Fending off giving a manual for success!

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    Hi Folks,
    Wanted to get suggestions and thoughts about an issue I often face.
    I have been getting TV/film placements for about the last 15 years, not yet my exclusive source of income but hopefully going in that direction. My other income comes from performing and teaching guitar.
    As part of my online profile i mention the Film /TV stuff partly to give some breadth and background information to potential clients and students, I also share my website etc .
    The issue that I have found coming up many times, sometimes from students, fellow performers and once even an entertainment agent who I get some gigs from is that of attempting to get information out of me, advice and something like a road map on how to to achieve the humble success I have reached.
    My feeling in these situations is often one of awkwardness, defensiveness, evasiveness and an unwillingness to give away a ‘manual’ on what has taken me years and quite a bit of money to achieve. What bothers me is a feeling I get that the assumption is that “it must be easy if you can do it” and that all that is needed is to find out how I did it, go to the same libraries (presumably which I have given them!) and that they can do it too.
    A great quote I read here on MLR (sorry can’t remember from who) is that it is like asking the successful gold miner where they found the gold.
    What I want to say is along the lines of, it can take many years, no one will tell you what to do or where to look , there is so much more to it than just writing a good track, I don’t want to share how I managed to get the few placements I have, it is a crowded market. I did put off one questioner when I outlined the amount of extra non musical work involved in just doing the meta data.
    Some time ago I stopped posting about recent placements on Facebook, I tend to get some congratulations from friends but I think for some people it generates a kind of envy for what they perceive as a level of success which may appear more than it is in reality (some well known TV/film titles). I think the impression that can be taken is that I am raking in the cash and if I can do it then why not them.
    I know this is a question of my being prepared for what can sometimes be a friendly approach with a hidden agenda but I am sometimes caught off guard and end up feeling uncomfortable trying to balance appearing open and friendly without being used as a source of information. It is also about my setting boundaries but somehow I haven’t succeeded in not feeling cornered or taken advantage of. In these situations I think my problem can be that of being too friendly from the start opening myself up to this kind of thing and being taken as a sucker or an easy touch.
    What I think I need is a set response (and underlying attitude) that I can feel comfortable with and that sets a boundary, does anyone else face this kind of thing or share my difficulties, if so what works for you?
    Any thoughts much appreciated.

    Art Munson

    Good topic JD and know exactly how you feel. I have many of the same thoughts.

    What may help you, and is true in my experience, is that you could give your “secrets” away (to a point) and there is no guarantee that any of the composers you shared your “secrets” with, would achieve the same results (most likely they would not). There is no one size fits all approach to this frustrating business. I don’t think you have to be that paranoid about it.


    Thanks Art,
    It’s quite comforting to know that I am not alone in how I feel. Many who come at me with this type of question are not even dedicated to composing and don’t have any kind of home studio set up but have written a few songs or instros and seem to have the attitude that if just one track gets picked up then they will be rolling in cash! Of course one important placement can be momentous but as we all know it is more a question of a long term mindset and years of hard work and self improvement.
    I think part of my issue is that I feel a bit insulted by the assumptions at play, I know that is MY problem!


    Hi I couldn’t help but reply. I have had the same experience. I recently, last year was I speaking on a local radio general broadcast about local business in the area where I lived . Once I mentioned that I was involved in working with music for film ….al be it film for more industrial local companies. I was inundated by hopeful musicians. They wanted to know how I got started, how I got contacts.
    One was from a university music department wanting to know if I had work that if I didn’t want to do I could pass on to eager composition MA students who need to gain experience. The list goes on . I like you want to be helpful but let’s’ face it I have had to use my own ingenuity about making contacts, sometimes working for very basic fees, redoing music at no charge. I feel production music requires great skills and imaginative creativity….plus dog mindedness. I feel you just have to find your own way. Plus take the knocks when they inevitably come but be happy when you succeed. It is not easy coming up with a composition that gets used. Not everyone can do it either.


    Good topic! I know some fellow composers who have their own programs where they teach these skills to aspiring sync composers. I don’t personally do it, but these programs are popping up all the time. You could go the route where you teach the basics of the business for money. A lot of fellow musicians ask me questions too, and I’m happy to help. I don’t give them specific libraries usually, but I will tell them how they can submit to libraries. A lot of newbs run when they realize how much work it is and how patient you need to be!


