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Production Music Libraries: What they are and what do they do for you!

Interviewed live during TAXI’s Road Rally, 2021

By Michael Laskow

So how long does it take to see the income from the moment something is placed? Let’s say you’ve got something that gets placed in a reality show, one of your cute little cues that would be for like kittens playing with each other. You’ve got some of those, like the best in the business for those, actually. And it ends up in a reality show tomorrow—which is November fourth—how long will it be before any form of payment shows up on your BMI or ASCAP statement?

In general, it’s nine months before you get it from ASCAP or BMI. Foreign royalties, if it gets placed in France or somewhere over there, it can be a year and a half in general to get your royalties. For domestic, it’s generally nine months.

And I’m sure that the music supervisor or video editor who slugs in your music in France picks up the phone and calls you up, “Dean, we love that song of yours; we’re gonna put it in our TV show.” They tell you every time your music is getting used, right? [laughs]

Never. I think I have one or two publishers that… Well, if somebody gets a sync fee for your… Yeah, there are times when you’ll find out much sooner. If you get a sync fee up front, you’ll find out, because a lot of my contracts say they have to pay me within 60 days of whenever they get the money, so you’ll find about that sooner. But they are not picking up the phone and calling me.

I think there are a lot of people who don’t know how this industry works, don’t understand the speed of which it works; they don’t understand the freneticism on the end that the music supervisor is working in a really frantic mode, the editor is working in a frantic mode. Musicians are used to wanting to be coddled and informed, and somebody’s gonna help them move through his or her career. That’s the not the reality of music in the sync licensing world. It’s basically your music gets picked by an editor for a reality show, they slug it in, they fill out a cue sheet. The publisher doesn’t even know about it generally, you don’t know about it, and then get your statement from ASCAP or BMI months later and say, “Look at that, I made $13.76 because I had 12 seconds of music in Duck Dynasty or whatever.” You were the king of Duck Dynasty, if I remember, right?

Yeah, Duck Dynasty did really well for me. I liked the Duck show. I don’t know exactly how many tracks I had placed in that show, but the first three seasons I think I had music in 40 episodes. I don’t know how many I ended up having in total, and for some of those, I had five or six placements in one episode. So, it did really well for me. Thanks to TAXI for making that connection.

"...with cable shows you’re not usually getting a sync fee. With network shows, you’re often getting a sync fee. And a lot of the income, especially for cable, comes from the back-end [performance royalties]."

Absolutely, man. Can you give us kind of a range...? When I was having that conversation with (hit Country songwriter) Jeffrey Steele, he said to me, “So how much do I get if you get one of my songs in a TV show? Is it $75k?” And I went, “Noooo.” I mean, Jeffrey Steele is a huge writer, so he might get a lot more than Dean would get, or a typical TAXI member or somebody who’s got their music in a library. If you’re an up-and-coming star that’s had some sort of a brand, or you are a big songwriter, you’re gonna get, I don’t know, for a song in a big feature film, you might get $10,000, $20,000, $50,000. If you’re Dean Krippaehne, that same placement might get you $3,000, $5,000, something like that, for a big film. For a TV show, if you’re getting something in Duck Dynasty, how much of a sync fee do you get up front?

With Duck Dynasty, I got zero sync fee up front for all of those. I would say that in general—I’m speaking in general terms, because there are always exceptions to this—but in general, with cable shows you’re not usually getting a sync fee. With network shows, you’re often getting a sync fee, and that can be anywhere—depending how much they want the song and is it in the foreground or is it background—that can be anywhere from $500 to quite a few thousand dollars. And sometimes ads can pay even more. If you get a placement in a TV commercial, you can make $10,000 or more if it’s a national spot. And they can renew it every six months or every year, and you can get that sync fee again. So, yeah, in general, a lot of the stuff I do gets no sync fees. And a lot of the income, especially for cable, comes from the back-end [performance royalties]. But with network stuff, you can get some decent sync fees, which can add up.

This is a business where a big, hit songwriter can write one hit song a year and it makes them enough money for two or three years. And in the [sync side] of the business, you get your first 10 songs in catalogs, and then you get 20, and then you get 50 and then you get 100, and you’re really getting about 500 to 1,000 songs [in catalogs] before you can turn this is into a living. And for me, I didn’t do it as fast as some people. I thought I was doing a lot of cues; I was doing at my peak maybe 150 cues a year.

