. Another company may specialize in getting music into video games. One thing to watch out for are companies that do a lot of bulk licensing deals that return little money to the artists they represent

What percentage do they take? – Fees can range between 20%-50% of the gross licensing fee, but it’s important to keep that in perspective. A small company that gets a high number of placements for you might be worth the 50% fee.
*Things to Avoid*
Don’t work with a company that asks for an upfront fee – They should make their money off of getting songs placed, not by getting you to sign up more songs

Don’t grant them mechanical rights – Some licensing companies will slip some language into the contract that allows them to release your music in album form and make money off of it. A standard sync license contract is pretty straight forward, but granting mechanical rights ventures into record company territory which is far more complex. This should be avoided at all cost.

Don’t permanently sign over any rights to the song – That would be more of a publishing deal, which can be beneficial, but it’s important to make a distinction between a publishing deal and a sync licensing representation deal.


Thanks Kevin for your guest blog! If you enjoyed reading his thoughts, check out his blog, and the DIY Musician Podcast he runs at CD Baby. 

12 thoughts on “Tips for Evaluating Music Licensing Opportunities”

  1. With a new album coming out shortly, I’ve been looking into licensing ops… and found another one to avoid:

    This licensing company insists that its artists not be members of a PRO (ASCAP, BMI, etc.), because “PRO agreements are exclusive”. (PROs are exclusive in the sense that you can’t join two PROs, but not in the sense of prohibiting you from licensing your music without involving the PRO.)

    Sounds to me like they want to limit their artists to folks who don’t know what they’re doing… smells like a songshark.

  2. Yeah, I would avoid that one. You may want to let us know what the name of it is, so other community members can check it out and see if it’s credible or not. Judging from what you’ve written, though, it sounds sketchy. It’s a good thing that you are proceeding with caution. Good luck!

  3. If someone asked you not to join a PRO, that would be a huge warning sign and a definite reason not to work with them. That’s just lost money for you.

    Kevin Breuner

  4. I’ve been totally unaware of all this stuff. Big ups dude, you’ve upgraded my brains to a better level. Thanx again

  5. What does “gross fee” include? Is the master and publishing aka “all-in” licensing fee, or is it just the master side?

  6. Mario+Hamwi
    Music is something that is beyond human characteristic likings and dislikings. It is liked by every one though its genre can be different. Some may like the classical music style or to some hip hop and rock style would be worth making a choice. Besides these there are several genres & different artist are available.

  7. Honestly, most music libraries themselves do not know how to effectively pitch their catalogs. Most libraries, whether non-exclusive or exclusive, will not help most composers make more than a few hundred dollars.

    Giving up the publishers share for placements is a thing of the past. A mediocre artist with 100 or more songs and a good hustle can market their own catalog directly to TV stations and film companies. Making 100% of the money is better than 50%. Most people don’t even get half anymore.

    Follow the money. The rest is easy.

  8. Mechanical Rights question – Just ‘green lit’ with Pump Audio and I’m reviewing the contract. Here’s the section on Mechanical License verbatim –

    “7. Mechanical License; Performance Royalties. Licensor hereby waives (i) any mechanical license
    fee which might otherwise be payable as the result of any use, including duplication, of all or a part of the Tracks by Pump or by any User in connection with auditioning of Tracks, and (ii) any performing rights fee which might otherwise be payable as the result of any electronic transfer or transmission or other performance or distribution in connection with an audition of all or a part of the Tracks to any User by Pump; provided, however, that nothing contained in this Agreement shall be deemed to constitute a waiver
    of any fee which shall become due and payable to the relevant performing or other rights society, such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or collection agency, as the result of any use of a Composition or Master by a User, unless Pump shall have issued a direct license with respect to any Licensed Song and related Master.”

    Am I waiving the actual Mech License or just the Mech License ‘fee’?

    Thanks for your help in advance

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