Selling songs online is much easier than you think. It’s not a “get rich quick” or a road to instant fame, but if you keep at it, you will find success.
But up until a year ago, I didn’t have a clue where to start or what to do. I had some vague notion along the lines of
Don’t worry though, I’m here to show you what I’ve learned about selling royalty free music.
So let’s break out the steps of the process and build you a quick road map to get you started with stock music licensing.
These are the steps. We’ll dig into them in a moment.
That’s it! If you'd rather watch a video on the details, click here.
Licensing your music online is both easy and incredibly hard. Hundreds of books have been written about each of these topics, and I’m sure hundreds more will be written in the future.
I also plan, to write more about them, but for now, let me throw and a few tips for each, specifically as they relate to selling stock songs online.
Successful stock music tends to have two traits. First, stock music that sells maintains a consistent emotion and tone. If it’s a dramatic classical piece, it should remain a dramatic classical piece. If it’s energetic funky hip hop, then don’t mix it up with a weird interlude.
Second, (most) stock music the sells well is either a short 20-30 second piece of music that tells a story with an intro, body, and conclusion. Here are five tips for writing a great song intro.
If your focused on selling your songs, then when you record, the main thing to focus on is avoiding “distracting” sounds and performances. You want to avoid harsh resonances and feedback (unless the song calls for it). In other words, you want a nice clean performance.
Just put yourself in the shoes of a buyer – they’re probably buying production music to play in the background. You don’t need to worry that you can’t capture pristine sounds like Nigel Goodrich, you just need to be good enough to get a clear, clean recording. That way, viewers focus on the message without getting distracted by the song.
Looking at the marketplace of people selling songs, you don’t need to have a very good mix or loud mastering to successfully sell lots of stock music. But it doesn’t hurt.
With mixing, focus on getting the levels right, and cleaning up mud and harshness. If you know what you’re doing and you’re good at it, then by all means do your thing.
If you don’t have a clue how to mix, there are a lot of great resources (some free) to teach you how. Check out Youtube or The Recording Revolution. But for now, just commit to getting a little better with each song.
And you’re probably better off using compression and reverb VERY sparingly until you’ve gotten the hang of them.
When it comes to mastering, there is no secret sauce. If you’ve been working with your own track the whole time, then it should basically sound the way you want it to, in which case you should only use mastering to crank up the volume before applying a limiter.
But please don’t ruin your mix by boosting the volume too much. It’s terrible for the song, and the people that buy your stock music really don’t seem to care that much about volume. Besides, buyers can always crank up the volume further if they want!
I recommend signing up for an account with Pond 5 for the reasons described in this post. You can’t go wrong with them, and you can always join other sites later.
From there, you’ll want to upload your first song(s) and give it a nice descriptive title.
Be sure to write a strong description & use 50 evocative keywords. This step is honestly just as important as the previous 3, because no one will find your song without a good description, title, and keywords.
For the description of the song, you want to craft a short narrative to let the reader know about the emotion of the song, what it sounds like, how long it lasts, and how it might be used.
For the keywords, you’ll want to use a solid mix of terms that describe the tone of the song, who it sounds like, what its technical details are, any unusual instruments used, and how it might be used, but not in a narrative way.
I don’t have evidence that using social media directly boosts sales, but in my own experience I have seen a strong correlation between when I started adding social media to my toolset and when my sales reached a new peak.
And a lot of stock music musicians more successful than me use it, so it must be helpful (if nothing else, it boosts the odds that your song will rank in external search engines).
I would recommend using three platforms to start.
Twitter, Soundcloud, and on your own webpage (not technically social media, I know).
With Twitter and Soundcloud, you need to focus on building a following just as much as you need to focus on promoting your song. By building a following, you increase the odds someone will click on one of your links or share it. I plan on talking more about social media strategies for stock music musicians in an upcoming post.
By tracking how many clicks my links receive, I know that this website drives a fair number of visitors to my stock music on Pond 5 (though I can’t track whether they buy my music online). However, a website is still give you a static base of operations from which to promote and highlight your songs, and is something that people are more likely to encounter through a Google search.
So there you have it. Each of these previous steps is very difficult to perfect, but incredibly easy to start.
So you should start on this sooner rather than later. You are not aiming for your first song to be perfect. You’re aiming for your first song to be good enough. And for each song to be a little better than that.
A little better written.
A little better recorded.
A little better produced.
A little better described.
And a little better promoted.
If you commit to constant improvement instead of immediate perfection, you will absolutely be selling songs online. And the sooner you start writing, the sooner you start selling songs.
It took me a long time to convince myself that I should license my music. I struggled with a lot of issues.
Do these sound familiar?
So how did I finally convince myself that I should license my music?
