Publishing coins

Published on March 10th, 2011 | by Hugh Hession


How do I make money from my songs – Part 2

So now that we’ve covered the two types of income (you can’t stop taking your mind off the passive income, can you?) – understand that as a songwriter, it is up to you to act as the administrator of your songs so you can properly capitalize on the many income opportunities by licensing your songs. If you form your own publishing company, you can hire someone to administer your song catalog, or you can do it yourself. I also recommend that you search out for a good entertainment lawyer, as negotiation often plays a large role in the business of licensing songs.

I’m going to give you options. For those who want the quick list, I have it! For those of you who want detail, not a problem. Just read on.

How you can make money as a songwriter (the quick list)

  • Through the use of your songs in films, television and video
  • By letting others record your songs in any format
  • By getting your songs played on the radio, television & in public
  • Digital stream broadcasting
  • By letting others use parts of your song(s) in samples and loops.
  • By getting your songs into print
  • Through the use of your songs in midi form, video games etc.


For those of you who want the detail…read on!

Audiovisual sync (film, television)

Broadcast to public

This includes the use of your songs for broadcast in television, film, video and YouTube! You will get paid by the person using the song. The license you will issue is known as a Synchronization License, or better known as a sync license and is negotiable. If the songs are existing, then another type of license would come into play, called the Master License, for use of the master recording.

Sale to public

Additionally, you can make money through the sale of your music to the public, such as a DVD. This is a Videogram License – also negotiable.

A word about video streaming

There is no regulated license for video streaming, however record companies do police it, especially on YouTube where it pertains to what is called User Generated Content (basically, homemade content such as making a personal video over a Beyonce song). These type of “licenses” are completely negotiable and often include “take-down” rights, where they can demand that the song is taken down if the song is synced with questionable material that doesn’t favor the artists image.

Use in recordings

If someone wants to record your song, then they will have to pay you to do so. This is NOT a negotiable price and is enforced by the United States government under what is called the statutory rate which is currently 9.1 cents or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time or fraction thereof, over 5 minutes in duration. You would issue to them a mechanical license and if dealing with digital download rights, a digital phonorecord delivery license (DPD).

There are two general types of recording usages, and these include physical copies, such as a CD and also, permanent digital downloads. So for example, if Joe Artist came to you and wanted to record your song, he would have to pay you 9.1 cents multiplied by the number of CD’s or a given amount of downloads projected.

Use in performance

You’ve heard of BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. These are performing rights organizations, and any songwriter can join one. If you want more information about these PRO’s, I have written several articles that you can check out.

Radio, television and live performance

When you register with a PRO, then you can receive performance royalties from radio airplay, television, or if your songs are played in an establishment. One thing to understand here, is that it’s the songwriter that makes the money here, NOT the artist. The catch is getting captured in a given PRO’s statistical analysis. Unfortunately, it typically takes a considerable amount of airplay or performances to see any money from this source.

Digital stream broadcasting

When your song is streamed over the web or satellite radio, it is known as a non-interactive DSB (digital stream broadcast). When your song is connected to a music player that users can rewind, fast-forward and play, then it is interactive. Both have to be licensed through a DTR (Digital Transmission Right License), while the interactive DSB has an additional mechanical rights license. Royalties are paid through your PRO and the user of the mechanical license.


Others have to pay you if they want to use even a portion of your song in a sample or loop. This is simply known as a Sample License and the nice thing, is that this is completely negotiable.


You can get paid for having your songs in print form, such as sheet music. This is yet another negotiable area. This is usually reserved for major recording artists, although anyone legally has to pay up if they use your music in print form! Use a Print License.

Other areas

Any other areas related to using your songs for income opportunities falls into this category. This could be licensing your songs for video games, a derivative work, or even a midi file (amazing how many non-licensed midi files there are on the Internet…it’s quite illegal!). All negotiable.

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About the Author

owns and operates Emerging Artists Entertainment Marketing & Consulting, LLC - a company devoted to cultivating aspiring music artists, He is also the head of Hession Entertainment Group, LLC (artist management) and the Music Industry Liaison for the artist discovery site, TalentWatch ( He has over 25 years experience in the music business as a performer, composer, producer and artist manager. Hugh holds a BA in Marketing and is a professional member of NARIP and a voting member of The Recording Academy. He often speaks at seminars and workshops on artist development.

5 Responses to How do I make money from my songs – Part 2

  1. Oscar says:


    Nice list. How hard is it for an independent musician to get airtime on the radio. Are there tricks of the trade?

    And can you write more about the actual tactics to make money with some of these options?

    • Hugh Hession says:

      Thanks. I’m assuming you are referring to commercial radio. Unfortunately, it is extremely tough for an indie artist to get airtime. There are just too many major artists (let alone indie artists), and shrinking playlists. I was fortunate to be in a band, back in the early 90’s who had massive airplay on major radio stations, which lead to selling almost 12,000 albums on an indie effort. You don’t see that kind of thing anymore, because DJ’s (and radio stations in general) just don’t have any power like they used to. I’ve always been a fan of Joe Taylor’s book, “Grow Your Band’s Audience.” His advice, is to work it the other way. Get to genuinely know people (booking agents, DJ’s, managers etc) without feeling the need to push stuff on them, like every other band does. Then, you build more credibility and more opportunities usually come this way. I’m not talking about being manipulative – actually it’s the other way around – being genuine. We all have goals that we want to attain in our lives, including the people we establish relationships with. Sincerity will take you a long way. From a radio station standpoint, you might not get airplay (I wouldn’t count on it), but DJ’s are connected into the business. It’s all about building blocks. One step at a time, if needed!

      In regard to tactics to make money with your songs – you read my mind. I will definitely be posting more on that subject. Thanks for reading!


  2. Oscar says:


    Makes sense… commercial radio has the 20-30 songs that drone on over and over, so getting into those 20-30 is probably impossible for the indie artist.

    And thanks for the heads up on the book “Grow Your Band’s Audi­ence.” I will definitely check it out.



  3. Carl says:

    so does this mean if you write lyrics and you dont play a instrument
    or sing but others put music chords to the lyrics and you receive the music chords on paper from the one who is recording it then are you suppose to get money for that like on a website like even if your learning the lyrics ??

    • Hugh Hession says:

      Hi Carl. Thanks for your comment.

      No, not exactly. Sites like SongRamp have a section in their TOS that grants them a non-exclusive license to make ones music available to the members on their site. Basically, this means that they don’t have to pay you anything.

      Thanks for your question. If you need anything else clarified, let me know.

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