I've had over 2000 song placements on TV, Film, Commercials, and Film Trailers. I'm very passionate about the creative freedom, and financial freedom, that music licensing provides. Ask me anything!

Michael Elsner
Feb 8, 2018

A Quality Catalog is a Magnet for Placement Opportunities!  

Are you looking for a way to create a consistent income, while still retaining your own creative freedom?   My ultimate musical goal was to write music that millions of people would hear.  I thought the path to achieving this goal meant playing in bands, touring, releasing albums, and getting my music on MTV and radio.  I spent years struggling to make ends meet and get record labels to notice.  However, once I got a song of mine on a tv show, I realized that not only did my music reach more people through tv, but I also received some nice upfront sync fees, as well as backend royalties.  Over 2000 placements later, I've perfected a simple 4 step process that I use to license each track I write.  Let me show you how to do it as well:

The 4 Step Plan to Licensing Success FREE EBOOK

And here is a list of my TV placements as proof this system works:

TV/Film/Commerical/Movie Trailer Credits

Please feel free to ask me anything about my career, the method I've used (The 4 Step Plan), how to build a quality catalog of music ideal for tv/film placement opportunities, how to go about licensing YOUR music - anything you can think of, and I will be happy to answer!  

My goal is to inspire and help you pursue your passions, and achieve your musical dreams.

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Has anyone ever plagiarized your work before?

Feb 13, 2:28PM EST0

No, and that's not something I worry about.  With all the automated listening technology that's out now - where a program listens to the music that's getting played on tv shows, radio, uploaded to YouTube, etc., it's getting harder and harder for someone to rip off someone else's song and call it their own.

Feb 13, 3:15PM EST0

What is your favorite song to play on the guitar?

Feb 13, 1:02PM EST0

Oh wow... that is a tough question!!  I don't know if I have a favorite, but when I'm in the mood to really sit down and just play some crazy guitar, I usually play along to an older Dream Theater album such as Images and Words or Awake.  I love playing along to those albums because it's such a challenge, yet still musical.  

Feb 13, 3:17PM EST0

I work for an independent music publisher. Do you have any input on who or where is best to pitch music to? As you well know getting replies originally is a challenge!

Feb 13, 11:08AM EST0

Actually, I disagree.  Getting a respose is not a challenge if you're able to show them the value that they get from partnering with you as a music provider.

However, there is a proper way to reach out to people that will generally garner a response, and the foundation of that is:

1) Doing your research on who you're reaching out to and understanding their job/role, what they've done, are currently working on, etc.

2) Presenting to them exactly how working with you specifically would benefit them.

As far as the best place to pitch music, there are two main paths.  The first is directly to music supervisors, and the second would be music libraries.

When you're directly approaching music supervisors, my advice is to 1st research the shows they're working on, and the music they're currently using.  This can be done using www.imdb.com.

If they're using female singer/songwriter tracks, and your catalog is male based rock tracks, then the chances are high that they currently couldn't use any of your music.  But, if your catalog has a lot of female singer/songwriter tracks, then the value you are bringing into that partnership is your easily licensable catalog of female singer/songwriter songs that would work well for the show the music supervisor is currently working on.

I use the same approach when looking to partner with a music library, except the website to research music libraries is www.musiclibraryreport.com.

I hope that helps.

Feb 13, 3:42PM EST0

With more opportunity providers like you do you think the competition has increased more among people to have their song placed in today's market?

Feb 10, 9:27PM EST0

Yes and No.  

Because of technology making music production so much easier and cheaper, there is a lot more music being produced, so there's a lot more music available.

At the same time, just because someone buys a computer and a DAW (digital audio workstation), doesn't mean that they can produce and mix quality music.  This is just something that takes an investment of time and lots of practice.

Beyond that, there are relatively few people - compared to the number of musicians currently producing music - who will take the time to really focus on writing and licensing their music for the TV marketplace.

At the same time, while there's a lot more 'noise,' and music being produced, there are also a plethora more tv channels available, there are more tv shows being produced than ever before, AND we're not even considering the amount of video games, apps, etc., that all require music.

So, like anything music related, there is always competition, BUT there are so many licensing opportunities, that when you can deliver well produced music, AND you know how to properly deliver your music, it's really quite hard NOT to be successful.

Feb 11, 11:57PM EST0

How can a person get music license for a website in US for both streaming and downloading purpose? Any input on that please?

Feb 10, 6:43AM EST0

You'd have to contact the publisher and master owner of the song to license the rights to stream and download their music on a website.  

Feb 11, 11:59PM EST0

For a newbie, what are the best ways he/she can pitch their songs for licensing and placement opportunities without going through the agency process?

Feb 10, 6:36AM EST0

The best way would be to research the music supervisor for the particular show(s) you feel your music would be good for, then reach out to him or her specifically.

