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How do I get my song in film and TV?

I am asked this often, and it’s high time I put it down in one place. As with all things, results will vary and no one will walk the same road. I’ve certainly made enough mistakes and hit enough potholes to hopefully steer you down a path that moves even farther and faster than I. Here we go folks!

THERE IS VERY LITTLE OVERNIGHT SUCCESS. It will take some time, and that’s OK. 

As with all things in the arts and in the music business, there is no one way to success and no shortcuts. As one of my heroes Daniel Lanois says, “The long road will make you sweat, but the short road will make you bleed.” Whatever you do, try to enjoy the process and keep the faith. Hearing your first tune on your television, Netflix stream, or on the big screen is an absolute thrill. For me it’s even more exciting than hearing your song on the radio.

Luckily I got into this years ago before music supervisors started to say “TV is the new radio”. I have always loved film and TV music so much that it just built organically. A lot of my original music, aside from the work with my band, was instrumental and moody/dark/vibey anyway, so it made sense to constantly send things out and try to get into some of my favorite shows. People give us credit now for being “diversified” and making a living, as so many other income streams in the music biz have changed, but really it was curiosity and a genuine love for this work that got me started with placements.

That being said, the early placements I landed (2006–10) were a huge part of being able to work full time in music, build my own companies, and the best part of all, STAY ON THE ROAD. Like many artists early on in their touring, writing songs and licensing songs pays for the gas/motels/salaries until you make a name for your live show.


I put these early on here as they include the nuts and bolts of sync and master licensing, which I will not be covering here. We are going into this conversation assuming you have registered with a PRO (Performing Rights Organization) like BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. If you don’t know what this is, definitely read the suggested books listed below and get signed up so you will receive royalties if you get a song placed.  A PRO pays you every time your music spins on the radio, TV, and films overseas (film theaters don’t pay in the US every time your music spins). A PRO pays the WRITER (person who WROTE the track, not necessarily who recorded it) and PUBLISHER (the person who owns the rights to publish or PLACE the song). Sound Exchange is not a PRO, but it provides royalties to the PERFORMER of the music and the LABEL that owns the MASTER.

Again, PRO pays WRITER and PUBLISHER. Sound Exchange pays ARTIST and LABEL or MASTER OWNER.

There are three PROs. I’m with BMI, but they are all great, and you should look into them for the vibe that fits you and then sign up—eventually you will need to make a contact at one of these companies.



The New Music Business by Ari Herstand (2020 edition)
Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman
Music Money and Success by Jeffrey and Todd Brabec


When you read these, you might sit down with a legal pad and pen and study them as if it were a college course. Don’t skip the hard parts like I did the first three times. (OK, I still glaze over on a couple of sections.) 🙂

There are several other issues at hand re: Mechanical licenses, Blanket licenses, Direct Performance Licenses (yuck—I LOVE PROs). I’m not covering every detail here today- but if you continue in this business full time these are all worth understanding down the road.

Search Google for the type of music you specialize in and what types of TV show your genre appears in. IMDB, Film Music Network, soundtrack.net; there are a ton of sites you can check depending on your style of music—and whether you are an artist trying to pitch songs with lyrics or a composer with more score-based tracks looking for background placements. Start watching the end of every film and TV show and find out who the heavy hitter music sups and composers are. This can be really fun as you realize which Music Sups bring their own fingerprint to your favorite shows. I am huge fan of Thomas Golubic, and even attended his night school class at UCLA just to get in the mind of an amazing supervisor.

Even if you don’t live in one of the main music centers (most film/tv sups tend to live in LA and some in NYC) and run into these folks at events, you need to know how to talk about them, reference them, study and learn from them. You most likely won’t get a hold of them at the start, but it’s crucial to know who is working on what. The business will get smaller and smaller and more manageable as you put in the time. You could get an online subscription to Billboard or Variety. There are a lot of mentions inside these pubs about what is going into production, who is working where, what the trends are, etc.

In general I am diametrically opposed to sites that have you PAY them to get you placements, but Michael Laskow at TAXI is on the up and up.

