Up-and-coming artists are always looking for ways to monetize their hustle. The great underutilized revenue stream is music licensing — artists are making money by simply getting their music placed in various outlets in order to fund their other musical ventures. How does this work? I chatted with Mr. Robotic, the independent game’s current kingpin of music licensing, to find out. Robotic’s been featured on Jersey Shore, Victoria’s Secret, Coca-Cola, CW, ABC, CBS, NBC, Comedy Central, and many more. In this piece, he talks about the music licensing game and advice for independent artists.
On His First Placement
My first song placement was actually on CW, it was a show called The Beautiful Life. [I got it] through a company called Music Dealers… I actually met the Vice President, I think I saw him at a party or whatever…somebody told me to reach out to him and I did…his company had actually already heard of me. They told me to upload some songs, then a month later I got the placement! The cool thing was, before I got it I had been wanting to get my songs on TV because my friends The Cool Kids had a song in Entourage and I was like oh that’s cool! At that point I never knew you got paid for it [laughs]. [My first] placement was like a $1000 placement and they played my song for like a minute and 43 seconds…I was really excited about it.
On the Need for a Music Business Degree
I’m never going to tell people not to go to school [laughs]… but you can learn independently…pretty much anything you’re gonna learn in college is on the internet, you know? [laughs] You know, I pretty much paid for college in networking, because literally all my friends who are in the music business came from Columbia [Columbia College Chicago]. That’s the good thing about school.
Music Licensing 101
If I were telling artists how to do it, I would tell them first, go through like a music library, cuz they already have the connections…you know, kind of like how you’d pay for a publicist. You’re not really paying them to do your job for you but you’re paying them because they already have the connections, you know.
But if you were kinda trying to do it on your own where there isn’t a middle man, I would literally google music supervisors, figure out where their office is. You can go on LinkedIn, type in their name, add them, send them an email, maybe, or try to figure out a cool way to get to meet them or send them music.
The hard part of that is, they’re getting like 70,000 songs all the time….so it’s harder to do that way to distinguish yourself…so I just think that going through a music library, like a Music Dealers or something like that, that already has those connections. You can go through them and it’s easier. But I think the best way is to do both, you should definitely do both, like go through a library and also build some connections on your own, because you can’t always rely on somebody else to do the work for you.
On Getting Music Chosen
For me, a lot of the songs that get picked are just songs I put out, I think only maybe twice or three times I’ve done something for a specific show…it was the Coca-Cola thing, I did the theme song for a TV special on E!, and a theme song for a video game, they gave me my own character [laughs]. But other than that, lots of things that people have picked are songs that I’ve just put out the normal way…like if I’m putting out a project or putting out a new single, I also send those records to my music supervisor who I’ve built a relationship with. And it kinda works exponentially from there.
Generally speaking, how much money you get of course depends. Like some, you’re not getting any up front money but you’re making the back end money, like royalties. Some placements, like on network television, it’s usually around $1500-$5000. A movie trailer may get you $10,000 to maybe $30,000. The biggest are commercials and stuff like that, maybe is usually at $20,000 but it can go a lot higher obviously. Like if you’re a super huge artist, maybe half a million and up.
On Finding an Agency
I personally wouldn’t go through any agency that charges you up front to be put in a music library. Because a lot of those would also charge once you sold something. Don’t pay money for something that’s not guaranteed at all, especially when you know they’ll charge you at the back end too. I think the best thing is going to a reputable company… like Music Dealers, you don’t have to pay, they just charge you once you get a placement. But companies that charge you up front, that’s highway robbery, I wouldn’t ever do that. Also you know, you can research on your own and find out what companies have a proven track record.
On the Importance of Branding
[Building a brand] is probably the most important thing you can do as an artist because you as the artist are the brand and then your product is the music. I feel like, say for instance Beyoncé’s brand is the reason why Pepsi gave her 50 million dollars, it’s her brand that’s bringing in this money even though she hasn’t put out an album in a year.
I think a lot of people just think it’s all about the music now, like, “I just made the hottest song ever and it’s gonna get me on”…it just doesn’t work like that. Even if you take it to a label, you won’t be as successful at that label unless you are also a brand…there’s so much stuff, clothing, all that…you want people to buy into you as a brand and not just the music, especially these days when music sales are down.
On Getting Signed
I would like to get signed, but I think of something more like RocNation, a boutique agency where they do everything, they have publishing, they have touring…I feel like most labels are turning into management companies anyway, you know, you don’t really need a record label anyway these days when you can put records out on iTunes or whatever by yourself.
So lots of these labels are just turning into management companies, like even Lyor Cohen, he left his position to start a management company, because now so much of everything is managing a brand. They want the Kanye Wests, they want the Jay-Zs, they want that type of stuff…artists as a brand are what’s making them huge. I would sign to a label but it would have to be a different type of deal, it couldn’t be the normal recording contract type thing.
On Current Projects
I got the Coca-Cola campaign coming out soon, a few other things, and of course, I can always be found on Twitter, @goRobotic. Workin’ workin’ workin’, that’s what you gotta do!