How to Actually Land Song Placements in TV and FilmMay 27, 2023
Here is some boring but hella important rules on getting your music into TV/Film followed by actionable strategies to make it happen! These rules may seem a little eye roll and obvious, but if you're getting one of these slightly wrong, it may be the reason you're not landing placements. If you really want to do this and make this happen, you can, but I'm gunna give you the real tough love you might need to start making serious gains.
1. Make outstanding music that competes side by side with what already is on TV
2. Do your market research to stay current and consistent
3. Have strategies to pitch your music the right way
If you've been following me on social media for a while then you probably gather that my biggest passion is helping singers generate great income with their voice. What I'm LESS passionate about is teaching them how to get their music sounding amazing, but because it is absolutely necessary to get this part down which is why I created two courses on exactly that. For those who don't yet know how to record themselves from home there is the Learn to Record course, and for those who need to level their recordings up to industry standard there is the Professional Vocal Production course. If you click on those links they'll lead you to the free versions to check it out :)
So starting with rule number 1,
it seems obvious, but yea you need to have a good product to sell! Have you ever put your song on a playlist next to other songs that have gotten used in TV and Film? Or songs that have been on the radio? Listen carefully and what do you notice? Is there room for improvement in your mix? Did you tune your vocals (this is 100% mandatory and is usually the biggest offender when people run into 0 placements)? Tuning vocals is sometimes stigmatized as meaning you can't sing well enough. But look, that is false. If you do not tune your vocals and want to compete with professional grade music, all it means is that your music sounds unprofessional.
If you're still building your chops when it comes to mixing and mastering, consider a couple resources as an investment in your own career. Hire a mixing engineer who will agree to give you a copy of the session when it's done, so you can convert this mix into your new mixing template. This is a major cheat code. Some engineers may turn you down, and that's fine, respectfully don't hire them lol. A second resource to consider is buying a template from a mixing engineer who sells them as a digital download. Make sure you purchase one that is made in your DAW.
Maybe one reason your song isn't up to par is because your voice just isn't a fit. You could be the best songwriter, but just not have a commercial sounding voice. When this is the case, consider co-writing with a singer who does have that kind of voice. Of course you can always hire a singer and pay them outright so you can keep 100% of your royalties, but collaboration is always a great way to not only get the song to its best potential, but to also bring in buddies who will help pitch the song.
So here's your first homework assignment. Of your catalog, pick the best 3-5 songs and get those songs totally up to industry standard, even if it means investing in hiring help to get it there. With these 3-5 amazing songs, you have something to showcase your abilities to potential new collaborators. If you don't have these epic songs to play for people, people might not want to collab right? From here you can build on your catalog. Try working with producers who can also mix, or singer songwriters who can lay down the vocals if it's not you. Shameless plug, I do this all the time for people - you can hire me to record your song for you, just shoot me an email to [email protected], recordings start at $350 :)
I want you to make it a goal to figure out how you can get to a point where you do not need to hire anyone to finish songs though. So that's why I encourage using collaboration and buying templates to help you become self sufficient.
Moving on to Rule 2: market research and staying consistent.
You gotta be aware of the trends if you want your song to sell trendy new Nordstrom threads. And yes, what's hot on Top 40 radio does tend to kinda work in sync, but not always! Study the music that is being used in Ads from this past year. What's neat about writing for tv is that certain kinds of sounds and lyrics do work well year after year, whereas what works for radio can be fleeting.
Lyrically speaking, advertising will always benefit from certain poetic themes like: brand new, overcoming, feeling wonderful, and winning. Make yourself a note in your phone where you write down more broad universal themes that you're noticing in the lyrics of Ads. Then rephrase them over and over in your songs! Did you notice that you never hear a breakup song in a Target commercial? Keep that in mind when your goal for a writing session is to place the song. We're sensitive, emotional creatives, I get it. We like writing about what's going on in our personal lives. But that doesn't always sell. Continue writing those songs that are personal to you, but I encourage you to also put your business hat on and think about what might actually sell.
Use websites like ispot.tv and tunefind.com to find the most recently placed music. Search Youtube for "music used in advirtising/commercials" things like that (and the current year!). Take notes on what made each song perfect for this Ad. Note the pacing/tempo, attitude, lyrics, use of non lyrical things like ooos, how does the vibe make you feel? Can you borrow from this as you write your own songs?
Another thing to consider is how Ads are edited. You never know how long the visual will be, so it's always wise to find quick moments of silence, breaks where an editor can end your song easily to fit the placement. If your song is a big continuous flow, there might not be an obvious edit point and this might actually cost you the placement because it won't edit to the visual.
Make yourself Spotify playlists with the songs you're finding that feel like something you could write! Use these as inspiration :)
And lastly, you gotta sell the songs! Where do you even begin!?
Well there are 3 doors to placement land. Sync Libraries, Agencies, and direct to the source through the Music Supervisors.
Sync libraries often take unsolicited submissions through their websites and you can just send in your music and hope they approve it for their library! The library houses thousands of songs carefully categorized and tagged so that Music Supervisors can simply go online and search key words to find music they want to license. Hopefully they land on your song!
Licensing Agencies are more hands on companies that do have a library, but usually do the work for the Music Supervisor and will actively pitch your songs if it fits the description the Supe sent in an email (this is called a "brief"). Your songs will get more tender love and care and this is my go to "door" to placements. Your agency may also contact you when they have a very specific request and ask you to write them a very specific type of song!
The third door is to go straight to the Music Supervisor. I don't advise this, especially when you're just starting out. Music Supervisors are busy, and your emailing them directly may or may not be welcome. My biggest reason for not going to them directly is that I know what legal hoops they have to jump through to clear the song for copyright infringement, and even if they know and trust you, they might just feel safer to go to a trusted Agency where they know the music is already pre-cleared. The second biggest reason I don't go to Music Supervisors is I know it takes a ton of time to research them, follow them, try to start and nurture a relationship with them from scratch.. I feel my time is better spent writing more music.
So here's my biggest tip and my personal go to strategy that has gotten me in the door with TONS of Sync Agencies. Collaborate with people who are already in the door. That's it! When you have those amazing 3-5 songs to showcase your work, you can pitch those songs to potential collaborators. Find out who wrote those songs on your Spotify playlist and follow them! DM them! Show up in Sync Licensing communities on Facebook and meet people! Show up to Sync conferences and find your new collaborators! And then you will pay it forward once you are in the door with some agencies, bring in new collaborators who aren't in those doors yet. Everybody wins.
The majority of my placements came through connections with whom I never had to pitch. You could say that I use a deceptive approach, but everything works out in the end. Let me clarify. I prefer to work with boutique licensing agencies, so how did I get my foot in the door with them? (Read more about the various decision-makers in my post on Music Income Streams and scroll to Sync.) I collaborated with producers and co-writers who had established relationships with reputable agencies. I always pay it forward by inviting my producers to work at agencies where I have connections. My network has gradually expanded, and my coworkers have too. Sharing is caring!
You can certainly submit your songs to agencies that you or your collaborators don't have a relationship with IF they have a submission link on their website. If they do not, and a lot of them don't, my advice on getting connected with them is to follow their entire staff on social media, attend any conferences where they may be panelists, and listen for opportunities to email one of them. When you email them, tell them you heard them speak and something you appreciate that they said! Tell them "you're curious if your sound (describe) would fit any of their current projects." Bonus points if you actually know what projects they might be working on and you've researched the songs they use and your music sounds in alignment.
You're here because you want to get this right. Do the work, take it seriously, and you really can do this. Check out my list of 30 Sync Agencies that I've vetted as highly worth pitching your music to! Good luck :)
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