Getting to know the EDITOR on a project can be a great resource, too. It was actually an editor friend of mine who went on to become a fantastic director who gave me some of my first ops here in LA (Mr. Cris Blyth). I met him at a show I played at the Cat Club for about five people in 2002. We became fast friends and have been ever since. Sometimes editors will put something in as a temporary track, and the director/producer falls in love and gets the rights to the temp secured (aka “temp love”). If you are in high school or college and not in a major market where there are industry events and people to network with, score everything that your friends produce. Every project will teach you something, even if the lesson is that you HATE that type of work and should say NO next time. Tell them they won’t be able to clear that track by the Beatles or Radiohead and that they should let you rescore it at once!


Doing your homework on who is doing what is a HUGE part of showing the industry you care enough not to waste their time, or yours. Figure out which artists are in your genre and where they are getting placed. When you talk to people in the biz, you must have some understanding of what is going on and what their needs are or you are gonna have some really short and uncomfortable phone calls (I’ve had ’em and you don’t want ’em).  These days many of the  music sups are becoming gatekeepers and tastemakers in the music biz, and in order to succeed in music licensing, we must accept that part of our job is to provide them what they need and do some of their legwork for them. To put it simply: You MUST show them you have spent the time researching them before you blow up their phones. You would expect the same respect if someone cold-called you. There is more and more music coming out all the time, and these folks simply can’t deal with the amount of material coming at them—they definitely aren’t gonna call you back if you haven’t shown them the respect of understanding exactly what it is they DO.

There is a great section about how to craft an email to these folks in the Ari Herstand book I mentioned above.

If you are in LA, NYC, or Nashville and have any kind of a résumé, I would suggest signing up for the following organizations. All have events to give you the opportunity to network, find mentors, and soak up current info.

SCL (The Society of Composers and Lyricists): www.thescl.com
AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers): www.aimp.org
NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences): www.grammy.com
CCC (California Copyright Conference): www.theccc.org
ASMAC (American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers): www.asmac.org

I find LinkedIn is the best way to get a sense of who runs with who and to start building your network. People aren’t on Facebook first and foremost to network, but on LinkedIn they are. As musicians, we have a built-in and painful empathy to take everyone on who comes to us. We want attention at some level and say yes sometimes too quickly. Whether it’s the kindness of your heart or sheer desperation, LinkedIn is one place you don’t take everyone who wants to connect with you since you are opening up your network to them and possibly tempting them to use your name to use with others. Be selective with your reputation and your time. Yes, like your grandfather told ya, it takes 20 years to build a rep and two minutes to destroy it. Work with the people you meet—give them what they need and show them they can trust you.


It’s never one thing that makes a career in the music business. Everyone has a different balance of skills used in making music their full-time job. I grew up on Kiss, Prince, Queen, U2, my dad’s Motown records, and my mom’s classical piano lessons. In my mind I was never put on earth to run a publishing company or indie label. As a child I figured I would be breathing fire like Gene Simmons by now. Still, at the end of the day I am extremely grateful I make a good living doing what I love, and I get to see this amazing country year-round. I built a mom/pop business with one placement into a 6,500-song catalog currently getting daily placements with our distributors APM music (North America) and BMG (overseas).  But it took years and years and learning to surround myself with people with tons of skills I will never possess. A good chunk of my income is tied to music placement and publishing. And yet that is still not my ultimate dream. The time I spend on stage is the most fulfilling hour or two of my day. If you are a writer/performer, don’t make the mistake of letting licensing consume your entire business plan. The music business is also filled with people ready to take your money IE Sharks. As mentioned before, any site where you have to pay to get licensed (including and maybe especially, SonicBids), MOVE ON. Music licensing is not a replacement for touring, merch, sponsorships, etc., but if done right, it can be a huge source of revenue, as well as give your reputation as an artist a critical boost. Everyone loves talking points, and a couple of good placements may be the buzz that helps keep you in someone’s office for a few minutes longer.


