Licensing your music into films is a great extra income stream for independent artists.
As with any other aspect of the music business, you have to go through the learning curve and networking process. My experience with film licensing, just like everything else, revolves around whom you know. Your first (or tenth) licensing deal probably won’t be the next Hollywood blockbuster, but that’s ok. There are a zillion independent films that need and want your music. No, you won’t be immediately rich and famous from having a song in an indie film, but you will probably get paid, and you’ll get some good exposure. Remember, a good ling music career is not built on one big hit. It’s built on a series of small projects and successes building to bigger ones, and, of course, multiple streams of income.
With that in mind, independent films are a great place to start. So where do you begin? Well, listing sites like Versus Media, Film Music Network, and Taxi is a good place to start, but it’s hard to rely on a steady income from people you’ve never met. Also, something I’ve learned recently from a couple of music supervisors, is that follow up on your package is not required, nor particularly appreciated. So you really are relying on your package and your music being picked out of the pile. However, the listing services will give you access to projects you may not have known about otherwise. They are, therefore, a good investment.
An even better way to hook into independent films is to go out and meet film people. As musicians, we tend to get stuck in our own little world. Hanging out with musicians, going to music workshops and events, etc. You must take your product to the people who need it instead of waiting for them to come to you.
A great place to start is Indie Club. This is a worldwide organization of independent filmmakers, actors, crew, and everyone else. Find your local chapter through the IndieClub.com website. It’s free to join. Where I am, San Francisco, we have the country’s largest chapter. Join their discussion list and introduce yourself as a music artist. Go to their meetings and get-togethers. When I went to my first Indie Club meeting, I was one of two music artists in the room. The cries of “We need you!” were not just the voices in my head (this time). That room full of independent filmmakers was looking for good music that they could license and still stay within their budget.
I scored my first licensing deal within an hour. Two songs in the same film, one I’d already written, the other to be written specifically for the movie. My tactic was simple. Ask them about their latest project. They’ll be happy to tell you about it, I assure you. They’ll ask what you do. Tell them, but don’t exaggerate. I explained that I had not yet written for films, but just came to see where I fit in. This particular filmmaker then explained to me that he couldn’t find a particular song for this one scene he was working on. I told him I’d be happy to custom write it for him. And there it was. I was being paid up front to write a song. How much? I received $100 for the new song, $50 for the previously written and recorded one. Like I said, you won’t get rich off of these. But hey, $50 to let him use a song that I’d paid for long ago is free money to me.
For the new song, the director arranged for recording time at the local recording arts school where his sound editor was studying. This was fortuitous, and not necessarily normal. Most other projects I have to record myself. Because I kept the copyright for the song (which you should always try to do), I was able to release the new song on one of my future CDs, which put more money in my pocket. There are that multiple streams of income again. And, as a topper, I was able to perform at the premier and sell more CDs there as well. I got all that just for showing up to a meeting and talking to people. I made a few other deals at that meeting too.
So the moral of the story is to just go where filmmakers are and talk to them. Besides Indie Club, I’m sure there are other film clubs and organizations in your area. Find them and make yourself a part of them. Get to know everyone, and you have your tunes in the movies in no time!