Making Music for Money – can it be done?

Bojingles studio image

Making music with a view to commercial exploitation, and then setting out your stall to sell it, is one of the hardest business challenges you could embark upon. All the more so if, like most musicians and writers, you are not innately business-minded. You do it for the love, of course you do.

But the stark truth is that you cannot afford to spend all, or a large part, of your time creating music that you wish to be heard – if it then gathers dust and nobody plays it. So what do you do? You may be able to play live and take it to the people. To quote the great Michael Flanders of his work with Donald Swann – “We wrote these songs for other people to sing; which they did – but not nearly enough…” So they went out on the road and the rest is history. Sadly most of us do not have the ability, looks, time, money, agent etc. to do this. Which leaves us examining our options.

Entering the Jingle Jungle

At Bojingles, as the name suggests, Rob and I set our caps firmly in the direction of making money from music. Quixotic, maybe – our aim was to rekindle the love that people had once had for sung advertising jingles (For mash, get Smash? Boom boom boom boom, Esso Blue? You do the Shake ’n Vac…) But although we have had successes with our radio jingles, not enough stations or advertisers will pay even our reasonable rates for a job well done.

So the company diversified, successfully, into video production, scriptwriting, web design and other avenues: but music was still an itch we could not scratch. Rob (using his classical training, pop group background and massive production experience) began to get work from music libraries in the USA and Japan, and that has become a regular revenue stream. (WARNING 1: money will be a long time coming, but eventually quarterly royalty payments should arrive)

Getting onto the Library Shelf

If you are keen to do likewise, you need to have the playing, writing and production skills to create styles of instrumental music to order. Libraries have music-using clients (TV and radio stations, film producers, video game makers, advertisers) who need ‘stabs’ of music to set a mood, evoke a particular era, ape a well-known style, or just to fill a silent space. The library has to build a comprehensive rack of virtual shelves, full of every imaginable type of music. If you are lucky enough and persistent enough, you may get to a point where they commission music from you regularly: or at the least, you may be invited to make some music speculatively for a project, which they may or may not then use (WARNING 2: you will be in a competition with others).

The Sad Song Business

What if you are a writer of songs? Then, to make money from them gets even harder. It hasn’t stopped us trying – but although we have been relatively successful in getting contracts for our pieces, receiving any actual money remains elusive, so we have to treat this as a part-time activity. If you want to have a go anyway, here’s how your songs might be used.

  1. Song Placements: where an artist is looking for new material (many who claim to be writers are only co-writers at best) and you are invited to pitch songs in their style. Usually you will have to share the royalties with the singer and others
  2. TV & Movie usage: the chances are better than for supplying artists, because there is a real and continuing need for extracts from songs and tunes at specific points
  3. Publishing deals: usually where a music supervisor (the person or company that acts as music supplier to agencies and media companies) wants material that they can co-publish with you and then exploit

How do you get to the decision makers? With difficulty. There are directories of music supervisors that you can buy, and you can try email and phone campaigns, but it is likely to be a soul-destroying process. Most will not accept unsolicited submissions because they get deluged. From our British perspective, there are some local targets but mostly the music users are in the USA & Canada. The way they work is, either directly or via song pluggers and publishers (often ex-label A&R people), to put out briefs through various internet sites where hopeful writers can subscribe and pitch their work.

Paying The Man

Don’t expect to pitch without cost – it is harsh for struggling writers, but to act as a quality filter and to pay the rent, music gateway sites charge you one way or another. In my experience, the best of them is Music XRay: no upfront cost but you pay per pitch. They now have mini-videos made by most of their regular music pros, so you can assess what they are like and see that they are real. Over a 2-year period, we have had music accepted and contracts signed with several pros: and we are now in direct contact with some of these, who will check out new songs without having to go through the bidding process because they know our work. (However there is usually still at least one more level of supervisor to go through before your work actually gets selected and used). Second best site in my opinion is Broadjam: you can pay as you go, but it’s better to take annual membership and be able to make a weekly pitch (plus free-pitch weekends with a job every hour, a few times a year). It’s more of a free-for-all because once you’ve joined, you tend to bid regardless of whether you can fit the brief: but I have got one good client from the system. Be careful about other music sites that require payment, and check out user feedback before joining. (WARNING 3: some clients will offer non-exclusive contracts, using your music by changing the title so their use can be identified and paid for: others insist on exclusive use, where your work keeps its name but you will have no other possible outlet – so be sure this operation has a good track record of success)

Both Music XRay and Broadjam offer feedback and comparative ratings from music pros, and you should use and heed this service. If you are getting consistently low figures, you are doing something wrong and you need to work on the problem. Sadly, you will find that the recording of you singing to your solo guitar or piano accompaniment will not cut it. The music gatekeepers mostly expect a finished, polished product, especially if it is for use ‘as is’ in commercial applications. Even when it is for pitching to some new X-Factor winner, the artist and producer will want to hear it more or less as it might sound on record. We therefore go to great lengths with production and hire good demo singers, to create a marketable product. Because that it what it is – the marketing of a product. And if that is too nakedly commercial for you, and you don’t want to be beholden to The Man, then you’re in the wrong business. Sorry…

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Growing Old Disgracefully

The majority of people reading this article – especially LinkedIn readers – will surely be in employment, working for a firm. It’s still the dominant employment mode.

And like younger readers, I was once wedded to my office job, living its day-to-day requirements and being implicitly signed up to the idea that somehow it mattered. If I had been gainfully employed in certain vocations, like medicine or the police, then maybe it would be clearer to see the point of it, and to judge that one was making a small but useful contribution to the quality of society.

