Royalty Free Music Composer Tip: How To Build A Catalog

I have been selling royalty free music for more than 10 years now. I receive composer submissions and demos on a daily basis. I also see what sells and what customers are requesting everyday.
I don’t often give advise to composers but thought I would post some basic observations in case it is of any use to composers looking to get into the royalty free music industry.

1. Be Prolific
If you want to make a living at selling your production music the first thing you need is a large library of music.
The composers who have large catalogs on our sites earn the most and earn very consistently. 75-300 tracks and up is considered a large library.

2. Create edits and loops with your full length tracks.
The customers on our websites love the fact that we offer not only full length tracks but edits, loops, underscores and alternate takes. You can also sell the whole package of full length track, edits for a higher price than the full length track alone.
This coupled with a large library will practically guarantee steady sales (as long as the music is top quality of course).

A typical package would be:
Full length track 2 to 3 minutes
60 second edit
30 second edit
15 second edit
2 or 3 loops.

3. Write What You Know
Professional production music composers are a very versatile lot. They can write music in many styles and can do it convincingly. However many of the demos I receive are from composers who are trying to be all things to everybody, writing in as many styles as possible with the majority of the track coming across as mediocre. We pass on these types of demos 99% of the time.
If you are an excellent New Age Music composer don’t try your hand at Nu-Metal just to fill out your catalog, write more New Age Music instead. Write the music you love to write, not what you think will sell.

4. Add Something Real
In this day of laptop studios, garageband and reason it seems that everyone is now trying their hat at being a “composer”. I may be old skool but back in the day musicians used to practice their instruments for hours everyday and went to school to study harmony and composition. Today it seems that anyone who can download some free drum loops from the web calls themselves a composer.
All this to say when you compose try adding something real to your compositions. Instead of only relying on your loop library (the one that thousands of other people are using) try adding some real guitar parts, or a weird vocal part, or a sax, get your friend to play harmonica, pick up any simple percussion instrument, even a tambourine, and record it live. Give your standard loop library composition a soul by adding something real.

5. Melody
Just like in popular music melody plays a big factor in royalty free music. Sure there are lots of instances where you want the music to sit in the background and not attract too much attention but according to our sales stats music with a good, strong, uplifting melody outsells all other types of music.

6. Holiday Music
Would you like a Christmas bonus every year in your royalty free music paycheck? Then do Christmas and holiday music in whatever style your composition skills are strongest. A hip hop version of Jingle Bells, an ozzy osbourne version of The First Noel.
This would go for all types of public domain music, a Nu-Metal version of God Bless America, a jazz version of the Star Spangled Banner, drum n bass Auld Lang Syne, etc.
Our customers just love this kind of stuff.

7. Structure
Make sure to think about the listener when you’re are putting together the structure of your royalty free music tracks.

a. Don’t have a 2 minute intro before getting to the main melody. You need to grab the listener quickly, get to the point as soon as possible (within reason of course).

b. Give them an ending. No fades. Give them a proper ending with a chord and cymbals that ring out. This is very important for the ends of commercials and radio spots.

c. Give them a B section, also known as a bridge. You can do the same thing with a breakdown if it is dance music. You need to give the customer some variety in the track, something to play with in editing.

Hope this helps. Let me know what you think.
I’ll be posting more tips for royalty free music composers in the coming weeks.
-Mark

  • http://www.partnersinrhyme.com admin

    Hi Scott. These are all great questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. The answers below are all from my personal experience so if anyone wants to chime in and add to the responses please do.

    1. Do royalty free music companies typically require their artists to sign some sort of exclusive deal (as in they can’t have their music in multiple company’s libraries at once)?

    Not typically. The norm is usually a non-exclusive agreement.
    Some sites will give the artist a higher percentage for exclusive online rights to distribute the music.
    You should be very careful when someone offers you an exclusive deal as there are many things to consider before accepting.

    Is the site/company going to push your music and actually make it worthwhile to tie up all of your rights through one distribution channel?

    Is the site/company brand new or has it been around awhile and has a proven track record?

    Remember that if you sign an exclusive deal your hands are tied if something better comes along (which it quite often does). From the experiences I’ve heard from our more than 40 composers the ones who have gone for exclusive deals almost always regret it in the end.