    Here is what we can all tell all newbies if they inquire about how to succeed in the music for media business:
    1. Focus on music you hear on TV shows, in films, on TV commercials, in youtube videos etc
    2. Write music you are good at and enjoy.
    3. Write, record, mix and master a minimum of 1 track a week for 20 years straight.
    4. Join a PRO and register your titles the moment you finish a track.
    5. Research and try various music libraries and stock music licensing sites and see which one’s bring you financial success.
    6. Do not expect to make any meaningful income for at least 3 to 6 years (Until you have around 200 tracks on the market)
    7. Network with people in the business every way you can to build up long term relationships.

    Once they read 3 and 6, 99% will throw in the towel. This business is not for everyone. It requires tenacity and an attitude of “I will never give up.” In addition to investment in the right software, instruments, and equipment, it requires absolute dedication, patience, talent, consistency, intelligence, and a dedicated commitment. It initially requires that you have other sources of income while you work your way through this journey.

    One you gain traction it requires 10 hour work days for 5 to 10 years to really take it to the next level. I still seek other sources of income outside of music licensing and music royalties. I eternally do not trust this business as a stable long term path to earning full time income year after year. I always operate as if it’s going to implode and always have a plan B in play.

    Art Munson

    I still seek other sources of income outside of music licensing and music royalties. I eternally do not trust this business as a stable long term path to earning full time income year after year. I always operate as if it’s going to implode and always have a plan B in play.


    Paul Biondi

    … does anyone else face this kind of thing or share my difficulties, if so what works for you? Any thoughts much appreciated. JD

    Hey JD –

    I think most of us here have had similar experiences so you’ve got plenty of company. It’s human nature for people to want to know what you know so they can get to where you are. We’ve all been there starting out, asking the Pros for advice and tips.

    First off, I hope you feel these requests and questions are compliments – whether they mean it to be or not – because they are acknowledging your success. So bask in that – because it makes responding without being defensive or uncomfortable and instead with genuine kindness – much easier.

    Second, you can easily expect some percentage of information seekers to be highly self-focused in their desire to obtain the information. This eases the blunt-force trauma from the more aggressive and pushier folks. Once, a parent who was frustrated by his daughter’s lack of progress from the music production help I gave her, he blurted out “why can’t she get this. it’s not rocket science, heck if you can do it…” That cracked me up. And I told him “Of course it’s not rocket science. And you’re right – if I can do it she can do it. Music Production is simply skill building, discipline and trial and error.” I’m sure my experience is not uncommon and that you’ve also heard similar things from well- meaning but overly eager people.

    So what to do? You have a private lesson practice, which means you like helping people. And if you can help someone move closer to a goal and dream they have for themselves AND they succeed, that’s a great feeling. And with Youtube and other online resources, there aren’t many “secrets” or tips or information that can’t be found somewhere. Plus, our golden techniques or secrets will not be someone else’s golden technique or approach.

    I say all this to say, you can start by telling people it’s a journey and a process and them start them on their way. If you wish to make this a revenue source, then charge for continuing their education. Myself, I give away some time helping people get started. If they ask for more time (even offering to pay) I politely decline – explaining that I simply don’t have the ability to add that to my schedule. People understand and accept this answer.

    I hope this was helpful. Please post again with what you tried and how it turned out.


    Actually, I seem to have the opposite problem. Kinda. I want to “give back” now that the end of my career is closer than the beginning of it, and try as hard as I can to try to convince some local talented people to join in and learn the biz – earning while they learn – they seem more intent with performing live, geeking out over guitars and pedals, hanging out with friends, etc..

    I’m more than happy to teach someone I get along with, who I have seen has the talent to make it, etc., but they all seem to be focused towards either instant success – or what I would consider laziness. And I have no time for those types.


    performing live, geeking out over guitars and pedals, hanging out with friends, etc..

    Lol! The perfect plan to go nowhere with your career as a media composer. The hardest part for anyone to grasp is that you simply do not get paid anything for 18 to 24 months from the moment you say “I am going to write a production track for TV, Film, and all other media”. Imagine that moment of feeling enthusiastic after you finished your fist composition. One down and a 1000 to go and…. yep….no checks for at least 18 to 24 months. Perhaps a few token stock music sales here and there, but….you get the idea…..

    Ed Hartman

    I’ve been teaching music licensing for many years. I’ve taught classes in the Seattle area to organizations (Songwriters, Union, Composers orgs) and regularly through the local community college. Nowadays, I am teaching through Zoom, and it has been tremendous. I can share websites, videos, audio files, etc.

