Composing Production Music - 3 Year Update
Updated: May 10, 2021
Hello production music composers and aspiring sync composers! I've been composing music for TV, commercials, sync, and stock music sites for 3 years now and wanted to share my experiences so far. It has been an exciting ride, though it is sometimes difficult considering the changes to the industry. I also experienced a really hindered motivation during the rough times of COVID-19. Below I will try to summarize my experiences from each year.
Year 1 - I threw myself into the ring! I had a decent home studio and started composing one-off songs almost every day, mostly for non-exclusive stock music sites like Pond5, Getty Images and AudioJungle. It was fun, creating new tracks and learning a ton about mixing, mastering and creating edits. The first year yielded maybe 2 or 3 sales on these sites for a grand total of less than $100. As a hopeful musician, I really believed that things would pick up, so I kept creating and building up my catalog. I look back at this year and I'm really glad I started this way. If I had gone straight to submitting to "big libraries" my quality may not have been good enough, and potentially I would have been black listed.
Year 2 - This is the year I started to earn semi-decent money on a monthly basis. I upgraded most of my studio gear and revamped my home studio, which took my productions to the next level. I was selling 3+ tracks a month on non-exclusive sites and usually making 3 figures a month. My music was booming on Pond5 and Getty Images! By this point I had over 100 tracks, plus edits. About halfway through the year, the tides shifted in the licensing world. A lot of stock music sites either went out of business, lowered their composer splits, or went to the subscription model. If you are a composer, please DON'T join subscription-based music libraries! They have basically destroyed the non-exclusive market, and pay composers pennies per sale if you are lucky.
I was still earning reasonable amounts per month, but decided to shift my efforts towards exclusive libraries, which often specialize in music for TV and other high budget projects. I began writing full albums of certain styles of music, as well as music for briefs. This was also fun, and I began to get a lot more efficient at mixing (I started using templates). By the end of the year I had probably 50 tracks signed to exclusive libraries. And the most exciting news of the year was that I got my first TV placement! It was from a non-exclusive track that was used in an ad in the UK (to this day I still don't know the product or anything about it, other than the channel that it aired on). I found out because I received a decent backend payment from my PRO.
Year 3 - This is the year I started writing almost "exclusively" for exclusive libraries. I had also gotten some albums accepted to some of the big boys (Universal Music, APM)! In the first 6 months I got maybe 4-6 more TV placements. I started to see the fruits of my labor! By this time I had also established a decent amount of quality connections, which is important to me.
And all of a sudden, halfway through the year I started to see consistent placements every month, for a variety of uses. The biggest placement was a cookie commercial in Norway which aired over 100 times in one month. Most of the placements were in Europe, but maybe 30% were in the US. My bottom line also increased, and the one UK ad that I mentioned from year 2 earned me 4 figures over the course of the year through my PRO! I probably got 30 placements in year 3, and I am seeing a steady increase in the beginning of year 4.
Other Notes - As anyone who joins this field should know, you have to be patient! Some of my albums have taken a year or more to be published, and it takes at least 9 months to get paid from TV placements. I am a member of over 30 libraries, and through trial and error I have found which ones work for me, and which ones don't. There is not one library that will work for every composer, so find the ones that work for you. If you really want to compose music for sync, don't get discouraged and don't sign any bad deals (never give up writer's share to someone who didn't write the music)! There are plenty of libraries with fair deals out there, and lots of unfair ones popping up every month.
Most of my music is "background instrumental" music, though I also compose vocal music. Some of the styles that I've had the most success with include classical guitar, commercial ukulele stuff, Hawaiian, and rock. I find out about most of my placements by using Tunesat. The rest I usually find out about when I get paid from my PRO.
The most helpful resource for me has been Music Library Report. It features music library reviews from experienced composers, as well as other forums. The Facebook group "In Sync: Music Licensing Forum" also has a great community of composers and is very motivational. You can get guidance for this field of work, but I never took any sync courses or anything. I believe that the best way to learn is by doing it!
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