Writing $ Licensing Songs for Film & TV Episode 10: Show me the MONEY! Part 4: How long does it take???
Today’s guest blogger is Dave Walton a successful Film & TV Composer. He is going to give you a bit of reality check about this business. His title says it all “Wow, it takes a long time”. Typically there is a general rule of thumb called the 5-year plan. Basically it takes five years of dedicated hard work before you will start to see consistent results. Sometimes it happens quicker, sometimes not. For me, I am technically entering my 3rd year in 2015.. But, I didn’t really understand what writing for Film & TV was OR what the 5 year plan was until I attended Taxi ‘s 2011 Rally. The five-year plan means dedicated consistent hard work building your catalog, networking, pitching and perseverance. This does not mean you won’t start to see placements within the first year. It just means that your return on investment should consistently improve and by the end of 5 years you should see consistent results. To start seeing consistent return you should try and get in the 80 songs per year range. This can include instrumental cues; they do not have to be full-length songs. Some of the instrumental guys do way more than this. You also have to treat this like a business and allot time each day to write. The most successful people can record almost everything themselves but it does not mean that you have to. Find studios that will record your songs or co-write with people who have home recording gear. It’s even better if you can learn to record broadcast quality material yourself. This year is the first year I have started recording some of my own songs and I have gotten a few of those recordings signed to publishers. So it can be done. It takes time, effort and perseverance. By the end of this year I will have written about 130 songs, (recorded 115 of them) since I started writing 2009, with 75% of them written since 2012. (I didn’t start focusing on Film & TV writing until 2011). This is the first year I have started to see some significant $ from my music for Film & TV. It can be done! I have included links to The Five Year Plan discussion panel from the 2012 Taxi Road Rally at the bottom of this article. So without further ado…. Drum Roll Please!!!! Here is Dave Walton to give a real-life example of how long it can take before you may see your first placement.
WOW! It (sometimes) Takes A Long Time!!
The music biz is like no other business I've ever encountered. It seems that every other business on the planet has a more predictable and faster start up time than writing music for film and television. If I decide to open an ice cream store, I can figure on having at least some money coming in the day I open. Writing music for placement in film and television is not quite that fast or simple.
I'm going to over-simplify the process as “musician -> music library -> placement”. For purposes of this little guest blog, we (musicians and composers) write music and have that music accepted into various music libraries. Those music libraries then place our music (along with the music of many, many other composers) into film, television and advertisement.
My first deal (music accepted into a library) happened in November 2005. I had sent music to that library a year earlier in November 2004. It took them an entire year to get around to listening to my music and sending an email that said “Hey, we like your music and would like to accept your submission and add it to our catalog”! This is not because they are lazy or off playing golf all day. They're actually very busy finding and making placements as well as the tedious task of listening to thousands of submissions. It doesn't always take this long but it's certainly not totally out of line with reality. It CAN take that long (or longer).
In February 2006 I got my very first placement (yay!). That's just three months from the time I was accepted into their library (pretty quick) but one year and three months from the time I originally made the submission! Not so quick! Oh and remember I've yet to get paid anything (royalties) for that placement!
Well, since BMI royalties are paid quarterly and there's a six month lag in the time it takes to process the details of placements, normally the best I could have hoped for was to get paid in September 2006. But... I wasn't so “lucky”. A little snafu made it so that I didn't actually receive my royalty payment until June of 2007.
So to recap, I had a few tracks accepted into my first library in November 2005, I had my first placement in February of 2006 and FINALLY got paid in June of 2007. And the best I could have hoped for was to get paid in September of 2006. Any way you look at it, it's not like opening an ice cream store.
I say all of this in hopes of discouraging everyone so you quit and I'm the only one left making submissions, placements and royalties. But some people might look at it another way and not quit! They might decide to have a long-term view of this whole thing. Instead of thinking “Well, I've written three songs so I'll be pre-ordering my new Maserati in just a few months”, they might think “OK, whatever song I'm working on now might take a year or more to get some traction”. And their patience, all things being equal, will be rewarded.
Things can and do happen faster but for my own sanity (and planning), the music I'm working on today, I don't expect anything from that music for at least a year. If it happens sooner then great! So once things get going, you can enjoy royalty income from music written last year (and the previous years) while you're working on music for the following year(s). Remember, every airing and repeat airing of a single episode on network, cable and foreign rebroadcast generates a royalty. They do add up!
To make this journey easier, here are some suggestions based on what's worked for others and myself:
But for those who have read this and said, “Screw it! I'm not waiting that long!” there's always that little ice cream store waiting to be opened up. “Now serving customer #3... who has ticket #3?”
Dave Walton - A full-time composer, Dave's music is described as being orchestrally centered, balanced with electronica and ethnic on the sides. After a long time away from music, he joined Taxi in 2004 with ideas and sounds that were "out of date, out of style". Since then he has managed to evolve his ideas and sounds into something more current, modern and useful. Dave's music can be heard on ABC Family, ABC, Animal Planet, BET, Biography, Bravo, CBS, CNN, Discovery ID, Discovery, Entertainment Television (E!), Fox, HGTV, History, History 2, Lifetime, Military Channel, MSNBC, MTV, MTV2, MTV Tres, NBC, Outdoor, OWN, Oxygen, PBS, Style, Telemundo, Travel, Tru and VH1.
www.SoundCloud.com/DaveWaltonMusic has some of that music available for your skeptical listening pleasure.
Links to an Interview about The Five Year Plan : Taxi Member Success Panel at the 2012 Taxi Road Rally
Michelle Lockey is a multi-award winning singer-songwriter sharing the knowledge she has learned over the years writing for Film & TV.
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