Networking in any industry is time consuming, but completely necessary to get anywhere. I was actually kind of bummed back in the 90’s when the word “networking” first started to catch. Before that, we just called it making friends. And somehow that seemed a whole lot more fun. Either way, there are ways to do it that are more productive than others. And we’re also going to talk about licensing fees, royalties, and whether libraries and connection services are worth using while we’re at it.

Mostly networking is just organized friend making. Of course, these are all friends of varying degrees. Some you would never really want to invite to your house for too long. Others might actually turn out to be your life-long go to people. Whatever the friendship space they occupy, these people act as your access to cool opportunities and paying work. Sometimes there is a pass-through process of doing favors for no money to get something down the road (get your mind out of the gutter. And whenever possible, avoid THOSE kind of favors). Either way, the cool thing about it as a musician, is it’s truly an opportunity to live life outside of the normal get in your car, go to your office, punch in, do what they tell you, punch out kind of life. Living life networking puts your life in a whole new level of opportunity, and I would even say friendship. You get to really experience people, what they have to offer you, and – most importantly – what you have to offer them.

I’ve made much in my last couple articles of knowing people inside the business. So let’s start there. If you live in a film and TV center like Los Angeles or New York, the opportunities for getting connected to these people are pretty endless. You could start by attending some annual film festivals, film conferences, or by connecting to the local film school and offering up your services to students. You can start asking around in your own circle of friends if they know someone who works in the industry who would be willing to meet with you so you can ask questions. I have learned over the years that people love to talk about themselves and the things they love, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to do this with them. At worst you’ll end up with some blowhard jerk telling you their life story over the most grueling cup of coffee of your life. But at best, you could end up meeting someone who might truly want to help you get your foot in the door. The secret is to be persistent. Whenever possible, show up at events that you would want to be involved in – just like you have with music. Film events are a great place to meet people who work in the industry because almost everyone there is either working on something or will be in the future that needs music.

If you don’t live in a big city, or in a film or television center, your options are obviously slimmer, but there are plenty ways to connect with people online now that will help you to achieve the same goals. You can start by joining film and television groups on your favorite social networking sites – particularly the ones that involve editors. Once you join, get involved. Start asking questions or offering up your music. At first, this may be something you do for free, because you have no experience at it yet. Try to find your local filmmakers – whether they are at a college or are an independent group of hobbyists. Take them up on opportunities to travel to nearby events to learn about the industry and meet more people. There’s no job board for these kinds of opportunities – you have to make connecting to people your biggest priority, even if the chances in your area look slim.

Many professional songwriters advise joining songwriter groups and review events. If those are offered in your area, get involved. You never know who you are going to meet there and your goal at this point is to make as many connections as possible.

Libraries and Connection Services

Another option you can use to get in is to use music libraries and connection services. I’m going to go ahead and be brutally honest about how these work – because if you’ve read my other blogs you know, I’m a girl with a mouth and nothing really stops me from running it.

Music libraries are, in my opinion, one of the biggest rip-offs a musician can ever participate in. At least at the level we’re talking about. Libraries started to become big right after the music industry’s major economic meltdown in the late 90’s. Shortly after the major labels started having a stronghold on placement in television, newly unemployed label people, musicians, production studios, and music supervisors started setting up libraries. The logic was they had contacts that you don’t have. You give them non-exclusive use of your produced recordings which they add to their master library of music, which they then draw from whenever they get a call for music from their contacts. Seems like it might be an opportunity for you, doesn’t it? Like everything in this business, the offer deserves a closer look. Cuz I have a holographic hotel to sell you in Vegas, too. Someday I will actually go ahead and tell that story, as I think other musicians would find it amusing. But not today. Back to brass tacks.

Most libraries don’t charge you anything for the “service” of being a part of their library, which should already tell you where this is going. For the trouble of “placing” your music (which they are not really doing either since what happens is someone just calls them and asks them for a specific kind of cue and they go through their library and find something that fits, which could be your song or Joe Blow’s song), the library takes all or most of your up-front licensing fees. They will, however, make a really big deal of the fact that you get to keep ALL of your royalties. Cool!  So – you’re not paying anything, and they do all the work and you are really just splitting the money, right? Wrong.

This arrangement would work great if royalty money amounted to anything anymore. What they’re not telling you is that the majority of music placed today ends up in either cable shows, or well…cable shows. And cable royalties are nothing. Unlike prime-time television royalties, which can easily make you a millionaire if your song happens to be chosen as the opening theme song for a long running show, on cable that same scenario means you will take home a few dollars a month in royalties. Sadly, it is the same for film. Remember when we talked about the musicians union never having really made negotiating for film and television a priority. Well…yeah. Your ASCAP or BMI statement once you get some of these placements will make that painfully clear to you.