There is a justification for private sector jobs, those that have to do with making things and supplying services. They add to the sum of wealth of the firm, which makes profits, pays taxes and makes your country more successful in the world, which in turn pays for the police and health service. Yet at the micro level, it can be hard to see the point. Where’s the lasting value?

For example, I have worked for big British firms – the Woolwich Building Society, Brooke Bond Oxo, Dalgety Spillers and BET plc – and they have one thing in common. They no longer exist. All have been taken over by other firms whose management think that they too have an imperative to succeed and beat the other guy. It’s a playground game for grown-ups; and it’s often a zero sum game.

Unemployability

In my 40s, I came to the conclusion that I was more or less unemployable. I didn’t enjoy the challenge of having staff under my control, and I was told by a headhunter that I didn’t get a new senior position because I didn’t seem to be hungry enough. And she was right – I didn’t want it any more. I think more and more of us feel that way.

By my 50s, I was ready for a change of scene to Spain, and a late-flowering burst of self-employment under the banner of Bojingles. But there wasn’t a grand plan – it developed organically, starting with making radio jingles (which was fun but not nearly enough radio advertisers would pay for a proper song). That developed into scriptwriting and making many thousands of regular radio ads, becoming a voiceover, writing web copy and video scripts for all sorts of companies, and being a sales and marketing manager for hire.

It’s not just me – looking around at old school and university friends, many of them have latterly adopted a similarly ‘portfolio’ approach to business and are consulting, mentoring, working on specific projects for firms and then getting out again.

Men (and women) Dressing Badly

What does that mean to the outlook on life that I, and people like me, have? I think we are freer thinking, we can dress as badly as we did in the 70s, and we are outrageous or iconoclastic when the mood takes us – because we can be. We are growing old disgracefully: and we don’t care.

Alternative models of work such as freelancing have always existed, but they always tended to require a structure involving agencies and consulting firms who promoted the individuals’ skills. The big explosion of home working and true work freedom has of course been sparked by the internet, and latterly the availability of broadband. Without a good connection, we would not be as free in terms of geography or working time: neither of course would we be as free to air our (frequently disgraceful) views on social networks in between our work-related activity.

We hear a lot about the thrusting young things who are busy beavering away in Tech Cities, and it’s great to see them being entrepreneurial and creative. But I would remind you that we are an ageing population and (to quote the clothing retailer) ‘Old Guys Rule’. We’re not ready for carpet slippers and the Daily Mail – we are creating too. “We’re the old generation – and we’ve got something to say” as the Monkees* would now sing.

So when I co-write my first pop hit, and my mate Ian finishes his epic poem, and Richard gets his play put on at the National, we’ll be thumbing our noses at the idea of retirement or that it’s a young peoples’ world. Look out youngsters – we’re coming and we’ve got sharp elbows…

(*Monkees: note to younger readers – like One Direction but with better tunes)

Bad Publicity? What’s That?

An age ago (some 20 years) I ran a company called Rediffusion Music, the last man standing of a once-proud media empire. We had survived and thrived due to our speciality of supplying background music to businesses – and whereas Musak then ruled the USA, we led the way worldwide.

Now of course the playing of music in public places was, and is, controversial – and it polarises opinion. I remember relishing the fact that I was having a business lunch on the next table to Michael Parkinson, in the full knowledge that he was one of our loudest critics.

Because of our high profile within the business, we were the prime target: the first port of call for any TV, press or radio researcher looking to put together a thought piece or a whole programme, usually attacking what we did. What was my reaction? ‘Sure, bring it on’. Thus it was that we had visits from Spike Milligan (for BBC1), Tony Parsons (Daily Telegraph) and John Walters (John Peel’s late producer, doing a Channel 4 documentary), as well as phone interviews with Nicky Campbell (Radio 1) and others.

Why put ourselves in the firing line? Because if any firm was going to be identified and demonised as the home of background (or foreground) music, I wanted it to be ours. Those businesses that knew the power of music would know where to come.

In the 90s we also started building the basis of instore audio advertising, firstly through tape systems and then via satellite. Now, many retail chains have their own ‘FM’ stations with personalised messages, ads and music programming.

The Birth of Bojingles

Although we were acquired by an American competitor, AEI, and I departed, I always hankered after getting back in to audio and advertising, and when my musician friend Rob Benham suggested we set up a company to make jingles, Bojingles was born (in 2006).

This is not a Rediffusion-style operation with over 100 people, this is a small, agile group made up of dedicated professionals, now specialising in –

  • Scriptwriting and storyboarding
  • Musical composition and production
  • Radio commercials and sung jingles
  • Themes for film, TV, games, hold music, etc.
  • Design for logos, brochures, websites and more

So we will probably never achieve the level of fame/notoriety (delete as desired) as the purveyors of ‘musak’, we still aspire – don’t we all – to at least be legends in our own lunchtime.

We most enjoy writing and creating music that people will want to actively hear and pay money for – see how we are doing on our Soundcloud and judge for yourself. And if you happen to be a music supervisor looking for theme music or a massive pop song, we’re always up for the challenge…

 

 

 

 

Making a noise…

At Bojingles we are used to interesting challenges, so when we were asked to help out the organisers of an F1 Grand Prix we were only too pleased.

They had a soundtrack for a TV commercial and thought they had the rights to use it for radio and their website – but it turned out they didn’t (memo to clients – do the homework in advance…). Cue panic attack, but in no time we had accelerated the process (sorry) and delivered an exciting piece of audio, complete with high-octane effects, and rights cleared as needed.

And the moral of the story? If you’re in a hole and need to sound your way out – give Bojingles a shout.