And then our mutual friend [and TAXI member] Matt Vanderbough… we’ve heard his story. And the guy’s producing 500 cues a year, and I’m going, “Dude, you have no life.” So, it can be done, and you can really speed up the process if you want to make a decent living at this stuff. But you’ve got to produce a lot of cues fast, and I just didn’t want to give up the rest of life and do them that fast.

But it’s a penny business. A lot of times for your placements, you’re gonna get $1.18 or $6.48, but it’s cumulative, and it does add up, and it keeps growing over time. And we’ve maybe got a dozen or more members that are in the six-figure club, and a lot of members that are making tens of thousands of dollars a year doing this. You know, they have a day job, and they’re doing this in their spare time at night and on weekends. It’s not going to happen overnight. It does take time, but if you stick with it and get it right, you’re gonna create a nice second income.

In my tech company, we developed a plan for micro-licensing. And our whole theme is would you rather get $20,000 for a sync for your tune, or would you rather get a dollar micro-licensed a million times throughout the world. So, yeah, I’d like to brag about getting something for $20,000, but actually I’d rather have a million dollars for something micro-licensed a million times at a dollar a piece.

“First of all, if you can just go online to a production library, and you can upload whatever tracks and however many you want, that’s probably not a high-quality library.”

How do you choose? There are good production music libraries and less than good ones. I always say that if you’re meeting them through TAXI, you don’t have to worry, because we’ve already done the vetting, we’ve done the legwork to figure out… Aside from libraries you get introduced to through TAXI, because you know that they’ve been vetted and we don’t deal with small potatoes or people who have questionable business ethics, things like that. We will deal with a small library that’s high quality and gets the job done. It doesn’t have to be a behemoth, but they have got to be really effective in what they do.

So, on your own, if you’re meeting libraries, how do you know what are the differences between a good one and a bad one, and what are telltale signs that people should look for so they avoid the bad ones?

You know, first of all, if you can just go online to a production library, and you can upload whatever tracks and however many you want, that’s probably not a high-quality library. We’ve all got stuff that’s not good that we’ve done. So, I think that’s a first telltale sign. I would also listen to what they’ve got there; do they have quality music? That’s another way you can look. Look at their credits; do they have some credits with major networks and shows? Now, anybody can lie, and anybody can put up, “Hey, I’ve got all these ABC shows.” But doing all these various things, do they have good placements in good shows, and can they point you to that? And also, are you communicating just with a computer, or can you actually contact somebody there and they will talk to you? Now, I’ve known a couple of what I would say are very marginal libraries where you actually can contact a person.

I just saw one recently that says that for $100 a year you can upload whatever you want to. Just stay away from it. Can you make a little bit of money with those things? I guess so. I had just explored that. There were one or two of them that I won’t name, but I had just explored some years ago. I had uploaded a couple things to them, and thought, “Maybe I can make money,” but I didn’t. So, I’d rather work with quality libraries, quality people—and as you say, the [ones you can meet] though TAXI. You can vet them through TAXI. Or in addition, you can go to the PMA, the Production Music Association, and look at the libraries. Now, their bars are really high. There are some libraries that I think are okay, but they won’t necessarily work with you. It’s like you don’t know that they work with non-exclusive. But you can generally, if you go there, you know those are good libraries. Those are quality libraries.

“I’ve produced stuff in the past that I think is perfect, and I think a lot of engineers would go, “Man, Dean, that’s great!” but I had perfected it so much that it lost all the vibe.”

Here’s a question that I’m going to take because I can answer it in 15 seconds. The question is, “If you record a song and release it on CD Baby, can you record a new version for libraries?” No, you can’t, because it’s still the same composition. It’s a different master but the same composition. So, there’s the answer to that one.

One more thing I want to ask you—broadcast quality. People are really confused by that term, and frankly they think that it’s all about audio engineering. I contend that there is more to it; it’s about the appropriate… A lo-fi like an early Bob Dylan song would be fine lo-fi. You could record it in Garageband on your Mac laptop using the built-in microphone and it would be fine. The other extreme would be something that’s done in a multimillion-dollar, gorgeous, state-of-the-art studio. Talk about broadcast quality, what it means in your daily life in regard to production music libraries.

