How to Write Music That Gets Licensed – Pro Tips

Music licensing is a great way for indie artists, composers, and bands to make some money from their music. You can make a pretty fruitful career if you know how to write music that gets licensed. You just need the right combination of talent, style, and originality. After a bad experience rushing to create tracks for libraries, I became determined to take my time, and just write what I loved. Stay true to the styles that I’m passionate about. This isn’t a bad strategy, however, it’s important to know the trends. It’s crucial to learn what is trending, and being licensed in today’s market.

If you have a clear idea of what’s getting licensed, mix styles that you’re passionate about with what’s trending. This will give your music the maximum licensing potential. The market is always evolving and it’s important to keep your ear to the ground so to speak to stay on top of what’s in demand. Below I’ll outline some tips I’ve learned throughout the years that would have saved me a lot of time if I knew this when starting out.

Carve out your own style, don’t just duplicate what’s out there

Let’s face it, it’s really competitive out there. The music licensing world has now become a global stage and it’s not easy to stick out amongst the herd. What I‘ve learned in the 13 years since I founded the music licensing company Soundscape.io as well as the 20 years of being a composer in the licensing industry is that you need to find YOUR sound if you want to make this a career. You can’t just write generic music, even if you’ve managed to become really good at multiple styles, you need to add your own personal touch of originality that is unique. 

Every composer who graduated from a music composition program can write epic, cinematic orchestral music. This kind of music gets licensed a lot, but you need to differentiate your music. Be clear why a client should pick your composition vs the millions of others just like it out there? You need a differentiator. Mine has always been adding an indie edge, whether that be some glitch electronic flavors, or some airy organic instruments or non lyrical vocals that give it a new dimension that you wouldn’t normally find in that style. Find your sound by experimenting with unconventional instruments or sounds in your music.

Stay current with the trends

A great way to stay current is simply to turn your ad blocker off and listen to the music playing in ads. Listen to ads you see on TV, YouTube, social media etc. and start to pay attention to what is trending. Check our Featured Songs area to see what’s trending with us. Always pay close attention to how the music is incorporating a mixture of styles. Firstly, when new trends come out, they are mixed with styles that are tried and true. Secondly, take this into account and carefully think about a vision for your music. Start thinking where your music can fit in and make the biggest impact and most importantly feed your soul musically 🙂

Keep the mix minimal

It’s very important if you want to write music that gets licensed that it’s compatible for synchronization with visuals. This means no solos, no attention hogging notes or heavy melodies. The mix should be minimal and leave space for dialog. They should never divert the viewer’s attention away from the visuals and the message being communicated. We know you want your music to get noticed, but that’s not what music licensing is all about. The music is a tool to help communicate the message of the story.

Never Fade Out 

A big no no for music licensing is to end your song with a fade out. Producers love hard endings that end with a definite resolving chord that naturally rings out. This is important because when a producer edits your song to fit their video, show etc. they often need to cut it short and then utilize then copy/paste your ending chord to be played earlier to match what’s on-screen. When you fade out, you remove the client’s ability to utilize this very useful tool to make your music work with their project.

Make Versions 

Keep in mind if you want to write music that gets licensed, there should be a version of the song with a more minimalistic mix. Songs generally need background versions, as melodies that are very upfront and solos etc. get in the way of dialog which is a no no for licensing. If your melody gets in the way with the dialog, your music won’t be chosen, plain and simple.

If there are vocals, there should definitely be an instrumental version for the same reason. It can also be very valuable when you finish your song/cue to make shorter edits. A 15 second, 30 second and 60 second version are standard. Also a looped version can be great too, where the client can easily loop your cue to lengthen it. The music needs to be cut in a way that if it were looped it is seamless.

Be Careful Using Loops

Loops that you didn’t create can be problematic for music licensing, and we’d rather you keep things original and never use them. We do see however, there are times where they can help your music, but be careful! Firstly, if you don’t have variations of a loop, it will get very repetitive, very fast. If you must use loops, be sure to cut them up and use variations and process them with fx instead of just leaving them as is. Make them yours by making them unique.

Secondly, never leave a loop playing by itself in a song without having instruments playing on top. Loops playing by themselves can trigger YouTube’s automated Content ID claiming system from someone else’s music. Since other people will use the same loop in their music, your music could cause automated copyright issues. Licensing clients who license your music could get copyright claims from other artists who use this same loop, even though you have every right to use it.

Keep the Music Positive

The fact of the matter is, around 90% of the music we license has a positive vibe. If you want to have the best odds, try not to get too depressing with the vibe of your music. There of course are scenes that are depressing and need sad music etc. but this is a small proportion to what gets licensed. Ads are almost always positive. Video creators usually want an inspiring and uplifting vibe. Films usually use composers to create the depressing stuff. The upbeat and uplifting songs are licensed through licensing companies like us.

Melody Should be Memorable

This is the most important tip I can think of. Make sure your song or cue is memorable. Clients want viewers to remember their commercial or video and one of the best ways for that to happen is to have music that the viewer can remember. One that they can’t help but to hum to themselves or whistle at a later time. This is pure evidence that the music connected with the viewer. After you write a melody, take a break and do something else. Then try to hum the melody you wrote without returning to your studio. Can you do it? If you can’t, maybe your melody isn’t memorable. End result, maybe it won’t get licensed.

Master Your Music

When a song is mastered, it plays much louder than the mixed version. It has an appearance of clarity and presence which is often interpreted as better quality. There is nothing worse than when a song is sitting amongst thousands of other songs, and a client plays an unmastered song. When an unmastered song is played after the client just heard 20 mastered songs in a row, the unmastered song sounds much lower in volume and seems muffled and of lower quality. Be careful not to overmaster and squash all the dynamics out of your song. Make sure to preserve the differences between the quiet parts and the loud parts of your song.

Never Do This…

Never use sample from other peoples music. This was a practice common in Hip Hop, but this is trouble for licensing. Never send cover songs to licensing companies, you should fully own 100% of the composition and master recording. Never use any content in your recordings that you don’t own. Trust me, this stuff comes back to bite you once it makes it to TV or Film.

Know what “Content ID” is and How it can affect Opportunities

If you don’t know what YouTube’s Content ID fingerprinting is, you definitely should. Your music may have been registered in the Content ID program without you knowing and could result in companies not wanting to represent your music.

I hope these tips help you understand how to write music that gets licensed. Keep them in mind and hopefully they will add some value to your music making process. If you would like to submit your music to us, click here to read more about us and see if your music is a match for our licensing service.