Music Licensing for Film, TV, Video Games w/ Barry Cole – Shadetek Creative Strategies

This week in Creative Strategies, Matt Shadetek interviews Grammy-nominated music supervisor and Dubspot consultant Barry Cole about licensing opportunities for music in today’s media landscape…


A lot has changed in the music business since the Internet came along. In the post-Napster era, the way that artists and record labels earn money from music has shifted from selling recordings to a greater emphasis on touring, merchandising, licensing and other forms of income.

In this article we’re going to focus on licensing from the perspective of independent artists and label owners and look at how we can benefit.

Licensing is the process of placing music in other media outlets, like film, TV and video games and negotiating the business transactions to facilitate that placement. As someone who both creates music and runs a label, this is something I’m very interested in.

Although many have proposed that live shows will replace income lost to downloading, for label owners that has not been the case. These days, time and resources put into discovering, developing and marketing artists may not be earned back in actual music sales, so other avenues to earn money from recorded music such as licensing have become much more important.

For more info on how to get your music licensed, I interviewed music supervisor Barry Cole. Barry places music in films and TV shows and has worked on projects including American Psycho, Sling Blade, Belly and 2012′s award-winning Marley documentary as well as working as a consultant for Dubspot. He was recently nominated for a Grammy for his work researching and sourcing music for Marley:

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Barry and I had a great discussion about the current state of the music business as well as how artists can get music placed in film and TV and he had some really key insights to share…

Matt Shadetek: People have held up licensing as a way forward for labels nowadays but a lot of people don’t understand it.  How do you see the opportunities in this space today?

Barry Cole: As the industry starts to recalibrate after all the mergers and there being now less major labels than there were before, what I’m seeing is more of an open door for independent artists than ever. Combine that with that the fact that we’ve got hundreds of cable channels and we’ve got access to content that’s being produced internationally on an import and export basis there are infinitely more possibilities and opportunities for placement of content then there were before.

I’ve been on big budget projects where I’ve been able to afford major label tracks and I’ve been on small budget projects that have only been able to afford independent tracks. At the end of the day the film needs music and I’ve got money to spend. Major labels are like designer jeans so they’ve got a base rate you’re going to pay to license anything.  Whether it was released, unreleased, had a chart position or not. If it had a chart position you’re going to pay a premium. So that’s where an independent artist comes in.

Put yourself in my shoes as a music supervisor. I’m someone who gets hired by a producer and director to deliver the best possible music: an original score and a selection of songs, on budget and on schedule for any particular film, or any particular context. So, for me I need a clear path, and a clear resource, hopefully that I can go to not just once but somewhere I can actually build a relationship. If I can find resources like that then I’ve got money to pay people. I give that money to people who have the best content for the picture because in my industry it’s picture first.

I grew up as a DJ so for me it’s always about spreading music to people. So where do I look for music? I used to go and dig in record stores, thrift stores, flea markets. Now we’re in this digital age and it’s interesting as a music supervisor looking for these resources because digging is now on the Internet.  And there’s tons of stuff out there.

MS: Independent artists may have music that’s appropriate for a project but a lot of people understand it as a passive process.  They just think well somebody hears your song and then they want to put it in a movie and then they call you. The question in my mind is, what can we do as artists or label owners as far as getting our music out there and looking for licensing opportunities?

BC: Today, indie artists and producers can make tracks on their own that sound as good as major label productions, and those tracks are just as eligible to go into a big film or television show as any other track. But I have to be able to find them and I have to be able to know that these people are aware of licensing. And if not that there’s somebody that’s at least receptive on the other end.

I’ve dug for songs online, found them, done the research to try to track down who the writer was, found the email addresses and phone numbers, and… I’ve had people that have just hung up on me, I’ve had people who thought that it was a prank call, I’ve had people who say that they’ll license their song for a million dollars. And all of these things for me scream one thing: misinformation. Here are some tips that should be helpful to artists or labels trying to get music placed:


Four points from music supervisor Barry Cole to help get your music licensed:

1) Make sure all the songs you want to license have clear business behind them: publishing splits have been agreed to, copyright ownership is clear and any third-party samples used have been cleared in advance.

2) Register your portion of all of your publishing with a performing rights organization like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.

3) Publish contact info aimed specifically at licensors. Add a line of text to your public sites like, “To license a track please contact licensing@youraddress.com”

4) Create a private page on your site for licensors with your whole catalog available for streaming and download, along with other relevant information including the artist’s name and who holds the publishing and copyright, and send this URL selectively to music supervisors you manage to get in touch with.


MS: Where things have gotten tricky for me as a label owner is that we don’t manage our artists’ publishing and this makes license deals a bit more complicated. Let’s say for example I produced the music, and then I have a singer who has his songwriting portion of the writing. So as a label I own the copyright on the recording, and as the producer I own the music side of the publishing, but then I have the singer who also has half of the publishing.  In a situation like that, if you call up and you want to license a track from me, I have to put you in touch with this other person and get approval from him as well. Is that going to be a major disadvantage? Obviously you would prefer to deal with one person, is that right?

BC: There’s a term in my industry called one-stop shopping, which basically means that there’s one entity that deals with the copyright, publishing, and master publishing and that’s all I have to deal with on my side. There may be multiple copyright holders under that entity, but it’s just that one entity that I have to deal with. That makes things easier for me.