I think it really just means something that’s clean. If it’s just a guitar/vocal, is your guitar in tune? Are you playin’ it? Is it groovin’ without the BPM [drifting all over the place]? Are the vocals in tune? Is there a vibe about it? And is the guitar and vocal relatively balanced to what you would want to hear? And then, did you bounce it down to a good WAV file? Whether you have 18 parts on there or whether you just have two parts, having them played well, having them balanced as well as you can balance them. And having a vibe, creating some mood with it, does it create a mood? I’ve produced stuff in the past that I think is perfect, and I think a lot of engineers would go, “Man, Dean, that’s great!” but I had perfected it so much that it lost all the vibe.

And there are some libraries that are asking for certain things, and I’ve had this before. “We want stuff that sounds like Frank Sinatra in the 1950s.” Well, the audio quality then was fundamentally different than what it is now. So, do I…? The answer is no, I don’t make it sound bad. I still make it sound good, but maybe I don’t put all the glitching on it that I might put on. So just clean, well-played, balanced out and have some kind of vibe. That’s what I would say.

And appropriate sounds for what you’re doing. Again, there’s a big difference between a Bob Dylan guitar vocal and a Billie Eilish record. The broadcast quality is different in each of them.

We’ve got eight minutes left. Here’s a question from Gloria Covington. “If you’ve already registered your music with a PRO and self-publish, can you easily turn over your publishing to the production music library?”

If you’ve already registered with the PRO and you’ve self-published, so your song is just sitting there, yeah, you should be able to do that. If it’s your own publishing, you should be able to turn that over.

“Once you have a relationship—don’t pester them—but a two-sentence email just asking them a question, and then see how they answer. But again, don’t pester them. Don’t ever pester anybody…”

And here’s a question from Andre Stepanian. “After developing a relationship with a library and they don’t have a submission-request section on their website, what’s the right way to approach them about submitting more music?”

Once I had libraries, and I did this a lot in my early days. After they accepted one or two or three songs or cues, I would always ask if they wanted more, and if they had any other genres they were looking for. It was just a quick two-sentence email. In my early days, I had some neo-soul stuff. That’s really what got me into the business. But I was also flirting around learning some other genres. I remember asking a company, “Hey, I do straight-ahead guitar-pop instrumentals. Are you looking for any of that stuff?” And they said, “Yeah. Send us some stuff.”

Once you have a relationship—don’t pester them—but a two-sentence email just asking them a question, and then see how they answer. But again, don’t pester them. Don’t ever pester anybody, because you want them out there working for you. You don’t want them answering your every little question.

“I tell people all the time that if they want to pitch to a library, go to a library and find out where the holes are, what don’t they have?”

And they will like you better if you don’t pester them. And you want them to like you, because if they have to choose between your music that they’re going to send somebody and somebody else’s music, and they know the other guy is a bit of a pest, they might take that into account, other things being equal.

We’re human.

This question is from Rob: “Do you find that there are perhaps opportunities for tracks that use obscure instruments to maybe corner a niche market? Or is that’s useless to go down that road?” So, let’s say you are a Sitar player, for instance. It’s fairly obscure. Do you corner the market?

Yeah, absolutely. I tell people all the time that if they want to pitch to a library, go to a library and find out where the holes are, what don’t they have? And yeah, a Sitar piece or a Didgeridoo piece. I have some Accordion stuff that I did that’s like a French café or Italian café that got in the Kardashian show. Especially if a library doesn’t have… If they’ve already got 60 or 70 Sitar pieces, then no. But there are libraries that are looking to fill up every little corner of their library. So yeah, obscure, different world instruments, sometimes you can do well with that. Those are not the most sought-after things, but when they need it, that’s what they need and nothing else will do.

Here’s a question from Charles Robichaud: “Why would some music libraries not want to work with new artists? What’s a turnoff?”

