Producing Tracks For Licensing – How To Raise Your Odds For Success [Part 1]

August 13, 2019

[Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a two-part series by Gary Gray. Here, Gary breaks down his ‘Secret’ for increasing your odds of licensing music when you apply the right production techniques and business savvy. Stay tuned for part 2!]

Music licensing, it has been said, is the new radio. It was radio airplay in the 20th Century that led to ticket sales and record contracts. And now, in the 21st Century, I would say that licensing is not so much the new radio, as it is radio’s new power partner.

Radio is still alive and well – especially considering the millions of music fans who commute to work every day, starting and ending their day with an abundant dose of their favorite radio station(s). Licensing, however, is becoming more and more potent in its power to catapult musical careers up the ladder of success.

Behind the scenes, most indie artists do it all: Live Musician, Studio Musician, Producer, Engineer, Social Media Hound, Entrepreneur and Studio Owner (Home Studio).

Per every major online survey to-date, indie musicians are extremely interested in earning additional income and prestige by getting their music licensed. For touring bands and solo acts, licensing can also lead to ticket sales, mega streams, and even record contracts.

Here is, by far, the biggest question I receive regarding music licensing:

Question: Do I need to know/do something different when producing tracks for licensing opportunities?

Answer(s): Yes (and No). 

What Does Licensing Your Music Mean?

When you license your music, you are basically leasing a copy of your recorded music to a company or an individual for an agreed-upon rate and for an agreed-upon time period. There is no one standard agreement for licensing. You will find many variations.

Before reading any further, remember this statement, “You will find many variations,” because this statement holds true for many areas in the field of music licensing.

When I first started studying this subject, I had the idea that music licensing was a non-moving target, a subject with fixed standards. Boy, was I wrong. I felt so confused and ignorant and embarrassed about my lack of knowledge regarding music licensing as a producer, that I would quietly walk away from any social discussions on the subject. 

As I was saying, there is no one standard agreement for licensing.

A finalized licensing agreement depends upon what both parties bring to the table, and how well one negotiates the terms of the agreement. Some agreements involve getting paid up front, as well as getting paid on the “back-end” (royalties). Some are set up where only royalties are paid, with nothing paid up front. Some agreements are set up where you actually sell your rights to the song as part of the licensing agreement, while still owning the underlying creation.

Some agreements are negotiated in such a way that the entire song itself (the underlying creation) as well as the copyright and the master recording are sold, while still allowing the seller to earn back end royalties. And in some cases, agreements are reached where the entire song, all the rights, the creation and the recording are all sold in a lump sum with the original creator eligible for no money whatsoever on the backend.

And to add to the theme of “many variations,” there is the ever-growing world of beat makers and beat licenses. This is a fascinating sub-category of licensing music which has its own vocabulary and its own business models. To find out more about this evolving entrepreneurial and cultural phenomenon, make yourself comfortable and turn your phone off for a few minutes.

In the past, licensing your music meant that you created a song or instrumental track, and then did what you could to try and get your music used by companies who needed songs, featured music, or music as accompaniment mainly for cable television shows, radio ads, network television shows, television commercials, and films.

That list has now expanded to apps, online audio ads, online video ads, YouTube videos, cable television shows, radio ads, network television shows, online news reel videos, television commercials, trailers, video games, overhead mall music, restaurants, virtual video games, gadgets, greeting cards, robots, toys – and in a separate category, all on its own, we will place beat makers and beat licenses.

And the list is growing every year, which is very good news for you.

Levels of Licensing

A discussion about “getting my music licensed” can become way too general, and this overly generalized view of licensing can lead to huge amounts of confusion, as well as effort, time and finances invested into an activity yielding very little actual return in your pocket. It is important to note that there are several levels of licensing. These can be differentiated by:

a) Media
b) Use
c) Income Potential

Here is a graphic showing the various levels of licensing:

The “Levels of Licensing” Chart lays out a hierarchy of quality of product, challenges and rewards for anyone seeking to make money from licensing their music. Translated, that means that even the raw beginner has a chance of getting their music licensed on the lower rungs of the ladder: apps, online ads and cable television.

Ever listen closely to music under dialogue on most cable television shows? It’s not easy to do. Because it’s under dialogue and it’s not very loud. The quality standards of licensed music on cable television shows is not the same as music in a trailer, major network television ad or film soundtrack.

So, as you increase your knowledge and application of music composition, songwriting, arranging, recording, editing, mixing and mastering, your income potential also increases.

A Heart-to-Heart

Let’s have a heart-to-heart talk on what exactly raises the odds of you getting your music licensed, especially for lucrative exchange.

I’m going to talk only about producing your music and how to produce it specifically for licensing opportunities — and that is the most important thing that will raise your odds of getting your music licensed.


I could go on for pages about the technical and musical tricks and tips that will help raise your odds of getting your music licensed as a producer (which I AM going to cover in this article, don’t worry). But it would be irresponsible of me if I neglected to point out the real-life day-to-day reality of how music licensing actually works behind the scenes, and what the real priorities are in order to raise your odds of success.

The latest track that I recorded, mixed and mastered was done for 20th Century Fox. This track was then licensed to a chain of resorts and is currently in heavy rotation on major network television. I’m an indie musician just like you. I recorded, mixed and mastered this track in my one-bedroom home studio. I have so far made more money on that one recording than on the first 50 tracks that I licensed on cable television, YouTube videos, radio ads and video games. You can watch a 30 second version of that television commercial here.

