What is library music/production music?

“Library” or “Production” music refers to any musical composition created mainly for video. It can be used for live TV, network TV, streaming services, movies, movie trailers, advertising and much more. The boundaries of library music continues to expand as new forms of video become more popular.

Generally speaking, artists and composers will work with a Library (also referred to as a Publisher at times) and sign what is called a “Licensing Agreement”. This agreement allows the Library to make the artists’ or composers' music available to various industry professionals, which in turn can lead to a “sync”.

What is a sync?

The term “sync” simply refers to a usage of an artists’ or composer's music within the context of video, and usually implies that the original creator will receive some sort of compensation for its usage. (such as royalties, sync fees, etc.)

If you have music signed with a production music library, then your music will be made available to industry professionals. And when your music is actually “synchronized” to video and is aired in some form, then it would be referred to as a “sync”.

What are the benefits of writing production music?

Passive Income: Depending on how many tracks you have signed and the caliber of libraries you work with, it is possible to build up your royalties to a full-time income over the course of 5-8 years. On top of that, it is quite common for artists and composers to receive unexpected (and sometimes considerable) amounts of money for a “sync fee”.

Musical Freedom: If you are creating music for libraries, you have a freedom to create the type of music that you are passionate about. Though there are requirements, expectations, and a general set of rules within the context of a useable production music track, generally you have more freedom to be creative than working with a director, band manager, record label, or other more constrictive arrangements.

Work at your own pace: For musicians, artists, and composers that have a full plate of responsibilities including things like family, career, etc., creating library music is generally very easy to commit to, since there are normally not any hard deadlines. As you build up your catalog and see an increase in your royalties and payouts, then it becomes possible to increase the amount of time you spend writing.

What are the challenges of working in production music?

Working with the right libraries: Deciding on which libraries to work with can be challenging, especially if you are new to sync licensing. There are some libraries that take advantage of their writers and composers with shady business practices and unfair agreements, but more common is simply working with libraries that aren’t a good fit for your particular genre or style. The PMA is an excellent resource for finding and connecting you with high-quality libraries, and the networking opportunities within the community lend themself to helping you find the right library for you. 

Excessively long payout times: Due to the nature of how things work within the Film/TV industry, the turn around for composers and artists to get paid for a usage of their composition can be upwards of 2 or even 3 years. This can be very discouraging as someone new in the industry.

Lone Ranger Mentality: It’s easy to feel isolated and to second guess all the decisions you’re making as a composer/artist in sync licensing. Many times this can lead to burnout and wanting to give up within the first year or two, and it is quite common for individuals to become jaded and pessimistic about the industry in general. The best way to combat this is to stay plugged into an informed, helpful, and active community such as the PMA. One of our goals is to resource and educate people within the industry, which in turn equips them with the knowledge they need to make it in the long run with sync licensing.

What are sync fees?

Sync fees are paid by video production companies to your publisher and are generally split with you for the right to use your music in a current production. It’s smart to check your licensing agreement before signing for details regarding sync fees and what are referred to as sync splits. (the percentage of the sync fee goes to you vs what goes to your publisher)

What is a PRO, and do I need to be a part of one?

PROs (short for Performance Rights Organization) are responsible for collecting performance income on behalf of artists, songwriters, composers, producers, and publishers. In short, they act as an intermediary between the owners of the musical work, the publisher, and the end user. You will need to be a member of a PRO before you begin working with any libraries. This will ensure that your tracks can be registered correctly, and that you (and your publisher) can receive payment for your royalties.

How are the payment amounts determined or calculated?

Unfortunately, most composers, artists, and producers that create production music never really understand how exactly their payments are calculated. PROs calculate payout amounts by using many variables including the length of usage, type of usage, Nielsen ratings, type of composition, where it aired, and other various factors… but the specifics of each calculation is not something that is seen on a royalty statement.

Generally speaking, usage of your music for smaller productions or more obscure shows (such as a less popular reality TV show) will yield smaller amounts of money per usage… whereas if your song was featured in a very notable way on primetime network television, the royalty amounts would most likely be much higher.

How do I get started?

  1. Join a PRO. (Check what is available in your country)
  2. Create licensable, high-quality music. 
  3. Get high-quality feedback about your music from industry professionals. (Check out the PMA’s Digital Derby events) 
  4. Assemble a collection of 5 or 10 tracks, and upload them to an online hosting service such as dropbox. 
  5. Research a quality library that you think might be a good fit for your music.
  6. Compose a succinct, professional, and personalized email requesting the opportunity to partner with the company. Provide the link to your tracks, and thank them for their consideration. 

Due to how backed up and busy some libraries can get, it is generally regarded as appropriate to wait between 2-3 weeks for a response. If there is no response, you can repeat steps 5 and 6. If a library does happen to get back to you after 2-3 weeks and you’ve already signed the music to another entity, simply apologize and explain that they are no longer available, and that you would like the opportunity to create new music in the same style for them.