Some people call this “imposter syndrome.” And the truth is that everyone suffers from it – even genuine pros. Just remember that everyone had to start somewhere!
Well, first, I just kept writing songs. I wrote my first song more than 20 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that I’m an expert, or that I only write good songs, or that every (or most) songs I write are good.
What experience has given me is perspective. At least now I’ve written enough songs to know which ones are genuinely BAD. But because I’ve written enough songs, I’m not emotionally attached to these turds. I can let them rot on my hard drive and sit down and write another song.
Another way I overcame my insecurity about my songs was by taking a few that I genuinely believed were good, and putting them out there.
Sometimes it takes a really long time to sell a license to my music, but thankfully I licensed this song within about a month of uploading it to Pond 5.
This provided the positive reinforcement I needed to continue to record and upload songs.
But don’t tie too much of your self-esteem to your song sales. Some of my favorite songs have never been licensed, and some of my least favorite have been licensed repeatedly.
I had dabbled in recording for a decade, but, looking back, I never tried to get good at it. I limited myself with the mindset that I was “only recording demos” so quality didn’t really matter.
But when I got serious about trying to license my music, I realized I needed to step up my game and learn to record professional sounding songs.
Like most things in life, improving the quality of your recordings comes down to two things: knowledge and practice.
Youtube is full of great free resources on mixing and recording. I recommend the Recording Revolution, Pensado’s Place, MixBuss TV, and the Pro Audio Files. You can see all of these recommendations here on the subscriptions part of my Youtube channel.
When it comes to practicing your mixing, it all comes back to writing lots of songs. The more you write, the more songs you have to work on, the more opportunities to mix & record you have. It’s a virtuous cycle.
I’ve also gotten a ton of value from Duelling Mixes by the Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder. Each month they give you raw stems to mix, plus they each record an hour-long, highly detailed instructional video explaining how they got their sounds. It’s great because if you get stuck on something, you can see exactly how they approached the problem.
I think this is a personal question that only you can answer.
For me, I actually felt compelled to license my music. I don’t have a record deal and I don’t have a band to play my music live.
If I want to get my music heard by a lot of people, I need to rely on a third party to promote and distribute it.
Hell, 1,000’s of potential buyers listen to my songs every month, let alone the songs that are purchased, presumably to be listened to by even more people.
So I put them out for license. Here’s how to license your first song.
In my mind it’s that or have 5 people a month listen on Soundcloud or Spotify.
Of course, there are certain songs that are really important or personal to me, and those I’m not going to license.
But in my mind, everything else should get out there.
What is Royalty Free music? What’s Stock Music? What’s Production Music? What’s the difference?????
These terms can all be so confusing. It took me months to figure out what they each mean.
In fact, the terms royalty free music, stock music, and production music, mean the same thing (most of the time)!
But that’s not even the frustrating part!
Because they’re often used incorrectly. Awesomesauce.
Ok, by now you’re probably thinking “WTF. This is absurd.”
And you’re right.
These, the terms are pretty much used interchangeably, and that’s how I use them on this site.
If you want more info, you can check out this video I made.
Typically, if someone writes a song, there are several different ways to make money.
The first type of right is called a mechanical royalty. It just means that whenever a copy of the song is sold (a CD is sold, mp3 downloaded, or sheet music is sold), the writer gets paid.
A synchronization license is required whenever a purchaser buys the rights to use a song as part of some other media presentation – for example as part of a TV soundtrack.
So when you license your royalty free music on a stock music site, the purchaser pays a fee for the right to use the song. On Pond 5, for example, the purchaser must pay a minimum of $15 to use the song, a portion of which goes to the songwriter.
However, there is another type of royalty, called performance royalties. When a song is performed publicly, either by being broadcast or played live, the broadcaster or the venue have to pay the songwriter a performance royalty. These are collected by performing rights societies like BMI.
Did you know that public places, like shops & bars have to pay a fee to BMI for the music they broadcast? Sometimes songwriters are willing to waive these performance royalties in exchange for a larger synchronization fee.
So if a buyer purchases a synch license for your song on Pond 5 for use in a TV commercial, they only pay that single upfront fee. Then, when the TV station broadcasts the commercial, the station must pay the performance royalties to BMI. BMI then sends a check to the songwriter.
Phew. That’s complicated.
So what is royalty free music, then?????
Basically, royalty free music just means that the purchaser only needs to pay a single upfront synchronization fee, without having to worry about any other complaints or royalties to the songwriter. Then, depending on the terms of the agreement, the musician may still be eligible to receive performance royalties from broadcasters.
Unfortunately this is pretty complicated, and each royalty free music site has different terms, so you really need to review it on a case by case basis.
If you’d prefer, here’s a video explaining what is royalty free music.