Ideally, you’ll want to create your own music licensing company if you want to be TRULY independent. However, it’s understandable that most independent artists won’t have the time, energy and/or resources to make that happen.
That’s why you’ll want to associate yourself with one (or more) of the best music licensing companies for independent artists. Being represented in the music licensing industry IS A MUST.
I understand that you’ll want to preserve as much “independence” as possible though, so I took that into consideration when researching these companies…
- The disadvantage with exclusive music libraries
- The disadvantage with non-exclusive music libraries
- 1. Pond5
- 2. Artlist
- 3. Marmoset
- 4. Epidemic Sound
- Music licensing companies I DON’T recommend
- Summary: Best music licensing companies for independent musicians
The disadvantage with exclusive music libraries
Before digging into this list, you’ll need to understand that none of the music licensing companies on it are exclusive. That’s only because we’re prioritizing independence.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that exclusive music libraries aren’t good.
I just want to explain why I (as an independent artist) don’t want to use them.
For starters, you need to understand that exclusive music licensing companies require you to transfer your exclusive rights. That basically means you DON’T own the copyright to your music anymore. That’s right!
However, please understand that they do this to facilitate the process of licensing your music.
It’s also done to augment the perceived sense of value (since your music can’t be listed anywhere else EXCEPT that music librarie’s catalog).
In other words, it’s very similar to signing a record deal with a record label.
Exclusive music licensing companies usually take 50% of your royalties in exchange for the service they offer. That amount can vary depending on the deal though.
Another MAJOR disadvantage is that you won’t be capitalizing on sync fees.
Basically, you’ll only be getting paid in royalties (if you even get placements) and potentially consideration fees (compensation for submitting to certain exclusive music libraries).
If you’re an independent artist, you’re most likely starting to cringe…
That’s why we’ll only be looking at NON-EXCLUSIVE music licensing companies today.
You’ll hopefully understand that these types of music licensing companies aren’t necessarily perfect either (for the long run, anyway).
However, I still believe that at some point you’ll have to make the choice between going exclusive or starting your own music licensing/publishing company (which is what I did).
The disadvantage with non-exclusive music libraries
Okay, so we know that the music licensing companies we’re looking for are NON-EXCLUSIVE. However, we still need to understand how they work and why the grass isn’t necessarily much greener on the other side (it’s better though, you’ll see).
The first non-disadvantage of non-exclusive music libraries is the fact that you retain 100% of your exclusive rights while using the platform.
That means that you can remove it at any point and place it anywhere you like (streaming services, other music licensing platforms, etc…).
However, there are some significant disadvantages with non-exclusive music libraries.
For starters, you’ll most likely be giving up a percentage of your sync fees (usually around 20%). That being said, it’s much better than getting nothing at all, right?
On the flip-side though, you most likely won’t be earning any royalties because most non-exclusive music licensing companies are ROYALTY-FREE.
Even if there are some that offer the option, it’d most likely result in less sales.
Why? Because people who use these libraries are often looking for something CHEAP.
And that brings us to another caveat… The pricing on most non-exclusive music libraries is relatively low. If your music isn’t that great, then it’s not so bad I guess (a great place to get started though).
However, high-quality music should be priced MUCH HIGHER (in my opinion).
If you’re an independent artist, I could imagine you’re starting to cringe less at the idea of using non-exclusive music licensing platforms vs the exclusive variety.
In the long run though, I will encourage you to create your own music licensing company.
It’s the only way you’ll truly remain independent and in control of your intellectual property.
It’s also MUCH more profitable!
We’re starting with my favourite non-exclusive music licensing company. Pond5 is actually one of the only “self-serve” platforms out there which makes it ideal for independent artists.
One of Pond5’s best features, in my opinion, is the ability to price your own music.
That means you can price it as high as you want, but that doesn’t always guarantee the best results.
It’s also possible to earn royalties from the music you license on Pond5. This feature was added in recent years, but it’s now one of the only non-exclusive music libraries that offers this.