    I have learned more by teaching the class than anything else. By teaching, I have to stay up-to-date, and aware of all of the changes that are continually happening. I teach setting up your business, understanding the pitch, metadata, contacting music supervisors, publishing, contracts, PROs, royalties, etc. Many here understand a lot of it. Most folks outside of this group probably don’t.

    I have never worried about competition in anything. Everyone is unique in their field. I believe success (financial, press, credits, etc.) is more about your ability to generate a catalogue, and understand how to pitch it.

    I have learned that when you learn something, you naturally become an authority (always a bit audacious!), and people will gravitate to you. That can include clients. Everything I do as a composer and educator creates opportunity and grows my brand.

    I have connected with people that are at the center of music licensing. I have regular conversations with them. All of this is due to my becoming an educator. I have always taught (still teach percussion after 40 years!). The art of teaching is very underestimated. It takes a lot of organization and communication skills to do. Being able to explain music licensing is extremely challenging. Knowing what to teach, and when is a major skill in itself.

    I do give away a LOT of information for free. My website has a resources page for composers and songwriters. I just added a filmmaker resources page. I also am on my ninth year of writing a monthly free newsletter, “Adventures of Music Licensing and Scoring”. It contains a though journal of my experiences and placements. It takes hours to create. I continually add a ton of links each month. There is a LOT out there. It can be overwhelming.

    Whether you get paid to teach or give back for free, I do believe you will gain a tremendous new experience about what you do. I tell students not to be a “fly on the wall”. Get in the center of the action. Get people to come to you. Supply and demand really does work (and is what licensing is all about). For anyone out there, I am always happy to answer questions about what I do, and have done.

    These days, I am now involved in film production. You think music licensing is involved? Guess what…


    PS: (I am a MLR member these days and sincerely appreciate everything Art does!


    Wow! Thank you everyone for your meaningful responses! So many great thoughts and suggestions.
    The more I think about the issue I realise that this dynamic happens in many other arenas. One example that I have experienced many times is in the world of live work that I have done for years. Through years of dealing with entertainment agencies I eventually learned to identify a good one and sift out the terrible or dishonest ones. After building trust and loyalty with some high end agents (and doing professional jobs consistently) I was able to get with some great agents and get good paying gigs in some prestigious venues (corporate functions/parties etc)
    Getting calls or emails from other musicians I know asking how I get that kind of gig and who are the best agents to approach I feel similar to what I described regarding music licensing. Firstly what the questioner is actually asking for is my hard won contacts in order to offer them a direct competitor and (cheaper) alternative to me! What I do find annoying is the lack of understanding of what I am being asked and again the same attitude of ‘anything you can do I can do better’ coupled with an acquisitively entitled attitude.
    I view my contacts as hard won assets, when I am asked to just casually give them away it devalues what has taken me decades to achieve.
    In the end I guess it is a response of envy and competitiveness not specific to my work but part of human nature.
    As mentioned by Paul Biondi, this kind of thing is actually a compliment but at the same time I have experienced a feeling of having been taken advantage of by people I have worked with in both gigging and writing collabs who find devious ways to get valuable information out of me through a friendly (self serving) approach.
    The idea of actually turning things around and teaching these skills and approaches is something that has never occurred to me,( thank you Ed Hartman and others for the idea) I have watched many YouTube videos on the subject, don’t think it’s something I want to do but it’s a fantastic idea with a really positive attitude to it. At the moment I don’t feel qualified to teach on the subject but I can see the benefits to doing so.
    There have been so many really brilliant ideas and responses here, I am really grateful and glad I asked for all your thoughts. It is good to know that it is not just me that goes through this kind of situation.
    Sincere thanks


    Hi guys, fascinating subject. And lots of great input. I got contacted a few years ago by a guy that had a rudimentary grasp of writing and some simple gear. He asked me for ideas about getting into the business and musical composition. And over the next 18 months he would send me tracks he had written and I would listen and send him ideas of how to improve. Well he finally got his first deal with Audiosparks and some other libraries and got placements with the BBC and other channels. The interesting thing is that he had a connection to a library that I then contacted and they turned out to be one of most lucrative contracts. The journey of giving Is usually rewarding and sometimes can be wonderfully surprising.


    Great thread, very pertinent! II get endless requests for my sources also. My approach is that I share a couple of reputable leads that are easily discoverable and require honest work to succeed with. The hard won inside info I keep to myself!

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