This Article Originally Published 1997


by Michael Laskow

In one of my recent columns I wrote about recognizing opportunity and then seizing it. This month, I'm going to make it even easier for you. I'm going to show you the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to make money with your music.

I'm surprised you haven't figured it out for yourself yet. You stare at it night after night, and it stares right back at you. As a matter of fact, it even talks to you (and millions of other people). That's right you slackers, wake up and smell the half-caff, low-fat, double mocha-latte, it's your TV!

Think about it. In the early days of television there were only three networks and only slightly more channels. With the advent of cable and Direct Satellite transmission, the average American home has 60-100 channels of programming and virtually every show needs music. Even better—there are a lot more countries other than the U.S. that have TV's with music hungry programs, and more channels are popping up every day.

Let's see... you've got your big time networks, then you've got your not so big networks (I hate the frog with the top hat logo—really dumb), you've got your food networks, your travel networks, your hunting networks, your fishing networks, your beauty networks, your health networks, your classic movie networks, your porno movie networks, your "classic" porno networks, your religion networks, your fire-breathin' heathen networks, and God only knows what else. My point? They all have programming that needs music!

So where does all that music come from? Most of it comes from people like you. If you think all those shows have high priced music houses do custom scoring for them, think again. The majority of the music you hear on TV comes from what are commonly called production music libraries (they used to be called needle-drop libraries, but for obvious reasons, they're not any more).

Production music libraries buy much of their music from people who work out of home or project studios. You don't need to have an arsenal of equipment. A studio with MIDI and at least eight tracks should do the trick. If you can afford to go digital, so much the better—not because anybody listening at home will have a clue that they're listening to a digital recording, but because it allows you to bounce tracks more cleanly, thus needing less tracks, and keeping the cost of your studio to a minimum.

So, what's the next step? Well, you need to know that making music for TV isn't like making records, and it isn't like making demos. The quality of your recording has to be what is commonly called, "Master Quality." In short, that means, better than a demo, but not necessarily as good as a record. The companies that buy or use these tracks are not looking for good compositions that need to be re-recorded. They want something that's done, finished, complete, finito. They want a mix done to DAT that they can then use in their library, or master on to a CD. No re-cutting, no re-mixing.

Many libraries house their most popular cuts on CD volumes that are often categorized by type of music. Some categories that typically get requested by end users are: Jazz (of all types), Rock, R&B, Country, Alternative, Horrific, Serial Dramatic, 50's, 60's, yep, even 70's period music, Rap, Anthemic (think Marlboro man meets Francis Scott Key), World Beat, Ethnic, Corporate—in short, just about every kind of music is needed for something sooner or later.

Tracks for TV, radio, documentaries, and corporate videos are usually requested in lengths of :2, :5, :10, :15, :30, :60, and 3:00. Most libraries will ask for a specific track in all or most of the aforementioned lengths. Some lengths are used for TV commercials, some are for radio, some are used for station I.D.'s, and some are used for cues in films. Be prepared to write your tracks so they are easily editable to the shorter lengths from the longer "parent" track, and make sure the tracks have a button, or closed ending. That simply means the tracks ends on a beat, not a fade, and by the way, should somebody tell you they need a :30 track, they really mean they need a :29.5 (reverb decay included), a :60 should be :59.5 and so on. If the tracks are too long, they will be cut off by the next commercial or segment of the TV show. Golden rule: never go over the allotted time. Come in just short, ring out included.

The exception to the button ending, timed to perfection track is when the film or TV show needs a song with lyrics, not just an instrumental track. There are often cases where a scene requires something that sounds like a hit song, but has never actually been a hit. It's cheaper to license a song from somebody who is "nobody" than it is to license a song from a major superstar. In fact, it can be tens of thousands of dollars cheaper. My advice—try to license the stuff that's been sitting on the shelf for a while and has no great probability of ever being a hit. Save your best for Clive Davis if your ultimate goal is to get a record deal.

Speaking of record deals... I realize that for many people a record deal is the brass ring they're after, but the truth of the matter is that getting a deal on a major label is very, very hard, and getting a deal on many indie labels means that you've just signed with a label that can give you lots of attention, but they have no marketing machine or promotion money behind them so your record is doomed.

I'm guessing that most of you who are reading this column would be very happy to just make a living doing nothing else but music, and the most realistic way I know how to do that is to get your music in to TV shows and film. You probably won't make millions, but you can earn a very nice living.

I know of quite a few people who subscribe to my service (TAXI), who have been successful in getting their music into music libraries, who in turn have placed their music in T.V shows and films. One of our subscribers makes over $100,000 a year working from his home doing music for film and TV, and another was recently able to quit his day job as a phone line installer (with 20 years seniority) because he is becoming very successful doing music for film and TV Nice work if you can get it!

One of our subscribers had three songs picked up by the show, Sisters on NBC last year and between his publishing income and his performing rights income (in this case, ASCAP), he made about $1,700 per song for a grand total of $5,100. While he didn't make a fortune, at least he made a nice chunk of change and some credits on a national TV show.

The bottom line is that if you get off the couch and get motivated, you can make enough money making music to quit your day job. One word of advice—the companies that need this music won't track you down, you'll need figure out who they are and how to make contact with them. Hint: The networks themselves aren't the people to call. Try to find music libraries, publishers who regularly work in film and TV, and music supervisors working on film and TV projects. There are directories that list some of these companies. Work on your phone presentation before you call—be succinct, keep the conversation very short and very to the point.

Happy hunting!


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