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  • Writer's pictureRandy McGravey

5 Years in the Music Licensing Business: Sharing My Experience

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

I've now been writing production music for 5 years, and I'd like to share some of my experiences, successes and struggles. It has been a slow climb and the business has changed drastically over the last few years. Luckily my 5th year was my best yet and I expect that to only increase!

Early Years 2018 - 2019

I spent my first 2 years mostly working with non-exclusive and Royalty Free sites. I don't consider this wasted time, because I was able to play around with different styles and see what I was good at. I also drastically improved my mixing and mastering skills and composition quality. Had I started out working with exclusive libraries I probably wouldn't have been accepted to many based on my track quality. I was also less willing to give up my rights on an exclusive basis.

In 2018 I think I sold 2 tracks on Pond5 and that was it. In 2019 I started selling quite a bit more on various non-exclusive sites. Unfortunately several of my top earning NE libraries at that time went out of business, or transitioned to a subscription model. My top earner that year was the now-extinct Getty Images Music aka Pump Audio.

In 2019 I also struck gold with a non-exclusive track that happened to land on a UK commercial. This is definitely NOT the norm, but was very encouraging for me. I started getting decent PRO royalties every quarter from late 2019 until early 2021 for this commercial.

In 2018 I would say I composed about 50 tracks. In 2019 I think I composed more like 100 tracks.

Mid Years 2020 - 2021

Starting late 2019/early 2020 I realized that the Royalty Free and Non-exclusive library scene was going downhill. Most libraries were participating in the "race to the bottom" with their subscription pricing, and lots of composers were pricing their tracks for literal pennies! I made the decision to start working with exclusive libraries.

When working with exclusive libraries, lots of them wanted full albums of one particular style. I started creating these albums (1-2 per month) and sending them around. Some of them also sent out regular briefs, so I wrote custom music for those opportunities. The exclusive libraries are where I started to see TV placements via Tunesat and my PRO statements. It does take some time to receive royalties from TV placements, so I was patient.

Once the TV placements became semi-regular, I decided to work with exclusive libraries for almost all of my stuff. Occasionally I still do non-exclusive tracks if there are briefs, or if I have a track laying around for long enough I'll just dump it into some NE sites.

During these years, and even now, I write about 150-175 tracks per year.

2022 - Now

Now it feels like I am in the Sophomore/Junior Year of my career in a way. My PRO statements are consistent and slowly/moderately increasing. I have a lot of tracks out there and I am able to gauge how well each library does with my music. With this information I can curb my efforts towards working with the good libraries, and avoiding the lesser ones.

I realize now how lucky the early commercial placement was with a non-exclusive track (especially considering that I received the writer AND publisher shares). Now it is a numbers game, and more placements equals more money. I continue to write for exclusive libraries, which has become my preference.

For those of you who are "afraid" to sign exclusive deals, check out the information below.

TV Placements Per Year

Year 1: 0

Year 2: 1-2

Year 3: 25-35

Year 4: 100+

Year 5: 250+

Earnings Per Year

Best: 2022 (PRO royalties and library sync fees were the best. Previous year's placements started paying well. RF sales still exist, but aren't as frequent.)

2nd Best: 2020 (PRO royalties were a lot due to 1 commercial. RF sites were still good.)

3rd Best: 2019 (Commercial hit the ground running, non-exclusive libraries for me were in their hey-day.)

4th Best: 2021 (Transition from RF sites to exclusive libraries had a lag due to the royalties being largely from PROs. RF sales became lower and less frequent. This was still a good year though, especially for international PRO royalties.)

Worst: 2018 (Obvious reasons, I had 2 RF sales.)

On paper, it looks like there was a slump for 2021, but I consider it a more transitional period. Luckily I anticipated the decline of RF sites and started working with (exclusive) TV libraries. Most RF sites pay monthly, but for exclusive libraries the royalties take longer to come in. These are the reasons for the slump (even so, it was only a few hundred dollars behind the next best year).

I should mention, probably 98% of my tracks are instrumental. I am noticing more of a surge in vocal tracks lately though, and will curb my efforts towards that market. The vast majority of my music is recorded with real instruments (I play guitar, ukulele, banjo, bass, etc.). I recommend playing to your strengths, regardless of what style you play.

In this business you need to be:

  • Patient

  • Competitive

  • Talented

  • Creative

  • Able/willing to mix and master your own music

  • Able to put out lots of music every year

  • Willing to sign exclusive deals (my opinion)

  • Able to change and adapt to the industry

If you aren't this kind of person, this business is definitely not for you. There is nothing wrong with doing it as a hobby, but to earn a living takes a long time and a lot of effort. Best of luck to everyone out there. Let's make 2023 the best year yet!


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