You can do this by going to IMDB.com and then searching for the show.  Click "Full Cast" and then scroll down to Series Music Department.  Look for the music supervisor.  The next step is either creative Googling to find their e-mail/website - OR - head over to LinkedIN.com and see if you can find them there.

Then, simply let them know that you have tracks that are fully metadata'd (if you don't know how to do that, download my e-book where I explain what that process looks like), that fit the style of what they use for the show, and send them links to a streaming site like soundcloud where they can preview your music.

It doesn't hurt to also let them know that you have multiple mixes (instrumental only, etc) of the songs.

The only thing I will tell you is that many music supervisors these days are using libraries because the songs have been fully vetted, the master and sync licenses can be taken care of at the same time, and the overall process is just much more smooth.  

Many 'newbie' writers who I speak with are apprehensive at the thought of giving up 50% of their income, so they choose not to work with a library/agency.  That said, I administered my catalog from 2003 to 2009.  I've been much more successful (and 100x's less stressed!) working with an agency because they have multiple people pitching my music on a daily basis - much more than I could ever do on my own.  

Having gone down both routes in my career, I'm more than happy to give up 50% of my income to have 200% more placments than I ever did on my own.  50% of $200,000 is much better than 100% of $25,000!

Feb 12, 12:11AM EST0

Which type of license do you need to use a music in a film or broadcast TV (excluding ads)?

Feb 9, 8:55AM EST0

There are two types of licenses that need to be signed.  

The first is the sync license.  That is signed by whoever controls the copyright of the song - traditionally the publisher.  However, if you are an independent artist, you own your own publishing, so you would sign that.

The second is the master license.  That is signed by whoever owns that particular recording (or whoever paid for that recording) - usually the record label.  Again, if you are an independent artist, then you most likely paid for the recording, so you own the master.

When you sign with a music library, you give them the right to administer your catalog, and they take care of both of these licenses at one time - also known as a One Stop Shop.  This significantly speeds up the process and makes it much easier for a music supervisor to license your music.

Feb 9, 11:56AM EST0

Was there a definitive moment when you knew you wanted to be a guitarist?

Feb 9, 7:33AM EST0

The definitive moment when I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to play guitar was when I heard an album by Racer X called Live: Extreme Volume.  I had been strumming a guitar and learning the chords prior to that, but once I heard that album when I was 13 or so, I dove head first into learning guitar and practicing for hours upon hours every day.

Feb 9, 11:57AM EST0

What is the best piece of advice you followed so far in your musical career?

Feb 9, 5:53AM EST0

Simply to never give up.  There are a lot of times where, especially in the music industry, things can get hard and the cards can stack up against you.  When those times come, you have two options: 1) quit or 2) press on.

I've had many moments where I've had to convince myself, or rely on my close friends to convince me, to press on.  It's like pushing a huge rock up a hill.  There are times when it gets really hard, but then you crest the hill and the rock starts rolling down on it's own... until you get to another hill.  Then you have to push again.  It's a process, but overall it's been extremely fulfilling and I'm happy I pressed through.

When people tell me that I'm lucky to have this career, I tell them that I'm not lucky.... I just kept at it.  I stayed in the game even when it felt like I was defeated.  

A great analogy for the music industry was last year's Super Bowl.  The Patriots came from behing 25 points behind to win the game in the last few minutes.  That's the perfect analogy to the music industry - just stay in the game and don't give up!!  Success will come your way when you stay in the game!!s

Feb 9, 12:10PM EST0

Does your free ebook include complete information or would you suggest reading additional material afterwards?

Feb 9, 3:33AM EST0

The Ebook is my process.  It's the process that has worked for me, and that I've shared with a number of close musician friends, who were then also able to have great success using it.  

There is one book called "The Musician's Guide to Licensing Music" that I read about 7 or 8 years ago.  It was a good book - but long.  Knowing that musicians generally don't spend a lot of time reading, I really focused on making my ebook as direct and to the point as possible.  

But as far as additional reading, I'd recommend that one.

Feb 9, 12:02PM EST0

Is there an artist whose music you love that might surprise others?

Feb 9, 2:55AM EST0

I love Bruce Hornsby.  I think that usually comes as a surprise because I'm a rock guitar player and he's a jazz/blues piano player, but I've been a huge fan of his since his first album.  I love how he has ventured away from the 'pop' world and has explored so many other styles and genres throughout his career.  

But, first and foremost, I think his songwriting is absolutely incredible no matter what style he's playing.

Feb 9, 12:05PM EST0

How long is the course and what type of help do you provide to the users who complete the course?

Feb 8, 8:20PM EST0

The course would take a few days to go through fully.  However, it's really intended to be approached section by section.  I get very detailed in the explanation and examples of each step in the process.  