When I finally moved to LA after working 18-hour days for years to find some limited (barely able to keep credit cards paid) success in the Midwest, I sat with anyone who would talk to me to try to get a hold of the scene and who I might fit with. Lots of coffee dates, lots of driving around cities meeting anyone who would take a few mins with me face to face. I learned quickly two factors were key—and they are simple but really hard: (1) doing really good work always (I have mediocre work that haunts me to this day) and (2) being at the right place at the right time. Best way to be at the right place at the right time (in the beginning is ALWAYS SAY YES AND ALWAYS SHOW UP. Unless you have a great manager or great industry connections (in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this long-winded blog), people have to like you first, then your work. There is enough music in the world and enough artists that few people in this day and age are taking the time to deal with jerks. If they are, they might be jerks themselves and you don’t need the aggravation. As Johnny Cash perfectly said…Drive on. Good people attract good people, and when you establish a relationship with someone who needs your music, the word will get around. Like anything of lasting quality, it takes times and it requires a lot of patience. This business is extremely, utterly, mind-boggling competitive. And this is hard to tell you but if this dosen’t burn in your soul to do, if it’s not on your mind 24/7, it’s probably not the business for you. There is a seemingly infinite supply and limited demand for new music, but if it is what you love and you are being honest in your work, I really believe you will find your niche. And I will be learning from you soon enough!

There is no more truth than the adage GIVE TO GET. That’s a kinda quasi-spiritual discussion best left to another time, but it’s worth mentioning. Like all of life, you will do 1000 percent better licensing your music if you take the time to understand and empathize with the other person’s perspective and needs. I’m by nature an impatient person so sadly this took a min for me. Get to know a music supervisor and understand what their day-to-day is like. Don’t just pitch. I went so far as to take a class on music supervision with the amazing Thomas Golubic (Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad), even though I have ZERO intention of ever trying to become a music sup. It was a great opportunity to understand what one of the best sups in the biz were looking for.


We have all heard this 104 times but it’s true… Relationships are everything, build your network, etc. There are a zillion tracks on the market now. Everyone has a record. Everyone can cobble together some halfway decent-sounding Apple loops and say they have a catalog. The only way to cut through all of this crap (after we do the best and most honest music we can) is to get out there and MEET people in the field. Do a search for music conferences/film fests and attend them. Then, follow up. Follow up again. My dear friend and former manager Joe P. has a couple of wisdom nuggets that apply here…

“If you don’t plan on following up and keeping the relationship going, don’t waste your time leaving your house.”

“Your success is dependent on the amount of uncomfortable phone calls you are willing to make in a day.”

90/10 RULE

Really provide value to the first few clients you get in hopes that your reputation will put you above the pack. I have pitched for a thousand things, and I still do, but 90 percent of my business comes from a handful of people who know and trust my work. Treat those people like the friends and heroes they are ’cause it only takes a few of them to pay your rent and put you on the map. Word of mouth really is everything.


It doesn’t sound fun ’cause it ain’t!! Cold calls and emails are tough, but sometimes if you have exactly what they want at the right time they are looking, you can get in the door. A lot of people say never cold call, and I don’t blame them, but if you live out where the buses don’t run, you may not have a choice. I started my business from Kansas this way and still get work from some of those first calls. That being said, DON’T DRIVE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY! BUILD YOUR RELATIONSHIPS SLOWLY! DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

It helps to have ANY kind of résumé built up before you call, even if that résumé is your friend’s tiny independent film. I made my first few calls with nothing but placements in friend and bandmate Billy Driver’s student films at KU, but I rattled them off like they had won Emmys and Grammys. Be confident but polite. You are making the call to them asking for their time so get your pitch down fast, and if they are kind enough to point you in the right direction or even give you a piece of good advice, be appreciative and move along. REMEMBER WHO HELPED YOU and be WILLING TO RECIPROCATE down the line. If you had presence and handled things well, they might remember you down the line. DON’T CALL TOO OFTEN AND DON’T DRIVE THEM CRAZY. Also, don’t take it personally if the bigger supervisors don’t return calls or emails. There are simply too many people coming at them to get back with you. That does not mean they don’t remember. I sent a CD in for a huge show in 2008 and sent a follow-up email every couple of months for a year. In 2010 I got a 30-second call asking for a track, and within that afternoon, the paperwork was drawn up for a $2,000 placement.

I used to hate that no one called me back, and now I get enough calls and emails that if I answered them all in this much detail, I would never call my mother (and if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy…).


Nothing will kill you worse than negativity. If someone is quick on the phone or doesn’t call you back, my God do not bad-mouth them to ANYONE. I had someone once license my stuff to a large network without clearing it. They called after it aired and apologized, offered some money, and I happily took it and went on my way. Soon after, they licensed a lot more, and the relationship is solid to this day. It was an honest mistake. Being litigious or angry would have only killed any of my future business with them and everyone they know. I find this business is smaller the further I get. I took a meeting at a large TV station, and on the cubicles of the music sups were lists saying “THESE ARE LITIGIOUS ARTISTS. DO NOT USE THEM.” The movers and shakers know each other; they are friends. You’ll never win bad-mouthing or burning a bridge.

