Music Industry Advice: Licensing for a Living

Music Industry Advice: Licensing for a Living

Music Industry Advice: Licensing for a Living Cathy HellerCATHY HELLER /

Cathy Heller is a “go-to artist” in the placement world, generating over $100,000 per year. Heller has placed songs hundreds of times in TV shows, films and national commercials. She’s been featured in Variety, Billboard and the LA Weekly, and has been a guest speaker at Berklee, Billboard’s Film & TV Conference, ASCAP EXPO and UCLA. Heller also designed an online “Master Class” that is a guide for licensing songs.

How do you make a six-figure income with song placements?
I place 25 to 40 songs a year and it’s all DIY. I took charge of my career and really work at it. That way you don’t have to wait for somebody else to make things happen. I love songwriting, networking and pitching projects. It’s so much fun it never feels like work.

Were you always so independent?
Actually, when I started a rep pitched my music. But I developed relationships with enough industry pros to create a network for myself. Music supervisors tend to have “trust” issues, so you have to get to know them to establish yourself as trustworthy. Once you do that you can deal with them directly.

How much money can you make from placements?
It depends on how the song or music is used. On average sync licenses for TV shows pay $1,000 to $3,000; a featured placement pays $6,000 to $10,000; and commercial work can pay $25,000 to $50,000. And that doesn’t include “Performance Royalties” from your PRO or “Residuals” from SAG-AFTRA, which can bring in another $15,000 to $25,000 during a commercial run (usually two to three months).

What are some hot tips for getting songs placed?
You need to do research. You must understand who and what you’re writing for––it’s not just straight songwriting. There’s a visual story being told and your song enhances it. You have to realize that it’s going to be a moment in a scene. You should also become familiar with the style of music used on a show, as well as the lyrical content. If you analyze it, you’ll notice a consistency that gives a production its voice.

How about songwriting tips for placements?
Generally, uptempo songs get more placements. For commercial ads,120 beats per minute is common. Lyrically, you want to focus on universal themes that aren’t too specific. You should keep it simple but cool and authentic, and that’s not easy. Lastly, happy songs get placed more often than sad songs.

How important is production quality?
It’s incredibly important. Your recording must be very well done. In fact, I work with a couple producers. You should also have an instrumental mix just in case the lyrics don’t fit a scene; and writing instrumental parts into a song (e.g. the bridge) is helpful as well.

You started as a performing artist. Do you still play live?
That’s a great question... Placements gave me freedom. I don’t have the pressure to drive my career by touring. When I play live now––and I do occasionally––it’s total fun.

Final advice?
Don’t give up. I’m offering an online course that gives artists everything they need to get their songs placed. I also help artists get placements through my publishing company. If anyone is interested, they should contact me. I’m always looking for exceptional talent.

Photo from

1 2 3 4 5 6