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  • Writer's pictureRandy McGravey

Music Licensing: Expectation vs. Reality

This post is geared towards newcomers to the music licensing/sync licensing industry. Today we are talking about common expectations and myths compared to the reality of the business. This isn't meant to discourage anyone, as I am heavily involved in this business and personally love some healthy competition!

Expectation: Writing 1-2 tracks a week can earn you full time income in this business

Reality: This is highly unlikely! VERY few composers make their entire living composing production music. Those who do, are likely recording multiple full albums worth of music each month. For most people, after a handful of years licensing music you can make some decent side income. Since payments are often made several quarters (or years) after music airs on TV, it can take a long time to start seeing some decent money. Also, libraries sometimes take months or years to publish albums. Even with lots of music output, don't expect to earn a living from it for at least 5-10 years.

Expectation: Getting one TV placement will earn you hundreds or thousands of dollars

Reality: While this is definitely possible, it isn't the norm. Most TV placements pay somewhere between pennies and $30. A decent placement might pay $100-$200 for the first airing. The best paying placements are things like the Super Bowl, commercials on major networks, international commercials, and other highly watched programs on major networks (CBS, NBC, FOX). Some placements pay nothing or almost nothing (channels like ESPN, HGTV, QVC, Food Network, Scripps Networks). Earning a living in this business is absolutely a numbers game. I'd say you need at the bare minimum 1,000+ unique tracks (not counting edits) to earn a living.

Expectation: I'll record my tracks and have someone else mix and master them

Reality: YOU need to mix and master your own recordings. Learn as you go if you don't know how. If you pay someone else to do this you will surely lose money and waste a lot of time. YouTube is your best friend for mixing and mastering tips and tricks. Read some mixing books, experiment with mic placements, learn about mastering terms. You will learn what you like and what doesn't work. These are highly valued skills for any musician anyway.

Expectation: I'll submit all of my music to a bunch of non-exclusive libraries and hopefully get a ton of TV placements

Reality: TV placements are rare on your typical Royalty-Free, subscription and other non-exclusive websites. They are possible and I've had a few, but the real TV libraries are usually exclusive. Royalty-free sites are more for YouTubers, wedding video editors, college students, etc.

Many newcomers are afraid of giving their music up exclusively to a library because "the music could just sit there and never get used". This is possible, but in my experience I get a lot more usage from exclusive libraries than non-exclusive. Especially when dealing with major players (Warner Bros, BMG, etc.) you should see usage from all or most of your tracks. Some tracks can place dozens or hundreds of times! Just be weary or newer libraries that aren't established and could just be someone like me or you who started them with no connections.

Expectation: When my music is licensed my library will email me and congratulate me and tell me where the music is being used

Reality: Libraries almost never tell their composers about placements. This would be a highly tedious effort on their part, and would distract them from their actual job: pitching your music. You can sign up for the website Tunesat to track your music for TV usages. This website isn't foolproof, but can at least get you excited about some of your placements. It also helps to anticipate PRO payments. The other way you can find out about placements is to receive the royalties from your PRO.

Expectation: I can just string together some loops and stuff in Garageband or create beats with all purchased samples and have success licensing them

Reality: This is a dangerous practice! Most libraries and music supervisors won't want to go anywhere near samples. Samples can trigger false positives on websites like Tunesat and Soundmouse. You are very likely to run into some copyright infringement cases (early on) in your career and could potentially be blacklisted from a lot of entities.

The best thing to do is create your own sounds with live instruments or by heavily tweaking pre-recorded samples and never using pre-canned loops. You also don't want to use the same drum track (for example) from a previous track you've done, as this can also trigger false positives if your tracks are signed with different libraries. Start from scratch every time you make a new track.

Expectation: This business is so saturated that I will never be able to achieve success

Reality: Success is always possible, but it can take a lot of time and there is a lot to learn. If you can consistently create high quality recordings that are useful for sync, you will get there. Be different than the generic stuff that you hear. Spend more time on one track instead of trying to rush through 20 a week. The best tracks you've heard most likely took a decent amount of time to finish. Invest your earnings into new software, instruments, microphones, interfaces etc. This will take you to the next level (but don't go overboard with the gear to the point where you are losing tons of money). Believe in yourself and be patient!

Special thanks to Ra Zarita Blanco-Reus for suggesting this topic! If you have a topic you want covered, please leave a comment below.

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