That being said, I still believe that on platforms such as Pond5, this may actually decrease your sales (royalty administration = more work for impatient music supervisors).
My advice… If you’re using non-exclusive music licensing platforms, just forget about your royalties. The fact that you can earn sync fees is actually much more profitable (although Pond5 keeps 35% of that amount).
That being said, you’ll actually need to sell your tracks (and lots of ’em to break even)!
The main disadvantage with Pond5 is the fact that it’s more like an ocean… There’s so much music available that yours will most certainly get lost in the abyss.
You’ll still need to do some form of promotion on social media and/or your website.
The branding aspect is also non-existent on Pond5.
That means you can’t catch someone’s eye with your album artwork. If anything, everything just looks the same on Pond5 (even the titles) so it’s VERY difficult to distinguish yourself.
Just think of Pond5 as your own personal music licensing “marketplace”.
If you can’t design your own web application, then this is the next best thing (kind of).
One thing that’ll give you the upper hand on Pond5 is having superior metadata. That means optimizing your tracks using the provided client by inputting the maximum amount of detail as possible while being as SPECIFIC as possible.
Other than that, you’re on your own! Pond5 is the Public Mobile of music licensing!
I put Artlist 2nd on this list because I personally use its stock-footage counterpart; Artgrid. The quality of the footage on Artgrid is PHENOMENAL so I expect no less from Artlist.
However, I’ve heard that Artlist is somewhat less organized then Artgrid.
Either way, it’s the same company. If you want to see what the footage looks like, you can check out my weekly music video/mockup.
If you’re planning to license your music through Artlist though, it won’t be as simple as Pond5. You’ll need to submit your tracks and get them approved.
You’ll also need your own press kit and all the relevant information/media.
For example, you’ll need to provide…
- Artist Profile
The advantage is the platform is much more curated than Pond5.
You’ll actually stand a chance of being found without being lost in a sea of other artists.
Because of the barrier to entry, Artlist is also less saturated than platforms such as Pond5. The catalog is growing quite rapidly considering how relatively new the platform is though.
That could be something to worry about for the future, but for now you still have every reason to use Artlist (especially since you can pull your music at any point).
The only MAJOR disadvantage I see with Artlist is the payoff. It isn’t explicitly stated on their website how artists are paid, but my guess is that they’re not paid much.
The payout model must be similar (although much better) than streaming services.
That’s because the end-user pays 199.99$ for a yearly subscription of unlimited licenses. My guess is that your payout is calculated based on the amount of users and the amount of times your tracks are checked out.
That’s just based on my experience with Artgrid.
I often wondered how the filmmakers got compensated and that’s what I came up with.
You have nothing to lose by submitting though. Even if your music gets accepted, you can still submit to other non-exclusive music licensing companies since Artlist is NON-EXCLUSIVE.
Before going any further, I just want to mention that Marmoset isn’t accepting any new submissions at the time of writing. I will update this article if the situation ever changes, but they are basically BACKED UP with submissions.
Assuming that submissions are open though, Marmoset is great!
In terms of pricing, it’s MUCH better than Pond5 and Artlist. I really like how the platform sells the end-user licenses based on the size of their project which isn’t usually the case on most non-exclusive music licensing platforms.
That basically means that your music will fetch a higher price.
The actual percentage that Marmoset takes isn’t stated, but my assumption is that it’ll be around 50%.
I think it’s much more worth it because of the overall quality (and reputation) of their platform.
Much like Artlist, you’ll need to have all your branding material on hand (artwork, metadata, profiling, etc…) because they’ll be the ones administering it for you.
There’s also a barrier-to-entry like Artlist, so your tracks will need to be up to par.
In my opinion though, the catalog is much better curated than Artlist’s so you’ll have a much better chance of standing out. You’ll also have a better chance of getting placements!
Out of all the music licensing companies I researched, Marmoset was the one that appealed to me the most.
It definitely has to do with the pricing model (and the UI/UX, of course).
I think it’s the perfect compromise of independence and proper representation!