For example, when you're ready to metatag your music, that's the perfect time to re-watch the Mastering Metadata (the 3rd Step in the Process) videos.

Once you've got your songs fully metadata'd, and are ready to start approaching music supervisors, or music libraries, with your music, then I'd recommend re-watching the videos on how to properly approach and deliver your music to music supervisors and music libraries.

Plus, there is over 10 hours of bonus interviews with other individuals in the music licensing world - from a Grammy winning composer, to the owner of a very successful music library.  So, the bonus material alone is packed with an abundance of valuable information, and would take a few days to fully absorb.

Feb 8, 9:34PM EST0

Are you currently working on any of your personal music project?

Feb 8, 3:04PM EST0

I wouldn't say I'm working on any personal music project or album right now.  I am always writing and adding tracks to my catalog, but as far as any particular personal album project, I'm not working on anything specific.  

Aside from the albums I write with SonicTremor, I haven't released a solo album since 2006, or a band album since 2011.

When you write for an album, you generally write all the songs in a similar genre, and style, so they all sound cohesive on that album.  

The thing I love most about writing for placement opportunities is that you don't have to worry about how each piece fits together with what you just wrote previously.  You can write freely, without any constraints.  

The other thing I love about it is that a piece I write today could end up getting sync'd in a matter of weeks.  I don't have to worry about finishing up all the other songs and waiting for an album to be released.  I can write a track today, and have it out into the licensing community in a matter of days or weeks.

Feb 8, 3:43PM EST0

Hey Michael! What’s a typical ratio of songs that you create to songs that’s get placed? 

Feb 8, 12:44PM EST0

Hey Max, great question, thank you.  This is a difficult one to answer though.  I'd like to say it's 1:1, but the reality is that it's not.  

Let me give you an example.  I have a country track called You Only Want Me When You're Wasted which I wrote with an artist when I was producing her project.  That song has been used in multple episodes of The Voice - at last count 14.  But, it's also been used on a number of other TV shows, and I'd say we have somewhere around 50 placements with that track.  On that same project, we have a song called Flattery, which has 1 or 2 placements (I forgot where - but they're on more well known shows).  Then we have a bunch of other songs that have yet to do anything.  

So, out of a 5 song EP, we have over 50 placements with 2 of the songs, and none for the other 3.  If I had a 1:1 placement ratio, I'd only have 5 placements.  Do you see why this is hard to answer?  However, out of those 5 songs on that EP, Flattery and Wasted were not the first two we wrote.  We had to write the others to get to know each other musically, etc.  So, I'd like to think that the other tracks played a role in these 2 getting the placements they have.

I have a 4 step process, and the 1st step is to build your catalog, the 2nd step is to "Create Valuable Content."  That step simply entails burning a multitude of versions and alternate mixes for each song.  For example, one important version to supply to music supervisors and editors is an instrumental mix.  You could also strip out the drums, bass, electric guitars, etc, and just keep acoustic guitars and/or piano for a stripped down mix.  These alternate versions just increase the opportunities for placement of one song.  You can see how very quickly 1 song can produce 3 or 4 easily licensable versions.  

So if I had 10 songs, using the 2nd step in my process, I can easily create 30, 40, or even 50 easily licensable versions.  So, now 1 song has 3, 4, or 5 times for opporunities for a placement.

Last edited @ Feb 8, 1:00PM EST.
Feb 8, 12:59PM EST0

What is the one thing you have never ever been willing or prepared to do, in your quest to sustain a successful musical career?

Feb 8, 11:37AM EST0

Wow!!!  That's a great question!  I've never been willing to suspend my morals or my ethics.  Still, at 42 years old, I've never done a drug, I've never agreed with someone in regards to politics or religion, just to keep a job, or be given an opportunity.

When I started, my main goal was to create a great circle of friends.  Over the years, I'd like to say that my circle of friends in the music industry are some of the most talented and decent human beings.  I've also met many sleezy people, but since they don't fit into my life-plan, it doesn't matter what opportunities an association with them would bring.  

First and foremost, I've always made it a point to be true to myself.

Feb 8, 12:00PM EST0

Is there any musical instrument you remember being excited about buying, but looking back now you just shake your head?

Feb 8, 10:51AM EST0

Not really.  I've never sold a guitar.  I've sold some amps, but I only sold them when I acquired newer amps and hadn't used the old ones for a few years.  But, overall, there's really nothing that I've acquired that make me shake my head now.

One of the cool things about writing music for sync opportunities is that, often times, something that doesn't sound perfect and pristine, can be really really cool!  For example, with my trailer music production company SonicTremor, we did an album called Swagger a few years ago.  A lot of the really cool guitar sounds on Swagger feature a dying fuzz box sound.  It's really 'farty,' and is something that would never work in a live situation.  But, for these particular tracks, that sound was perfect.