    2. What is the industry standard (is there an industry standard) with regard to profit sharing? I saw a 60/40 split mentioned in a blog entry of yours. Is this typical?

    By far the industry standard is 50/50, non-exclusive.

    3. Can you explain “cue sheets”?

    Cue sheets are filled out by the production company after they have created a TV show, Film, Video, TV/Radio commercial, etc. They list the music tracks used (and quite often sound effects used) along with composer names and PRO (performing rights organization) cue title, duration and usage for each cue.
    There are different types of usage that pay different amounts of royalties such as background or main theme song or a song with lyrics that the actors are sing along with.

    Here is a Cue Sheet FAQ from the ASCAP website and a sample Cue Sheet in pdf format.

    4. How is the artist/royalty free music company typically credited by the licensee of the music?

    Many times they are not credited depending on which royalty free company you distribute through. In PIR’s case there is nothing in our license agreement that requires the licensee to credit anyone if they do not wish to. Listing credits would become too complicated for all of the different applications that the music we sell is used for.
    For example, if someone creates a real estate video they probably do not want to put a list of credits at the end for their customers to read.
    or if someone creates a flash application with some of our music in the background they will not be wanting to create an extra page to list all of the composers and distribution companies involved with the music.

    Composers need to keep in mind that the majority of the uses for their music distributed through royalty free websites is not for a film or TV show with major distribution. The most common uses are for small projects, videos and applications.

    When the procuction company does want to list credits we tell them to list the composer name and then our company name as the distributor.

    5. What are the artists/royalty free music company’s obligations regarding BMI or ASCAP?

    The only party that has an obligation to ASCAP or BMI (or the hundreds of other PROs worldwide) are the people at the production company. They simply need to fill out a cue sheet.
    Some websites (including Partners In Rhyme) do not require the reporting of the use of the music to PROs. Therefore a percentage of our clients are broadcasters who purchase large quantities of music.

    6. Is there anything that you think that I should know that I have not asked about already?

    Before a composer starts submitting material to royalty free music sites they should get their information together on their own end first.

    1. Get a website with previews of your music.
    A myspace page with 3 tracks on it is ok but doesn’t really give an idea of what the entire catalog might be and also doesn’t look very professional.
    Also, sending a potential distributor to another distributor’s website to hear your music is ok if that is all you have for previews but keep in mind that the distributor will take into consideration that your music is already available all over the web.

    2. Do not make it difficult for the company to hear your music.
    Don’t make them login to hear your music, don’t make them do a search for your music on a competitor’s website, don’t send them to a page that downloads a bunch of quicktimes and crashes their browser, don’t send them to a myspace page that takes forever to load if at all.
    It is your job to get a royalty free music company to hear your music, not theirs.
    Sending your music the old fashioned way on an audio CD is always great. It is slow but shows the company that you are taking the time to present yourself properly.

    3. Give the company an idea of how many tracks you want to distribute.
    They probably won’t be interested if you have 3 tracks that you just slapped together in Garageband. If you have 300 tracks they’re more likely to take you seriously

    4. Let the company know if you have edits and loops available for your full length tracks.

  • Scott

    Mark,
    Thank you for creating this blog! I came across it the other day and I have learned a lot. I am an aspiring royalty free music composer. I did the rock band thing with the touring and the band dynamics, and it just does not fit into my lifestyle anymore. I have been looking for a new musical outlet and I think that I have found it. I’m really excited!

    As someone new to royalty free music, I have some questions that I was hoping that you or possibly some of your readers could answer:

    1. Do royalty free music companies typically require their artists to sign some sort of exclusive deal (as in they can’t have their music in multiple company’s libraries at once)?

    2. What is the industry standard (is there an industry standard) with regard to profit sharing? I saw a 60/40 split mentioned in a blog entry of yours. Is this typical?

    3. Can you explain “cue sheets”?

    4. How is the artist/royalty free music company typically credited by the licensee of the music?

    5. What are the artists/royalty free music company’s obligations regarding BMI or ASCAP?

    6. Is there anything that you think that I should know that I have not asked about already?

    Thank you in advance for your help!

    Scott