Four Things You Can Do To Improve Your Odds in Film/TV Song Placements

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When it comes to getting songs in film and TV, there is absolutely no substitute for doing the work. You need to be a savvy businessperson who is willing to take care of the unromantic, day-in and day-out details of having a career in order to succeed.

By Cliff Goldmacher

Having had the good fortune of song placements in both films and television shows, I can safely say there is no magic bullet when it comes to how to make this happen. That being said, there are certainly things that you, as a songwriter, can do to improve your odds. I’ve listed a few of these below.

1. Make sure your song is professionally recorded and performed

This may sound obvious but there is absolutely no wiggle room for a poorly sung, performed or recorded version of your song when you’re pitching to film and TV. You’ve only got one chance to make a first impression. Put yourself in the position of the music supervisor or studio executive who is listening to hundreds of songs for a project.  If the recording — no matter how well written the song may be — sounds like it was done by amateurs, you’re biasing the listener against you before they’ve even given your melody and lyric consideration.  It’s one thing to write a great song but if you’d like someone to give you money for it, then you have to invest the money necessary to present your song in the best possible light.

2. Do your homework

It doesn’t make sense to randomly send out songs in the hope that one will get placed. Find out which music supervisors are looking for which shows or films. There are industry pitch sheets and magazines with all kinds of information about who is looking for what; get familiar with them and mark yourself as a professional by making targeted pitches. Unfortunately, no one’s going to do this work for you.

3. Make sure you have complete ownership of the recording

In order to give permission to a film or TV show to use your music, you’ll need to own your recording. This means filling out the necessary releases with any session musicians/singers involved in the project and being sure that the studio where you have recorded has given you full ownership of the master recording. Make absolutely certain your pitch plans aren’t derailed by finding out (after the fact) that the singer or players aren’t willing to give you permission to use their recorded performances in this manner. Music supervisors often have very little time to get songs cleared for use in a film or TV show and it will mark you as a pro if you can let them know at the outset that everything is “free and clear” for their use.

4. Get Known for a Style

It’s a good thing to be able to write in a variety of styles but you (and your music) will be easier to remember if you become known for providing one particular style and doing it well. Music supervisors are often asked to gather songs in a specific style of music so if you’ve established yourself as a “go-to person” for that style, you’ve got a greater chance of being remembered when the time comes.

When it comes to getting songs in film and TV, there is absolutely no substitute for doing the work. By “the work,” I mean all of the things I’ve mentioned above.  Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply be a great songwriter; you need to be a savvy businessperson who is willing to take care of the unromantic, day-in and day-out details of having a career in order to succeed.  That being said, there is no greater thrill than turning on your TV or going to a theater and hearing one of your songs playing.  It somehow makes all your effort worthwhile.


Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter and his company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.

You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EducatedSongwriter
Twitter: edusongwriter

Posted Oct 31, 2011

Member Comments

Posted by Peter Emmanuel on 2011-11-03 at 11:31:35 am

Hi cliff,

thanks a lot for this article.

I am Nigerian and live in Nigeria and the guy I recorded my album with is quite crafty-he seperated from his wife and he is damn broke and kinda feel he is envious of me and my album-he did not know I deleted my tracks from his pc and when I asked him for the instrumentals he said he does not have them.

I definitely want to get my tracks into film tv and adverts and this is especially proving difficult for Nigerians are noted for fraud-I have been sorely treated by most of the people i try to pitch my tracks to.
But i know by God’s grace I’ll finally succeed in this business-but one thing I’ll like to know is since this guy who I recorded my tracks at his studio does not have my tracks anymore(i am sure of this-that he does not even have the instrumentals) and since I registered them with the US copyright office and with BMI can that convince a music supervisor that I am the sole owner of my recordings?

Yes I am the sole owner for I paid this guy for production and instrumentation and in fact we co-produced it with me directing how I wanted my tracks to sound and he just helping to bring to the tracks to life for he is a multi-instrumentalist-but alas he is now being coy: what should i do? for i know he won’t sign anything-he did not even give me receipts.

Peter

Posted by daniel l. glenn on 2011-12-01 at 11:22:59 pm

If after going through the process of Copy Writing, being a member of BMI, and when a song of mine gets picked up. Do I still retain the right to use the material? Can I still sit in front of an audience and play my music, or do I lose my rights to the material because its being used by other indiviuals, tv and radio, or other media? Other than BMI, can I become a member of ASCAP or SESAC? I’ve so many questions, my mind is racing to get them out! If someone can help me with these few, please respond. Thanks!!!

Posted by Gary E. Andrews on 2011-12-04 at 1:35:22 am

Daniel, I can kick some ideas around on this. As I understand it, you can only be a member of one Performance Rights Organization (PRO) at a time.

You can join either BMI ( http://www.bmi.com ) or ASCAP ( http://www.ascap.com ) or, you can be invited to join SESAC ( http://www.sesac.com ). Once you’re a member of one there is a requirement to stay with them for a period of time before switching to another.

Someone wanting to use your song may ask for exclusive use. It’s a new world in the music industry and all kinds of new deals are being struck by independent artists, songwriters, publishers, producers, managers and management companies.

So it can work any way people want to agree to and sign their names to a contract for. A lawyer can help you be sure you’re not signing away something you want to keep. A lawyer familiar with the nuances of ‘entertainment law’ is better for this than one in business law or criminal law. In a contract you can reserve the right to continue to market the song, for other artists to cover, for use in movie soundtracks, TV, TV ads, and is called a Synchronization License. You can reserve the right to continue to market your own recording sales and performance. Spelling all this out in a contract may prevent any later conflict with those with whom you contract for use of the song. They’re trying to strike a deal favorable to them. You have to try to strike a deal that is favorable to you.

Copy ‘writing’ is writing words for commercial use, ads, the words on a potato chip bag, things like that.

Copyrighting is the act of registering your ‘right’ to ‘copy’ your works with the Library of Congress Register of Copyrights ( http://www.copyright.gov ).

Copyright law is federal law, so an infringement charge can only be made in federal court, and a federal judge will not let you do that without a copyright registration.

Once a song is released anyone can buy a license to cover that song. The Harry Fox Agency ( http://www.harryfox.com ) can handle that licensing process.

Posted by SW101 Moderator 2 on 2011-12-04 at 10:32:14 am

Thanks, Gary.  Good response!  We appreciate your insight in answering other posters on the site.

Posted by Gary E. Andrews on 2011-12-04 at 8:08:09 pm

My pleasure. I like for them to feel the site is alive. Many complain of other sites where the posts are ancient and little or no help is given.

Posted by daniel l. glenn on 2011-12-05 at 12:44:16 am

Thank-you Gary for the quick response. I’ve enjoyed reading the Posts on the acticles. I have one more question-should I Copy Right prior to placing on BMI and with a CD upload? Should I also do the same when doing the Copy Right? Thank-you for your time and response.

Posted by Gary E. Andrews on 2011-12-05 at 8:36:17 am

Copyright is a protection I recommend before exposing your work to any potential theft. I was busking in Athens, Ohio years ago when I realized the young people at Ohio University there were technically knowledgeable and would whip up a video camera or cell phone or other device and record my performance. They were able to capture my lyric, and the melody to which it was sung. That constitutes a song, and, if they registered it before I did, I’d have a hard time proving it was mine.

If you are a BMI member all you register there is the title of your songs. That is only necessary if you are expecting to release a work where it may get played in any revenue-producing venue, radio, tv, internet, other, and you want BMI to collect and distribute your royalties.

See also http://www.soundexchange.com (or .gov?) for a PRO set up by the U. S. government, I think, to collect and distribute royalties paid for internet play.

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