I have no fancy gear. I have learned (and teach) how to use your ear, not your gear, as a priority when you mix. I have developed a revolutionary series of music production ear-training exercises (that are done WHILE you mix). I’ve also developed 23 revolutionary A/B’ing techniques which can help anyone create consistent broadcast quality recordings.

So, production, while absolutely being extremely important, is actually the fourth out of four priorities when it comes to raising your odds of success with music licensing!

The Secret

Here are the four priorities, in order, that if understood and followed will absolutely raise your odds of music licensing success. Guaranteed.

1. The Human Factor

2. Organization (DAW, Paperwork & Networking)

3. Contracts and Contract Knowledge

4. The Music

All of this is covered in detail in The Lucrative Home Studio Online Masterclass.

1. The Human Factor

Anyone starting out, as well as any seasoned professional, has a very good shot at getting their music licensed, provided the person has a great attitude, is concise and professional, and makes themselves consistently valuable, useful and helpful to the music community – one individual at a time.

This number one “golden rule” applies both to the internal facing world (the studio) and the external facing world, such as while networking and transacting with libraries, publishers, music supervisors, artists, potential collaborators, etc. 

The Human Factor is so vital to earning a lucrative income through music licensing (and on any job!) that it cannot be overstated.

A True Story

I was recently ASKED to submit my music so it could be licensed on the show NCIS. NCIS has been the number one television shows in America for 10 years now. I had never submitted music to the show before, and yet, here I am being asked to submit my music.

How did this come to be?

It was The Human Factor.

It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that there are living, breathing humans, just like you, behind each one of those email addresses and texts. We are normally stuck in our home studios working feverishly to somehow produce as many license worthy tracks as possible, with one hand on our laptops, managing social media sites and sending out emails. 

As a producer, the best thing you can do to raise your odds of success in licensing your music is to, whenever humanly possible, network face-to-face with people. Ideally, this means in the same room. When that’s not possible, it would be face-to-face on Skype or Zoom.

The Story

I decided to finally meet face-to-face with one of my client’s publishers several years ago, after being invited to an informal meeting. It turned out to be one of the top publishers in LA. While there, I did what I try to always do, and what I teach my students to do – I didn’t force music down the publisher’s throat and didn’t talk about what I needed. I simply asked in so many ways, “What do YOU need and want? How can I be of help to you, to lighten your burden? Is there anything I can do to be of assistance to you?” If you are persistent and use what I call the smiling bulldog approach (persistent and friendly), you will get that question answered. Once answered, try to do one thing: deliver.

The answer I received in that meeting? “Gary, I really need help with RYTMO.”

“What’s RYTMO?” I asked.

“Reaching Youth Through Music Opportunities. It’s a non-profit that I helped establish and I’m always asking people to help and so few do. It’s very close to my heart and extremely important to me.”

That’s all I needed to hear. We spoke very little about music licensing. And a lot about RYTMO.

I ended up volunteering there for more than a year. On purpose, I didn’t call back, I didn’t give the publisher a progress report, I just kept volunteering. I knew it would get back to her sooner or later. I wanted to “pay it forward” as they say.

The result? I have gotten many licensing placements on CBS on shows like “The Young & The Restless,” international ‘overhead deals’ (malls, stores, restaurants), and cinema lobby deals in the U.S.

My tracks are industry standard quality, yes. But so are many, many, many other people’s tracks. When people say network and establish relationships, I say do so on steroids!

Go way above and beyond in helping those around you. The secret here is WHO you choose to help. Help those people who are in a position to help you. It’s not that other people don’t deserve to be helped, it’s that there is only one of you and you have a family to feed, rent to pay and a career to maintain and expand. Help those people who are in a position to help you.

Now, whenever I send in music to that publisher, my music goes on top of the pile. It’s The Human Factor.

What About NCIS?

Oh yeah. NCIS, that’s right. Well, one day I was asked to volunteer and drive some RYTMO students for a field trip. I rearranged my schedule and drove four students to a location in Los Angeles. The location turned out to be the post-production soundstage for NCIS. I ended up spending a full day with the number one post-production crew in LA, being invited to sit with them and ask any questions I wanted, while they mixed an episode of NCIS.

I learned more that day about music licensing than the previous three years combined! And, again, I asked what was needed and wanted. In this case, they wanted detailed feedback on several aspects of their work, and I happily obliged. And now, my music will be placed on top of that pile as well. 

Gary Gray (under the “N”) with the full post-production team of NCIS at CBS Studios.

You see the pattern here?

The Human Factor (face-to-face) is by FAR the number one priority for you as a producer when it comes to raising your odds of getting your music licensed.

Ed Note: Be sure to catch the next installment in this two-part series, where Gary will dive deeper into the three remaining elements of his “Secret”!]

Gary Gray is a Voting Member of the Grammy Recording Academy; a Two-Time Telly Award- Winning Producer, Arranger, Mixing and Mastering Engineer; The Author of The Home Studio Bible, and creator of the online Masterclass The Lucrative Home Studio

Tags: DIY featuring licensing mastering production recording sync