How many tracks do I need to have signed in order to make a full-time income?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to give a specific amount. The variables that all play into this number include things like:

  • The quality of your tracks
  • The caliber of the libraries you work with
  • The types of placements you get
  • The types of agreements you have with your libraries
  • The average full-time income in your area based off the cost of living

Most composers that earn a full-time income have amassed hundreds of tracks (sometimes thousands) in their catalog over the course of many years. Others focus on extremely high-bar placements and are able to bring in a full-time income with a relatively few amount of notable placements per year.

Should I stick to one style of music?

It depends on your versatility and strengths. Many times, new composers will think they can be a “jack-of-all-trades”, but really need to start by honing in on where they excel. Once they have established a good rapport with high-quality libraries, it’s possible to start branching out and asking if the library would be interested in another style.

Do I need to mix my own music?

Generally, yes. Most libraries work with artists and composers that do their own mixing. There are exceptions, and each library works slightly different. Some will require “stems” of your music, and do the majority of the mixing in house.

What file format should I use?

In the library industry the publisher will almost always want 24-bit 48kHz WAV or AIF files. For demos and example tracks, it’s quite common to use a high-quality MP3 format.

Do I need to master my tracks?

Mastering can have multiple implications, but generally speaking, it’s best to check with your library on this.

For those that refer to mastering as sending off their track to a paid professional, the answer is most likely no. For those that refer to mastering as setting final output levels, utilizing master bus limiters, compressors, and other effects (such as Ozone, Pro-L2, etc), it is very dependent on the library. Some prefer that absolutely nothing be on the master bus, while others are ok with it… as long as the stems sound pretty close to the final mix when summed together.

What are stems?

Stems refer to individual tracks grouped together by type and exported as a single, stereo audio file. For example, if your project includes drums, and there are 6-7 individual tracks (such as a snare, kick, overheads, etc), a drum stem would be one stereo file that includes all your drums.

Normally, stems are broken down by the type of instrumentation. Usually, this looks something like drums, percussion, bass, guitars, synths, etc.

The correct way to create stems is always dependent on your library. Most times, libraries will provide very specific instructions on how to prepare your final mix, stems, and alternative mixes.

What are exclusive libraries or exclusive agreements?

Exclusive libraries refer to companies that sign exclusive agreements with their artists and composers. Exclusive deals are legal agreements assigned to a single piece or set of musical works, signed by both the library and the artists/composer. This agreement states that the music referred to in the agreement can only be licensed through that particular library. In other words, if an artist signs an exclusive deal for a song they sent to a library, that song cannot be signed to any other licensing deal. It is only available commercially through that one particular library.

Every agreement is slightly different, and it’s important to understand some of the nuances within. Some libraries only deal with artists or composers that sign exclusive agreements in perpetuity. (In other words, that musical work will be tied to that library and agreement forever) Other libraries include what is called a “reversion clause”, allowing for the artists or composer to reclaim the rights to their music after certain criteria are met.

Can I work with multiple exclusive libraries?

Yes! Signing an exclusive agreement does not mean that you can’t license new songs through anyone else. All it means is that you can’t sign that particular song or work with anyone else. It’s quite common for artists and composers to have various songs and works signed to multiple libraries.

What are non-exclusive libraries?

Non-exclusive libraries allow you to retain ownership and allow you to offer the same music to other non-exclusive libraries and entities. For songs or musical works that have been signed non-exclusively, it’s possible to pitch and sign your work with as many libraries/publishers as will take them.

At first glance, non-exclusive sounds much better than exclusive deals. However, there are many instances in which an exclusive deal may make more sense. Some exclusive libraries work with sub-publishers all over the world, and that reach might have more value than holding out for multiple non-exclusive agreements with libraries who don’t have the same reach.

Generally speaking, the trend over the last 10-15 years has been that most libraries have moved toward exclusive agreements… especially those that deal with instrumental music or instrumental cues. Vocal tracks generally have a much greater chance at finding a library that is willing to sign it non-exclusively.

What is metadata?

Metadata refers to the information embedded in or associated with a musical work. It could include keywords (to help search engines), track descriptions or moods, composer name, performing rights society details, publisher name and more.

Some libraries ask for only a small amount of metadata, while others ask for quite a bit. The best way to ensure you are providing a library with what they need is to ask them directly.

Why should I join the PMA?

Simply put, joining the PMA can fast-track your production music career. We work with you to identify potential partners, co-writers, mentors and more within the space in order to create opportunities for all of our members. We’re also advocating for your rights daily, working on industry solutions and ensuring fair payouts from PROs and networks.

Our Association is centered around our members, and we’d love to add you to the family.

How do I get the most out of my PMA membership?

Get engaged! If you have questions about the industry, reach out. If you’re unsure about which library would be best for you, reach out. We’re always here to help you, and the more you are around, the more people you get to meet! Networking is such an important part of this industry and the PMA is a great resource to build your own community of composers and publishers.