I think we want to keep this a G-rated show, so I’ll just say, “Don’t be a jerk.” And try to get your quality in… I think that TAXI is a great vehicle in a lot of ways, and one of the ways is just because the people on TAXI’s A&R team are gonna generally tell you if you’re in the ballpark or not. You know, is your stuff ready? Is it not? And if it’s not, you can get feedback through the TAXI Forum (; you can get feedback from other artists and composers. I know everybody that’s been doing this that I know that has had some success is more willing to share… You know, I have to be really careful, especially with my books out there, that sometimes I can spend five, six, seven hours a week just listening to songs and answering emails, and saying, “Hey, this is really good, but, man, I would mix that differently on that.” So, get the feedback, make sure your stuff is good and don’t be a jerk, just be professional. Send short emails to libraries—nobody wants to read eight paragraphs. In two or three sentences you should be able to say what you want and ask them if they’re interested in listening and what format they would like to receive that in.

Dean made this point before, and I want to underline it. The more time they spend talking to you… You can’t be narcissistic; it’s not all about you. They’ve got a hundred, 200, 500, a thousand composers in their catalog; if they spend 20 minutes on the phone once a week with each of those, they have no time to get out there and make you money with your music. So, if they make a buck, you’re making a buck. They choose to spend their time getting music into shows and films and video games, commercials, whatever, rather than being your handholding buddy in the music business. That’s why they all love TAXI, because we do the handholding and kind of teach you how to get to that pro level. And then, once you kind of graduate from TAXI and you’re on your own, at that point you don’t really need us. But a lot of people continue to be members, because some libraries that you are in now, maybe they’ve got a great relationship with a hit show and that show after nine years gets canceled. And now they’ve lost their biggest client, and their sales may drop by 30% next year, and you’ve got a lot of stuff in that catalog.

So, use TAXI to build new relationships all the time, because, like Deano, you want yourself out there in as many catalogs as you can get, but not necessarily the ones where you can generally upload your music to a company online. In most cases, that’s a bad sign. It hurts me—it drives me crazy more than hurting me—when people post on a forum somewhere on social media, “Oh, this got rejected by TAXI, but I got it into a library,” and people go, “Oh, they’re holding you back, but you did it on your own. Good for you.” But what they don’t know is, you’ve put it in some crap library that would take somebody farting the national anthem.

Not a bad idea. [laughs]

We actually had somebody do that years ago. Somewhere in the office we have a recording of somebody farting some famous tune! But, I digress…

Dean, you know, the fact that you are so accessible, so helpful at the Road Rallies—the physical ones—to other people. It’s people like you, in meeting guys like you, becoming friends with you and developing relationships. We’ve known each other for somewhere around 20 years. On my really bad days at TAXI, it’s people like you that remind me why I do this, why I work as much as I do. I am just so proud of you, and the other people like you that looked at it and went, “I can make this work.” And you’ve turned it into your full-time gig, you’re making a nice living at it and you share, and you inspire others. So, congratulations on all that success, and thank you for always being helpful in the Forums and helpful with new people at the Rally.

I really, really am sorry I forgot the orange book, which is still at the office. I’m looking over at my box of books here. But these two books—I’ll hold them up one at a time. Demystifying the Genre, if you haven’t read this book—and I’m not saying this because I’m looking at Dean and I’m trying to score points with him—I’m saying this because I absolutely believe it from my core. If you haven’t read this book [he shows book], then you are going to take twice as long and work twice as hard and make easily twice as many mistakes. Spend $20, $30, whatever these books cost. How much do they cost, Deano?

I don’t know. $15 or $20?

Production Music Libraries: What they are and what do they do for you!
Production Music Libraries: What they are and what do they do for you!
Production Music Libraries: What they are and what do they do for you!

All of Dean’s amazing books are on Amazon. They are “must-reads” for anybody who wants to get into the production music side of the music business!

I want to thank you, Michael. It all started for me with my relationship with TAXI, with you, with the community and the people in the community that you fostered, that you’ve cultivated, that you’ve grown, and the teaching and learning here and the opportunities. Just thank you so much. And I got gold records because of you and TAXI. Thank you!

No, you got gold records because you wrote great songs. TAXI just made the introduction. We bring you to the dance, but you’ve got to get up there and boogie.

Well, thank you and your whole staff!

Thank you, Dean. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Dean Krippaehne!