Top 5 Songs to Land Music Licensing Deals with This Summer

Record These 5 Songs This Summer! A Tip Sheet for the Season’s Most Lucrative Music Licensing Deals

From time to time, I like to give you a view into the world of someone who licenses music so you can better understand what we do, and better prepare to get your songs licensed. As someone who also records music, I know it’s hard to know what tracks to produce next, how to plan for pitching to opportunities – whether in an album cycle or not.

So, if you’re wondering, here’s what you need to record next.

Many of us deal with what are called “callouts” or “briefs.”  These are quick descriptions of what the client is looking for. They include parameters like Usage, Duration, BPM, Style, Sounds-like, Instrumentals Required. They also often include a reference track and some outline of the feel or type of the lyrics the song should have.  You may have seen some this mirrored on some sites or networks you belong to.

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Here’s the thing, the licensing world has its own ebb and flow, just like popular music, where some types of songs seem to be needed over and over again – especially for national ad placements. For instance, a year or two ago, every damn brief said, “quirky, indie female voice, mandolin or ukulele instrumentation.”  We’ve gone through periods where every reference track was Coldplay, and the always popular Black Keys “sound-alikes” requests. And then there was the dark period of the “stomp track,” think Mumford and every mid-range movie or Subaru ad. Last year it was all “Dubstep,” which transformed into all “EDM” — “young dance tracks” is what they called them.

Now, what if you don’t do that type of music? Have no fear. Record these types of songs this summer and you will have some tracks to pitch galore!

1. Christmas in July (or August)

Every musician and writer should have Christmas/Holiday songs in their catalog. Write and record them now. Do some originals if you can, and then also search the PDInfo site for a list of public domain songs that you can record in your own style. We need new versions. Holiday campaigns now start in mid-November, meaning the productions are usually wrapped in October, meaning they are looking for songs as early as September. Know that ad spends for the 4th Quarter of the years are the largest, so that means better licenses and more of them!

2.  Back to School Songs

Each August there are countless briefs for back to school ads. Tracks should always be “fun and upbeat.” That means, instrumentation like Xylophones, Tubas, and yes, Ukuleles.  Keywords: First Day, New Start, Fresh, Look at Me Now, Anything with letters – i.e.  “ABC, 123”

3. Replacement Covers

Cover songs are tough. If you’re a band that plays live primarily you want to pick songs that your fans will love, but that aren’t worn out, right? I’m looking at you, “Margaritaville!” As a rule in the licensing world, most usage of covers comes in the form of a quirky or fresh version. It may be taking a huge song and making it a tiny acoustic interpretation. It might be that you have a female singer covering a very popular male-sung song.  Some easy targets: “Walking After Midnight – Patsy Cline,” “Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix,” and “Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones.” E

Extra credit: If you have the production chops, a large-scale, big marching band version of “Hail to the Chief” is desperately needed in the licensing world.

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4. Party Songs

Primarily for usage in films and TV, songs about partying are always needed in any style (Rock, Pop, Metal, Indie). Usually, they call for very fast up-tempo tracks, with an erratic section (this is when the kid falls down the stairs drunk and the record player scratch stops).  Keywords: Party, Tonight, Friends, Best Night, Time of Our Lives, (drunk code words: lit, stupid, face, blackout).

5. Old-School

There is a massive effort to get new sounding masters of old sounding songs. There are two categories that are really in demand. The first is the ’50s and ’60s: think Elvis, Beach Boys, Chubby Checker, Roy Orbison, additionally – Cream, Hendrix, and trippy ’60s sounding rock. This may be because the original masters aren’t as sonically friendly as a new one would be. And in some cases, the chain of master ownership is hard to track down, or the estate is just charging too much. If you’re trending toward the hip-hop end of things, there is a constant stream of requests for “fun, retro hip-hop, clean language.” The clean language caveat is big; basically think of positive hip-hop, with old school beats. Frequent styles: Run D.M.C., Tribe Called Quest, West Coast Rap, and Sugarhill Gang. Make sure to license those covers.

Get to cutting those lucrative licensing gems — we can’t wait to hear them!


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

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