How to get your music licensed!

This guide is a summarised and edited version of How to get your music licensed for films, TV, and beyond - by Josh Briggs, Terrorbird Media. The full article is available at

There’s more quality television, film, and video games being released now than ever before. Even ads have come to resemble short films, sketch comedy, or micro-blockbusters in order to keep antsy viewers from clicking ‘Skip Ad’ at the first sensation of boredom. These days, there are more authentic, diverse stories being told than ever before - and all authentic storytelling requires great music. So if you’re a musician you should know that wherever you hear music paired with a moving picture, there is money to be made in the form of sync licensing.

In this guide, we’re going to talk about how that’s done, how you can get in on the action, and what to expect along the way. If you make good music and want more people to hear it, read on. You can make money. Exactly ‘how much’ you can make with sync licensing is a moving target, based on factors we’ll get into - just know that effectively licensing your music for syncs can be a career in and of itself.

First things first: How do I know if I can license my music for syncs?

To start, you need to know what you control. Every time you write a song and record it, two copyrights are born: the lyrics and melody that make up the song, i.e. the composition; and the recording of that composition, i.e. the ‘sound recording’ or master.

If a TV show wants to put your song in an episode, they need to license BOTH the composition and the master. Even if you own both, they need to license them both separately, and pay you for the rights to each. SO... what is a license, exactly?

A license is a limited granting of certain rights for someone else to use something you own - in this case, a song. The vast, vast majority of licenses (sometimes called placements or simply syncs) are limited and are non-exclusive. That means you’re not signing over the copyright (i.e. ownership) to a production company and you can license the same song to a different thing, often simultaneously.  

We often refer to the copyrights being licensed as ‘sides’, meaning the master recording on one side, and the publishing (the composition) on the other. At Lolly Box Music our entire catalog of music is ‘one-stop’ which means that a production company can license both ‘sides’ directly from us – greatly simplifying the licensing process. Similarly our artists grant us rights to both ‘sides’ of their songs via our artist agreement.   

Get help, or help yourself

Now that you’ve decided that you’re interested in sync licensing, it’s time to choose your own adventure: Do you go it alone, and try to drum up interest in your music yourself? Or do you enlist the help of a record label, publisher, or third-party licensing agent like Lolly Box Music (or one of the countless others out there)?

Music supervisors - i.e. the people out there whose job it is to find and clear good music for films, ads, etc. - are a world of gatekeepers. It’s not (usually) about ego, it’s simply their job. They aren’t making mixtapes for their favourite movies, they’re managing a budget, and weighing the needs/whims/desires of a client/producer/director against the needs/whims/desires of every record label/publisher/artist/manager, and finally, against their own creative input.

Pitching your music without help is tough. But it’s possible. Music supervisors tend to be some of the biggest music fans in the world, so if your music is out there and gaining some recognition on its own, they may already know who you are. Additionally, there are plenty of reliable online resources you can use to get folks’ contact info (IMDbPro, Songwriter Universe, music supervisors’ own websites, even LinkedIn or Facebook). However, not all music supervisors will accept or respond to unsolicited submissions. This means if the music supervisor didn’t ask you for your music, or they didn’t send you an email directly saying, “We’re looking for any songs you’ve got about alien invasions,” they may just delete your email if you send one. Straight up. Or ignore it. Some music supervisors get literally a thousand emails every day, meaning they wouldn’t be able to do their job if they answered them all. So they simply don’t.

If you want to enlist some help, third-party licensing agencies like Lolly Box Music are great places to start. While Lolly Box Music is a Publisher Member of APRA/AMCOS, our artist agreements are 'sync only' so you always maintain ownership of your music – and we don’t have any long-term lock-in clauses. In fact the terms and conditions in our artist agreement are specifically designed to encourage artists to join us with the lowest possible risk. We’re simply looking for great music!

We get daily submissions through our website and it’s the music that means the most to our decision-making process. The music should be well-produced (that can still mean scuzzy garage rock, or super-slick pop — it should just be appropriate for the genre, and not sound like you did it all in GarageBand), and have some kind of ‘hook.’ That hook may be lyrical, or musical. Maybe it just sounds good or fills a hole in our catalog. One way or another, it needs to be memorable so you stand out amongst the rest of our roster. Most importantly, for us to send anything to a music supervisor it must be a finished, professionally mastered recording!

Help us to help you!

It’s impossible for us to keep every song in our catalog in our heads, so we rely on our catalog database to find and shortlist songs for a particular show or brief. And to find those songs we search on metadata tags – genre, sub-genre, style, moods and keywords. Therefore, the more metadata tags you can provide with your songs, perhaps via a separate metadata sheet with your submission, the better chance there is of your song being found when we need it. We also index and search all our lyrics sheets so that’s another great way to get found – so please upload a lyrics sheet for each song!

Any songs you submit must be Hi-res, mastered audio, not MP3s (we’ll make our own). This is because hi-res audio is what productions need to make sure it’s high enough quality for broadcast. We accept WAV or AIFF file, but AIFF files do have the advantage that, unlike WAV files, they retain metadata. That means if we share your file with someone else, when they open it in iTunes, they’ll see more than just a song called ‘file name’ - they will also see your artist name, and most importantly, our contact info so they know how to license it.

Instrumentals are crucial in sync licensing. Get them printed and mastered when you get your record mastered. That way, they stand up to other mastered instrumentals in a pitch. It also gives a music supervisor a better shot at getting your vocal version to stick if they need to mute your voice while characters are talking.

Disclose any samples, cover songs, etc. Say it with me: “There is no hiding a sample.” It doesn’t matter how small, obscure, chopped, and/or screwed it is—if someone else might own part of your composition or master, you need to make that known. If you can make your music without samples, do it. If you do not disclose a sample, and go on to license that song, you are committing copyright infringement and can be sued by the rightful copyright owners. They can also sue just about anyone involved with the license (a music supervisor, production company, studio, etc.), for each instance of infringement.

And finally, if you’re a member of a performing rights organization (a PRO for short; that’s APRA/AMCOS in Australia), you’ll get performance royalties every time the thing with your song in it airs on TV or is streamed around the world for the life of your copyright. So make sure you join a PRO, register your songs with them, and keep your contact info up to date with them so they know where to send those royalty checks.

In summary…

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably also been making music for a while now, with varying degrees of success. And you might be wondering if there’s a place for your music out there in the world of syncs. Regardless of genre, if you’re an independent artist, chances are you’re either making music that’s ahead of the curve, or you’re on your own trip entirely. Lolly Box Music was created as an indie sync agency for indie Australian music, so if you think sync licensing is for you then we’d love to hear your music!

This guide is a summarised and edited version of How to get your music licensed for films, TV, and beyond - by Josh Briggs, Terrorbird Media. The full article is available at
Josh Briggs is the General Manager, West Coast & Head of Publishing for Terrorbird Media & Terrorbird Publishing in Los Angeles, CA.