There’s nothing that I enjoy more than dealing directly with artists that own their own content. I feel with this whole recalibration of the industry theres a much bigger door open for independent artists to put up their flag and say “hey I’ve got one-stops too!”

A follow up to that is knowing that whenever you as an artist collaborate with anybody, you need to have this conversation about copyright ownership and publishing as soon as you can. It may not be the most enjoyable conversation up front but the sooner you have it the less painful it’s going to be in terms of just establishing what each person’s contribution is.

I think it’s better to keep things simple if possible. For example if it’s a vocal and music collaboration it’s much easier just to do it 50/50. And if the two of you decide to bring in a keyboard player because the track needs something extra and they make a significant contribution, you all should discuss together whether or not that person’s contribution is a work for hire and they’re being paid up front, or whether maybe that contribution is going to include part of the publishing.  And the sooner those conversations are had, the easier it is for someone in my position to call and not have to catch someone by surprise who’s like, “Oh we did that track but we never talked about splits.” Remember I need to get my job done quickly in most cases, if too much time goes by while I’m waiting to hear back from you I have to go with another option.

MS: The idea of “speaking the language” has come up a few times. How do you make clear that you speak that language?

BC: There’s tons of music and there’s tons of content.  How do they find each other?  I’m one conduit.  But I work on very precise, deliberate, methodical types of projects. We look at film frame by frame, so for me I have to get very micro with it.

So when I go out into the world to pull music from the wide range of sounds that are out there, I need to know that there’s music that’s appropriate for my project. So as a DJ that’s the fun part, that’s the creative part of being a music supervisor.  Saying what are the possibilities, what’s something freaky that can give a different experience that’s fun but still accomplishes the mission?

For the artist or for the content owner, they have to ask themselves that same question and try and identify opportunities that are appropriate for the music they’re creating. Those are the things that can help to form a strong business relationship.

Let’s say I’m working on a television show. I may get 200 submissions a week, but they’re not all for that television show.  A lot of them are people who are just like, “Hey I just finished my album, I’m doing klezmer music.  Get back to me tomorrow with what you think of it.” I wish I could do that, but if I’m working on a project that’s what I’ve got to focus on.

So, the things that come in to me submission-wise, digitally or physically, the things that get priority are the things that are relevant to projects that I’m working on.
Now, how can you find out the projects that I’m working on?  Well, if you Google my name that’s one way to reverse-find a piece of content through a music supervisor, or you can Google the name of the TV show or the movie that you’re trying to find. IMDB (Internet Movie Database) is just a big Wikipedia of film and TV listings past present and future. That’s a good way to see what’s coming up, what’s current, and to see who’s done what in the past as well.

There may be certain projects that you just feel your music does well with, you may find that there’s one producer who produces all those shows. There may be something that you have in common with that producer. Why not try and get to that producer? To make sure that your music makes it in bulk to their edit bin?

MS: If you’re setting up a licensing page on your site, what would be good to include?

It could be a button next to a track that says “license this” or it could just be a tab that says “licensing” with your contact info.  You can also start to populate it with license placements that have happened. And you can start to build out a page with your music cut to visuals.  Sometimes people do it with stuff that hasn’t been commissioned, so that they can build a reel and give an idea what their music looks like set to picture.  But whether it’s a button or just something at the bottom of the page that says “to license, email here,” that means a lot to someone who’s looking to license music.

It’s like looking to buy a house and saying “there’s a million houses, I want that one.” Well, it’s not for sale.  You can go up to the door and knock but the person who’s inside having dinner, you’ll have to start from scratch, whereas if there’s a for sale sign out there and contact info you know where you stand.

MS: Delivery formats, what do you like to see?

Now digital is great, Soundcloud is great.  There are so many sites that popped up that said “build your entire band profile and put everything here…” However, the more of those that have popped up and the more detailed they get, the less attractive they are for somebody actually looking for music.

I like to find my music in the natural environment. It’s one thing to hear a song at home on your clock radio, its another if you go out to the club and you’re hearing this song and it’s like “wow.” It’s almost two different songs, there’s an experience attached to both of them. And that’s what we’re trying to get a little closer to. What is that kind of deeper experience you could actually have?

MS: So, obviously not sending attachments but streaming links like SoundCloud are not frowned upon?

BC: As long as you’re speaking the language.  I’m not saying all your tracks need to be downloadable, but it’s helpful to have some stuff that’s downloadable. I listened to your track “Madness” on Pitchfork and I loved it and I thought, “I should download this so I can show Matt some of the new applications where you can present music,” but I couldn’t find the download link because it’s a pre-release… So in some ways that works to your advantage because people are looking for it, like where is it?  But if I were looking for music for a film that might not be good.

MS: I should probably put that right in the SoundCloud text: “to license this email me at XYZ…” because music supervisors are definitely going to Pitchfork.

BC: Exactly, I will go to Pitchfork before I will go to an artist’s page. I’ll go to Beatport before I go to a big label site.  I want to find the music in the community. It’s like going to a record store to find your record.


Matt Shadetek is a DJ, producer and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. He runs the Dutty Artz label with DJ/Rupture and will be releasing his second solo album The Empire Never Ended on March 26th, 2013. Hear his music at mattshadetek.com

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