Can you make a living from stock music? | Features | MN2S

Making money from music is a lifelong dream for many. Do stock music libraries offer an easier way to do it?

It’s a cliche, but music is everywhere. You don’t have to browse Soundcloud or hit the dancefloor to hear it. Advertisements, TV shows, podcasts, shops, apps, YouTube videos, customer service phone calls on hold – whatever you are listening to, it will likely have music in it. Often music that you haven’t heard. Music that isn’t commercially available. Music that Shazam can’t find.

The reason this music is untraceable, and the reason this music finds its way to wherever it is you heard it, is usually that it was placed in a stock music library. Individuals and businesses of all stripes turn to stock music libraries to score their projects, for convenience and to save money.

For the thousands of musicians that create it, this anonymous background music is a reliable income stream, sometimes even enough to make a full time job. One recent report found that some musicians make £30,000 a year from stock music libraries. That’s more than the UK average salary.

Since so many people have found success and creative fulfilment through selling their music in this way, it’s worth asking the question: is it easier? Should the thousands, if not millions, of struggling musicians and producers around the world abandon the more conventional pathways to success in the music industry (gigs, records deals, etc) and try to tap the apparent goldmine that is the stock music library?

How stock music libraries work

There are several popular stock music libraries on the internet, and even more unpopular ones. Shutterstock Music, PremiumBeat, and Audio Network are some of the biggest names at the moment. These libraries allow users to download music to use, royalty-free, in their creations — be they films, TV shows, adverts or podcasts.

It’s the licensing that makes creators and businesses turn to these libraries. Copyright law means people can’t just rip their favourite songs from a CD and use them as a soundtrack. Getting permission to use popular music can be a drawn-out process and it often ends in failure. All of the music on stock music libraries is royalty-free, and the services offer simple, straightforward licensing arrangements which minimise the time spent securing permission, and the likelihood of an artist complaining about the use of their work, which sometimes happens when brands use music without the correct permissions.

In 2014, the Beastie Boys complained that toy manufacturer GoldieBox used their song “Girls” in an advertisement, despite the band making a conscious decision never to allow their music to be used for advertising purposes. The argument resulted in GoldieBox having to pay $1 million to charity. Unlike the Beastie Boys, the musicians who contribute to stock music libraries explicitly do want their music to be used for advertisements (and a variety of other purposes).

So how do these stock music libraries work for the musicians on the other side of the process, and is it an area worth exploring for someone who wants to make money from music without hitting the grueling gig circuit and releasing music commercially?

Making it by making stock music

For those putting music onto the services, the process can simple enough. Each stock music library has a slightly different submissions process but the gist of it is that you simply send your songs to the library, sometimes customising your permissions and adding relevant tags, then you wait for it to become available on the library and for people to start using it.

Once a musician builds up a reputation they might get commissions from stock music libraries to make certain kinds of songs for specific clients who have requested them. While specific amounts these services pay users can vary, this report from the Guardian includes interviews from many successful musicians who make up to £30,000 a year from licensing out their tracks.

Ari Herstand is the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business. One of his top tips for doing just that is to get music onto podcasts. Herstand advises musicians only to upload their music to stock music libraries on a “non-exclusive” deal, meaning they can still license out or even release their music separately alongside allowing others to use it in their creations. This can actually make good business sense; if your song is used as the theme for a hit podcast and you also happen to put it on iTunes, you could be looking at some serious income from fans of that podcast tracking your song down online and downloading it for themselves.

Perhaps this is the answer to our question. Music libraries can be a fantastic way for musicians to make money from their passion, but there is nothing stopping them from taking the more conventional route to music industry success at the same time. In some cases, it might be a big help to cover all the bases.

Main image by David Fulmer from Ann Arbor – Music Library, CC BY 2.0, Link

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