As my pops used to say, “Don’t step over a dollar to make a dime.” Be really careful which battles you take on. Having a great lawyer will help in this area.


Once you have one marquee placement (for me, it was bugging everyone on mp3.com in the early 2000s and getting $200 to have two songs in the Matrix: Revisited), send a quick newsletter and call your best contacts. Give them the good news to try to get leads for more. Having one thing to start the conversation off is critical. Momentum is everything.


This is crucial depiste the ease of social media, and where I think artists that perform live or live in a big music cities have an edge. It helps to play gigs outside of town, go to conventions/film fests. Slowly build your address book and follow up. I have found living in LA makes this a lot easier, but of course the cost is considerable, and it took me a long time to get a foothold here. It still has to be said, if you are not near a city center, get to one. People say the internet has changed this, but I do not find that to be 100 percent true. I am a Midwest native (Detroit, MI and Wichita, KS), but there is simply a different energy in the major music cities, a higher level of competition (and BS) and you will be forced to “do or die” and really focus on your career. My career improved by a landslide after I spent a few years beating the streets in Los Angeles. As my sister told me when I lived in Colorado and explained how easy it was to write music next to my neighbors’ beautiful field of horses…”HORSES DON’T GIVE RECORD DEALS!!!”


Make sure you provide them exactly what they want in a way they can get right to it. Mark the track you want heard. Don’t send too much material. I know you are excited that you have new tracks and want to give them plenty to pick from. I do it, too, but we gotta STOP IT. It comes off as desperate, and no one but your most die-hards fans are gonna listen to all those tracks. (I made this mistake for years, and I probably made it again this morning because I don’t take my own advice.) Make sure your contact info is clear. Make sure they know ONE WRITER and NO UNCLEARED SAMPLES. They can’t feel for a second that there will be any trouble using your track. I have been lucky that a lot of my catalog has been 100 percent writer/publisher, and therefore, they know they can clear a song with me by the end of the business day.

They want the song cleared fast and want to know you don’t have 30 writers waiting to come back and ask for a piece. Only send what you think fits them. Be concise when you follow up; they have a hundred people hitting them up. Ask them: “What do you need right now?” Like it or not, we need the airwaves more than they need new music. There is a lot of music in this world. (Wait, a cricket just came up to my desk and is pitching me his new record full of boring Apple loops…)


Do you write hammer dulcimer music only? Well, if it is original and well recorded and you push it to the right places, I believe you can be totally successful with that one instrument. I am actually working on a new record of drums and mallets called Drums for Daisy. I expect it to license perfectly as long as I put my whole heart into it and find the right uses for it.

(UPDATE: This was picked up for Vice Principles on HBO three years later. Thanks APM!)

Follow your voice no matter what, but know that you will only fit for certain ops. Even the most prolific person can’t cover it all. If you are known for something great in a niche, brand yourself in that way and they will eventually search you out. It’s better to be known as being amazing at one thing than being mediocre at 10 things.


If you can convince a friend or loved one you TRUST to help you with this, do it. I have walked the line between business and artist, and I think both sides of my brain have benefited from the other, but if you spend all your time plugging your music, you are not MAKING music and learning the real heart of your craft. I’m very lucky that my girlfriend from the age 19-27 and my friend and agent Deb T took me on at the beginning of this journey (as well as several very patient music managers), and if it wasn’t for them making calls right beside me, I’m sure it would of been easy to lose faith. I’ve made a ton of mistakes and had a very slow and steady career, but I’m proud of where I’m at because of what it took to build with these other wonderful people throughout the years.

This asks a fundamental question, too: If you like the business or the “score” of landing a spot and making money with music, maybe you should be the manager and let someone else make the art. I preach and don’t always practice though… typical control freak, I know. You heard of LSD? It’s “Lead Singer Disease.” It’s a horrible disease. Many of us are afflicted and working hard to recover.

