Getting into Music Licensing: Library Music

Library music is the industry name for incidental music that is used in TV, Film and other forms of media. You have probably heard it in the background of a movie or TV show or even from a memorable advert.

For instance, you may have noticed a jangly, upbeat acoustic guitar in the background while a happy dog is bounding around the backyard for a dog food advert – that’s library music in action. It is often used to reinforce the message or emotion of whatever is portrayed on screen. For this to have the desired effect the music has to be written with this in mind.

Do Your Research

One of the best ways to find out what library music to write is to watch TV! Listen out for the music in adverts, various scenes in films and you will start to see how certain pieces of music actually match a scene or emotion. The music can range from solo instruments to full on orchestral scores and everything in-between. The other benefit of watching TV for the music is you get to see what is currently being used so you can identify what is popular. This way the music you write will more likely be used as it will be ‘on trend’ for a particular style of show or advert.

Now you don’t have to able to write orchestral masterpieces or be a virtuoso on piano – to start you just need to be good at one thing. Say you are an acoustic guitar player. Take note of every moment you hear a solo guitar playing. Is it playing just 3 chords? What is happening while the guitar is playing? Does it have more than one part i.e. a ‘verse’ and ‘chorus’? What is the arrangement of the music, is it A A B A?

When you learn how to recognise these things you will understand the relationship the music has to the screen and how to create your own library music that works. For further research you can look up films, TV shows and see what music was used by looking at sites like or

Making Contacts

Now that you have written and recorded some great music you need to get it to the right people. You could try contacting music supervisors directly, but one of the main problems is that most supervisors usually don’t accept unsolicited calls or e-mails due to the sheer number of composers trying to contact them. Put it this way – when was the last time you agreed to a cold call on the phone or by email?

The other issue is that you won’t necessarily know what music they are looking for at that moment in time. For instance, you could end up sending them your best orchestral action piece to a supervisor for a film trailer but in fact they are looking for ukulele instrumentals for a kid’s film.

A solid way to get contacts is to network. Try and seek out fellow composers who are involved in library music and would need the skills you have and offer to work with them. This way you may be able to score some co-writes and eventually develop your own music library contacts.

Another way is to sign up to a listings company such as where you get sent listings of what music is currently needed by music supervisors, publishers and ad companies. This way you can match up your music with a listing and submit directly to that contact. Services like these do cost money usually a membership fee or/and a small listing submission fee. This is to avoid industry contacts getting overwhelmed with bogus submissions. One useful aspect with is they screen every submission to check it fits what supervisors are looking for which increases the success rate if your music is forwarded on. They also provide you constructive feedback so even if your music isn’t quite right you can go away and improve it.

Earning Potential

If you are lucky enough for your music to end up as a theme song for a hit TV show you could see some life changing money. For example, the hit TV show Friends aired in 1994 and ran for 10 years netting an estimated £3m in royalties for The Rembrandts.

The truth is those successes don’t happen that often and realistically for many most earnings can range from a few pounds to a few thousand which isn’t too bad! It does depend on how much music you have out there working for you. The more you music that you have licensed the more royalties you will see in your PRS statement.

I know several musicians that are earning very well from library music. One in particular is now seeing yearly royalties pass $100,000 which he managed to achieve in just 6 years! He made this possible by building a large library (approx 1500 pieces) of good, useable music and maintained regular contact with publishers, supervisors and ad agencies.

One of the great things about library music is that it’s a passive income. Once you have landed a placement in a show or film the royalties will continue to generate whenever it is aired so you can potentially enjoy long term earnings from one piece of music.


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