As an example, back in my early days, my band joined a library that still places some old music from time to time. So my ASCAP statement for July
includes a line item for a cue on TLC for a show called “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Sometimes you are glad you don’t know your music is going to be used for something and I’m thinking that this is one of those situations. I know I didn’t place it. If I had, I would have received the upfront licensing fees, even if they were only a few hundred dollars. Instead, the library took that money and I got the royalty – which because I was a 25% shareholder in the song (apparently that was one of those projects we produced with friends) amounted to a whopping $1.52. For further reference, my July statement’s total Cable TV – Blanket royalties amounted to…drum roll please…$3.23. There were eight uses. Including an indie film that contained two cues that I am 50% owner of that ran three times that month.

So there you go. Will you make big money on royalties? Not likely. In either film or TV. So if you give up claim to your upfront sync and master licenses (we’ll talk about what these are later) on your music, you are giving up the prime source of income. Libraries know that. And they make a lot of good money on musicians who don’t.

You might be asking at this point – but what if the credit is worth it to me? And that’s a personal decision, probably best decided on where you are at in your life and what you think will help you get somewhere. I can honestly say that sometimes the film and TV credits matter to people, but very often, they don’t. In fact, I’ve come into situations, particularly in Vegas, where the film and TV credits have actually closed people off to me because of their own insecurities. I have them already, so it’s irrelevant in my case, and I do use them often on my resume just to let people know that I have experience with different aspects of the music world. You will have to personally decide whether the possibility of getting a credit is worth it to you. Also keep in mind that there’s nobody overseeing libraries to make sure they do their job and report your cues correctly to your performance rights society. So it’s a bit of a gamble in the first place whether you’ll ever see anything out of it. So again…personal choices. And things change all the time out there, so there may be someone doing it a little differently this year that makes is worthwhile. Just make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

Connection services, on the other hand, are a slightly different option that may work for you depending on whether they are legit or not. That latter part being the hardest part to determine, obviously. There are a lot of different kinds, ranging from those that offer a listing of people looking for music for a subscription fee like to TAXI, which bills itself as the ultimate independent A&R company designed to get your music into the hands of record labels, music publishers, and film and television people, to attorneys who “shop” your music to industry connections. In TAXI’s case you pay a $300 annual fee for their services, which include recording and song review by one of their “industry professionals.” You also pay a $5 submission fee per listing. The deals that you make are supposedly not with TAXI, but with the people whom you submit your music to, so there’s the possibility you could get up front licensing money. Or not, if the deal doesn’t happen or some other of the gazillions of musical twists of fate that befall musicians all the time happen to happen. 

I’ll be honest; I’ve never used TAXI, or any other connection service, other than an attorney. And I can honestly say I have questions about attorneys also – particularly at this stage of the music industry’s mess. There are always too many stories floating around about what you pay compared to what you might make, whose interests are really being served, who they actually connect you to, and whether you will ever recover any of your fees. I recently asked a musician who is currently using TAXI whether he has made back any of the money he spent on it and he said he has. I have met others who haven’t. The hardest part of using these services is that there are too many unknown factors to be able to determine whether you will ever get anything out of them or not.

My advice would be if you need a tax deduction, go for it. Your success will likely be determined by luck, fate, whether your music is current or any good, maybe a couple other things…but mostly luck and fate. If you think that the open gate to luck and fate is worth your $300 some odd dollars, then you have your answer. I can honestly say if I had the $300 to spend, I would spend all of it traveling to and paying entry to a great film and TV industry conference instead. That’s just my .02. Personal connections are a better gamble in my experience. And they build on one another.

Keep in mind that if you want to make money in film and TV music, you are chasing UPFRONT LICENSING FEES, not royalties. When someone licenses your music for use, they pay you TWO licenses: the synchronization (commonly called the “sync”) and the master use license. The sync license grants the people making the picture the right to synchronize a song or piece of music to their image. It is granted by the publisher or copyright owner. Which is you. The master use license grants the use of a specific recording of the song for the picture. It is granted by the record label or owner of the recording, which again…is you.

Often when the producers of a project contact you for licensing they will give you one lump sum and say something like…”the total for licensing is $800.” When they say this, they mean $800 for BOTH licenses. Not for each. So you will get $400 for each license, and the contract will have you sign for both licenses. This is not employee pay. Which means you don’t become an employee of the production company. They don’t take out tax or pay an employer’s share of tax on the money. They will pay you the flat fee and then send you a 1099-MISC form the following year to declare to the government that they paid you money that needs to be taxed. How you deal with 1099 taxable income is a question for your tax preparation person based on your unique circumstances.

Okay – so you’ve got your work cut out for you. You have to build connections in a whole different industry. You need to start getting yourself out there to people who can help you. You need to invest some time in learning what THEY have to say about music in their industry, and maybe even do some projects for free.

Looks like you better get crackin.

Next time: Part V: Film Composing vs. Placement, and Technical Details

Originally posted 2010-08-06 20:05:49.