Years ago I was asked to play on a series of Juicy Fruit commercials by a composer.  He wanted a really bad sounding acoustic guitar - like something a 10 year old kid would get for his birthday.  I only had nice sounding, professional guitars.  So, on my way to his studio, I stopped off at Toys R Us and I bought an $89 Hannah Montana Kids guitar, which I ended up using for those commercials.  

Those are just a few examples of how various instruments, while not being ideal, can always find a creative use somewhere. 

Feb 8, 11:43AM EST0

How much did it take you to come up with your "FREE E-BOOK"?

Feb 8, 10:22AM EST0

The E-book really stemmed from a need that I saw among so many of my musician friends.  Guys who have 'dream gigs,' with major artists, would always reach out to me when they were off the road, and ask how they could start doing what I do.

Younger artists and songwriters would ask the same questions.  While they were still very intent on getting a record, or publishing deal, they'd always ask me how they could get their music on TV.  

Since I had this conversation multiple times a week, I just realized that there's a lot of information out there on WHAT music licensing is, but not HOW to successfully license their music.  So many people I talked to knew they wanted to do this, but they didn't know the steps.

So, the book was really born out of a conversation with someone that I recorded.  It was basically me showing them the 4 step process that I use, and answering their questions.

I just formatted that into a book.

Feb 8, 11:56AM EST0

How long has it been for you in the music industry? and how did you start?

Feb 8, 9:14AM EST0

I started playing in bands in the early 90's when I was in High School.  Through college I played in 1 group and recorded 2 albums - only releasing 1 of them.  

I left my hometown to pursue music full time in '97, so I've now been working in the music industry for 21 years.

I started by simply choosing a city that I thought would work for me.  I chose Nashville, and moved here by myself.  The first thing I did was start calling recording studios.  I thought that hanging out in recording studios was the best way for me to meet professional musicians.  I was never a 'bar guy,' so hanging out in bars till 2am, to meet musicians, was not something I was interested in.  I figured, if the real work happens at a recording studio, then I need to be hanging out in a recording studio.  That process worked very well for me because I immediately met many producers, musicians, and engineers.  

That led to opportunities first as an assistant engineer, then as an engineer, and finally as a guitarist and producer.  After a few years of playing on sessions, and producing albums for other artists, I decided that Los Angeles was the better place for me.  

So, I moved to Los Angeles in 2003.  I only knew 1 person out there, but I essentially started all over.  Fortunately, I got a gig playing guitar on a tv show rather quickly, and I was immediately exposed to the world of composers and music supervisors.  Within my first year of living in LA, I had my entire catalog of songs (roughly 50) placed on tv shows.  

That's what started me down the road to licensing.  Then in the mid 2000's, because I was getting so many songs placed, I created a band around the music I was producing, with the intent of landing a record deal.  We recorded and released 3 albums, met with virtually every label, but because most record labels were downsizing at that time, even with all our placement success, it still never happened for us.  

So, finally in 2011 I decided that I wanted to live a more 'normal' life, and I moved back to Nashville, bought a house, built a studio, started SonicTremor (a trailer music production company) , and have been focusing on licensing ever since. 

Feb 8, 11:52AM EST0

Are your song lyrics predominantly related to the real events or personal experiences, or are they part of storytelling?

Feb 7, 7:04PM EST0

The conception of every song lyric is different, but ultimately they're all derived from a personal experience or emotion.

I don't write 'story' songs simply because they don't translate well when they're sync'd to picture.  If I were to write a song about doing out on a date with a girl who wore a yellow sweater, then the only licensing opporunity for that song is a scene where a couple is out on a date, and the girl is wearing a yellow sweater.  

However, if I make that story more generic and focus on the emotion - the excitement of meeting someone for the very first time, who you're attracted to, then the amount of placement opportunities just exploded. That song could now be licensed in just about any show or film where the main characters are out on a date - maybe at dinner, or in a bar, or even in a coffee shop.

So, lyrically I really focus on the emotion in the story vs the specific aspects of the story.

Feb 7, 11:34PM EST0

What do you prefer the most; music creation, studio work, interacting or performing?

Feb 7, 10:28AM EST0

They each have their perks.

I love performing because you get instant feedback.  I also love it because you get to interact with other musicians and have a fantastic time communicating with your instrument.

I love studio work because, again you get to interact with other musicians, and help see someone else's vision come to life.

However, music creation is my favorite.  I love being able to go into my studio, write and record whatever I want.  There's so much satisfaction when you're allowed to just be completely creative without worrying about what other people think at any point through the process.  The other perk is that you now own that intellectual property.  Those few hours in the studio can turn into tens of thousands of dollars in the long-term when it comes to placements and royalties.  So, not only do you get creative freedom, but financial freedom as well (provided you get enough songs out working for you in the marketplace).

Feb 7, 11:30PM EST0
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