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Music libraries and how to make money when you can't play live –

When the pandemic halted live performances, many artists were left without their largest source of income. Some used the pause to find alternative ways to make money as a musician.

Guest post by indie musician Olly Vert
With more than a billion hours of video uploaded to YouTube every day, 50 million YouTubers uploading video content to the platform and the number of channels earning six figures growing by 40% year-on-year, there is a huge market of people looking for music – and getting licenses for songs is complex and expensive. 
Enter music libraries.
Library music (also known as ‘stock music’ or ‘production music’) is music that can be licensed for use in television, film, YouTube videos, or any other media. Music libraries typically offer a wide range of styles and genres, helping producers, editors and content creators find whatever they need within the same library.
Working with music libraries is a bit of an ‘open secret’ in the industry, with many top composers and producers spending 90% of their working hours creating music exclusively for this purpose. Even some big name artists are getting in on the game; T-Pain recently joined the advisory board of royalty-free library Slip.Stream, and has released multiple collections of royalty-free music already.  
Having first-hand experience of working with music libraries, I know it can be an unpredictable source of income, but with a bit of luck and patience it can be a unique, rewarding way to get music ‘out there’ as well as making some extra money. 
In this article, I’ll share some practical tips and advice for artists curious about a new way of making money from their music, starting with an easy one: make sure you’ve got some high-quality recordings of your music. Your first emails to music libraries will be your job applications, and your music will be your CV.
The great thing about library music is that there are no limits to the type of music you’re making. Music is everywhere – whether it’s a hard-hitting rock anthem fitting for some football highlights, a pulsing synth to accompany an intense scene in a drama or a plinky xylophone number that might fit with a kids’ TV show. Music libraries want your stuff. 
Do some research into various libraries, look at their websites, listen to some of their catalogues and contact the ones you think would be a good fit for your own music. Libraries deal with every type of music, so you have nothing to lose by sending your stuff to as many of them as possible.
Whether or not your tracks will get picked up is the one element which cannot really be controlled. As soon as you sign over the rights of your music to a library, it’s in their hands to attract potential clients (which will probably include sync agents for advertising companies, TV shows, games, films etc). Some of the bigger libraries like Audio Network have hundreds of thousands of tracks by thousands of composers available. While this gives you a great platform for your music, you’re a small fish in a huge ocean of competition and it would take a real spot of luck to have your music singled out. 
The library I work with (Bibliotheque Music Library) is a very small team of only a handful of people. They have a lot of pride in their catalogue by keeping it authentic (and not overwhelming), which allows them to stay bespoke and maintain a more personal, communicative relationship with composers; like knowing your style well enough to pitch new briefs to you, and providing constructive feedback on music you submit.
Production music is often required at the very last minute for ads & TV shows, so the people in charge of picking the music will likely go for some of the first things they hear. Most music libraries will offer a database search of their music catalogue online, and sync agents can select genres, moods, tempos, instrumentation, and use hashtags to whittle down their choices. 
By following familiar song structures in your music, you can maximise the chances of it being selected. Try to ensure your song has a good intro, a catchy/memorable hook, convenient edit points (making it easy to chop and change to match the length of an ad, for example), and a nice build of arrangement and dynamics. I would also recommend sticking to one genre, and doing it well! 
Ultimately though, once the music is in the hands of the library all you can do is cross your fingers.
The industry standard is that composers and libraries split the royalties 50/50. The rights of the music are handed over 100% to the library, but whatever income is generated from it thereafter, you (the composer) will receive half of it. Of course, if you are a band or it’s a collaboration, 50% will always go to the library – so it’s up to the group to agree what share of the remaining half each of you will get.
50% may seem like a lot to give away, but consider that 100% of nothing will always be nothing. Half of a decent opportunity can end up being a pretty hefty sum in your back pocket – and it also means that it’s in the interests of the libraries to work hard to get your music out there. 
Some libraries will distribute their catalogue to streaming platforms, which offers you a great opportunity to be able to promote your music to ‘regular’ music listeners in addition to ‘business clients’. (The royalties from streams are also split 50/50 between composer(s) and library.)
Last year I made a 70s-inspired psychedelic funk album for Bibliotheque – having it distributed to Spotify really helped build some hype for it, and meant I didn’t have to direct listeners to a clunky music library database or Soundcloud. I was able to build up quite a lot of hype around my album coming to streaming sites, and had a lot of requests for a physical version – luckily Bibliotheque granted me permission to self-release the album physically, but consider that if your music is signed to one of the bigger libraries with thousands of composers you may not be able to do this.
As much as it can be a great little backburner to have your tracks signed to a music library, there are of course things to consider. 
You, the composer, would no longer own the copyright to your song(s). This means you wouldn’t ever be able to ‘release’ them yourself or through a record label etc. Basically you do not have the permission to accept any other use of your music unless licensed through the library. However, you’ll often find there is no issue uploading them to somewhere like Soundcloud or Youtube to maintain some kind of portfolio for yourself – just make sure you clear it with the library first. 
Sadly, your tracks may just never get picked. Speaking from personal experience, around 40% of my catalogue of around 50 songs has never been used, despite being available for up to 7 years. Of course, just because they haven’t been used at the time of writing doesn’t mean they never will – but you cannot rely on this income stream as your bread and butter. You may get a PRS statement for £5000 just as easily as one for 14p. 
I repeat – do not rely on this as a consistent income stream! 
You can still learn a lot from the music which doesn’t get used. If you have 10 songs and only one of them ever gets used, try and figure out how that one song is different from the rest. Perhaps it has a catchier hook, a more atmospheric intro, a more driving tempo…? Then try and follow that formula on your next batch of songs. You just have to accept that some songs may end up getting left behind gathering dust. Hey ho, onto the next! 
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