Lastly, Epidemic Sound is a music licensing company to consider if you’re an independent artist. You’ll need to gain their approval before having your music listed, but that’s part of what increases your odds of standing out.
The only thing I don’t like is their pricing model.
It seems like this platform caters much more to YouTubers and podcasters (the lower-end of the pricing spectrum), so you probably won’t make as much.
However, they do state that they’ll pay you an upfront fee (consideration fee) to have your music in their catalog once accepted. They also split streaming revenue (royalties) 50/50 with you.
That actually sounds like something an exclusive music library would offer you, but fear not…
Epidemic Sound is NON-EXCLUSIVE (although it doesn’t quite make sense to me).
If you were submitting to multiple non-exclusive music licensing companies at once, I’d definitely consider having them on your bucket list.
Remember, you’ve got nothing to lose with non-exclusive deals.
However, it’s worth noting that certain music libraries like Epidemic Sound are more “niched” than others. For example, you’ll realize that they specialize in popular music genres mostly (which means there’s less room for orchestral, rock, metal, etc…).
If you think your music fits the YouTube/podcast vibe though, check ‘em out!
Music licensing companies I DON’T recommend
There are TWO non-exclusive music licensing companies I don’t personally recommend. I’m not saying they’re terrible, I’m just saying I wouldn’t personally use them.
The only one of the two I tried was Songtradr.
For starters, there’s lots of bad news about this company all over the web. I’m not saying all of it is true, but it just shocked me to see how much of it there was. Most of it involved issues with payments (not a good sign).
In short, Songtradr doesn’t have the best reputation.
It’s also not really specialized in music licensing (not like the other companies we covered).
In other words, you won’t have much control over the actual pricing. Songtradr is more of a music distribution service that provides sync licensing “opportunities”.
If you want to pay your bills with music licensing, I don’t recommend Songtradr.
The other music licensing company I don’t recommend is AudioJungle.
AudioJungle is very similar (almost identical actually) to Pond5, but the one MAJOR difference is the pricing. Before recently (very recently), you could only license your tracks on AudioJungle for 19$ and that’s it!
This isn’t the case anymore, but most tracks are still priced around that threshold (some even LESS).
That’s WAY too low in my opinion and let’s not forget that they take 45% as well (+10% withheld tax)!
I also remember the user-interface being somewhat dated and that the upload process was much more tedious than Pond5’s (that’s probably changed though). If I had to choose between the two, I’d definitely go with Pond5.
I don’t think it’s worth the hassle to use both.
Once again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with AudioJungle.
I also kept hearing that tracks were rejected WAY more often than Pond5. Most people associate that with the fact that AudioJungle is biased towards certain genres of music.
It’s true, Pond5 has much more variety than AudioJungle.
Summary: Best music licensing companies for independent musicians
Honestly, I found out that there weren’t as many viable non-exclusive music licensing companies as I had hoped. Of course, there are MANY more than the ones I listed in this article, but I had to narrow it down for our needs.
The only truly “self-serve” platform I could recommend is Pond5.
I actually wrote an entire article on using it since that’s where I started.
In regards to the other non-exclusive music libraries we discussed, the best one I found (in my opinion) was Marmoset. It features exclusive tiered pricing while keeping the platform strictly non-exclusive.
If you can get your music accepted, I think Marmoset provides the best conditions to meet your financial needs as an independent artist.
Of course, nothing worthwhile happens overnight (remember that).
My second choice would need to be Artlist because I really like the quality/value this company has been putting out (in regards to footage, anyway).
I also want you to keep in mind what we discussed at the beginning.
At some point or another, you’ll want to start thinking about “giving up” your independence and moving on to exclusive music libraries (once you know your music is commercially viable and you have PROOF), or to start your own music licensing company.
I’ll be writing more articles on starting your own music licensing company and once I do, I’ll be updating this article with the relevant links.
For now though, just focus on getting your music (and yourself) ready.
If you’re not sure where to start, I wrote an entire article running you through the process of getting started in the sync licensing industry.
If you have any questions and/or requests for future content, leave ‘em in the comments!