If you are constantly creating and have a really solid grasp on recording production ready material, but don’t want to pitch every single piece of music you make, you might look into the Production music world. This is music pre-cleared for film, tv, videogames, really all media, and while the placements seldom pay what a larger license would directly with a Music Supervisor or agency that falls in love with your music, Production Music companies have a ton of clients and many deals directly with companies that you will simply not be able to reach directly as a composer. They also have teams constantly pitching, helping their clients, clearing the music, and even helping you promote your material within their catalogs. I built a company called Kingdom 2 that specializes in this work and this catalog is distributed by our friends APM Music in North America, and BMG Production Music overseas. Please watch out for “Royalty Free Catalogs”.  I feel these are unhelpful, usually low quality and a race to the bottom for all of us creators.


Scratch that. BUILD THE RIGHT TEAM. I prefer lawyers over managers. I am still great friends with most of my former managers, but to start out, build a relationship with a lawyer (this happens naturally by doing good work and by paying them well to look over your contracts, WHICH IS WORTH EVERY PENNY EVERY TIME).

READ WHAT YOU SIGN. A former manager of mine signed a deal with a larger label where he gave away most of my digital rights to a song because of one small sentence that neither he nor I understood at the time (you can believe I understand it now). I trusted my manager to handle all my paperwork, and he did not have a lawyer look at it. We were too excited and signed too quickly. The manager was young, and at the end of the day it’s MY career. The label was doing what companies do: They get as many rights as they can to protect their bottom line. This isn’t about blame, it’s about the importance of lawyers, and above all else, educating yourself as much as possible. The vision of an artist just recording and touring and a staff of people handling everything else is a romanticized vision that sharks love to talk to musicians about before they sign on the dotted line. Ever read U2 by U2? Every member of that band is on the phone solving problems, attending meetings. Larry Mullen was on the phone himself trying to solve a ticket-scalping problem on a tour just a few years back. Watch your business, and when you find people that will watch it with you and guard you, treat them like the kings and queens they are.

One more note on having a lawyer before a manager: You pay a lawyer ONCE for a service, not for years after the contract. Plus, you pay them on what THEY are working on, not what you yourself might be working on. If you are a go-getter yourself, you might sign with a manager that you run circles around and you still have to send them a cut. This doesn’t happen with lawyers. And some of those lawyers know a lot more people in the biz than the managers. That being said, I have met some managers that are about 10 times more talented than their artists (no hate mail, dammit)—and I don’t know of a single banner act that doesn’t have a great and connected management team.

(UPDATE—I am now managed by Ryan Romenesko of Jensen Ent, and I love him like a brother)


If you read all the way to here, and you are working at your music night and day, then you probably have a decent shot at finding some kind of film/TV placement. Did you know that only 10 percent of the books purchased in America ever get read? Most people talk the talk and don’t walk the walk. Let that keep you on fire—there are a million people in this business, but few have the tenacity to do what it takes. Few of them DO THE WORK. If you go slow and steady, you will find some breaks and you can leverage those into more opportunities as you go along. Don’t give away the farm in the first week ’cause the race to the bottom hurts us all. To those who are selling stakes of your writer’s shares for placements (giving up writer’s share just to get a credit—this has happened with several cable shows), or paying music supervisors to use your tracks (payola isn’t only in radio), you are not only making someone else money off YOUR work but you are devaluing the business for those of us who work full time. It’s a race to the bottom none of us on the creative side can win. This kind of short-sighted thinking only limits your ability to work this business full time in the future.

Now that we’ve cussed and discussed, let’s just go write some music. Unplug the phones and write till you can’t think straight. Write till you forget that you haven’t eaten or slept and you have entered some kind of dream state. There is a necessary evil of artists having to learn how to be great business people … but here’s to us all keeping the music first in our hearts. The old model is dead, and we must not fear the new one. There are opportunities everywhere, though we are still shaking out what replaces the revenue streams we once had. If someone loves what they do, there is always a way to monetize it, but that’s another conversation and another post… Have faith in the creative conscience. One foot after the other; do not stop.

When you are done combing through the internet sites and books, magazines, and calling everyone, just don’t forget to enjoy making the music. With a little planning and elbow grease you will hear a song on your TV set or at your theater soon. And it’s a great feeling.

Heading back into the headphones… Hope to see you on the road. Please come say hello and let me know if you made it all the way through this.



Originally posted June 25, 2013. Updated November 29, 2017.

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