Music Library Models: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Film Music Institute > Film Music Magazine (Archives) > Music Supervision (Archive) > Music Library Models: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

There’s a difference between libraries of music & sounds and music libraries (it’s all in the syntax!): The former are banks of sounds—sampled from real instruments and/or electronically reproduced and/or created that composers use in digitally recording their musical works—and the latter provide recorded music for film, TV, video games, etc. Composers and artists make their compositions and/or recordings available to the music library that in turn makes those works available to music supervisors, directors, editors, etc. for use in their projects. The music library is basically an intermediary between the composer/artist and the companies licensing their music for use.

There are a number of music library models, most of which seek to own part or all of the composer’s publishing, and are based on the “we come to you (the filmmaker, supervisor, etc.) to try and get you to use OUR music instead of theirs” philosophy.

In the following examples, “you” means you, the composer, and while these deals are made with composers worldwide, I’m addressing things more from a U.S. perspective:

(1) The exclusive buy-out: You receive a certain amount of money to compose a piece of music for a music library—sometimes a pretty good chunk of change. You may or may not also perform that composition, or have a part in creating the recording of it with them. Regardless of your participation, the contract generally states that in return for that up-front money, you share in no part of any fees for the master use license (the license for using a recording) and/or synchronization license (the license for using a song/composition) when the library licenses your composition and/or any recording of it. You keep your writer’s portion only, and give up all publishing rights to the composition and to the library’s recording of it. After your initial creation fee, the only other money you will receive is from the “back-end” (writer’s side only) when any project airs on TV, appears in foreign (outside the U.S.) theatrical markets, etc.—wherever your performance rights organization (PRO) is collecting money for the performance of that work. The composition and recording are exclusive to that one library, since you did everything as a work-made-for-hire and do not own any of the licensable rights. They can sell the composition and/or the recording off or do anything they want with it without any additional payment to you. The only revenue you see after the initial payment from them are in checks/statements that come directly from your PRO (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC) for your writer’s performance royalties. If you were to ever re-record that composition, you could only present your recording (a master) for licensing (not the work itself) because you would own no publishing rights to the composition, even though you wrote it. Anyone wanting to use your new recording of your composition would have to go to the music library to obtain the synchronization license (the license granted by a composition’s publisher). Confused yet?

(2) The exclusive partial buy-out: Again, you get some money in advance (but not much) to compose and record the work. In this case, your contract states you’ll get a portion of the master use and/or synchronization license fees (never more than 50%, often only 10%-25%), and all the back-end writer stuff still applies. Your composition and the specific recording of it are exclusive to that particular library. You’ll receive statements/money from the music library for your portion of any license fees they generate and checks/statements from your PRO for back-end. While not the usual scenario, you can sometimes negotiate the right to co-administer the rights and license the composition/master on your own and pay the library their portion of the master use/synchronization fees that you secure. This is generally an option only if you’ve got at least a 50/50 deal with them.

(3) The exclusive non-buyout: In this case, you are not writing a work-for-hire, nor are you receiving any up-front money for creating the composition or recording. You are, however, allowing your composition and recording to be used for a specific time period (usually 2-3 years) exclusively by a single music library. You will participate in license fee revenue, and depending on how well you or your attorney (preferably the latter) negotiates, you keep 50% (or more) of your publishing and master rights as well as 100% of your writer rights. There’s usually a mutual option built into the contract that says if both parties agree, this arrangement will continue for another year, two, or whatever, and it will come up for periodic renewal periods. You’ll receive money from the library when they license the work, and from your PRO for your back-end. Again, you may be able to negotiate the right to submit the work and its recording for licensing on your own, paying the library their portion for anything you secure via your own relationships/avenues. Again, don’t count on it unless you’ve got at least a 50/50 deal in place with them. Once you sever the relationship, you will get back 100% of your up-front master/sync rights. The music library will still receive back-end monies directly from their PROs from whatever portion of the in perpetuity (forever) publishing rights they obtained with your initial agreement.

(4a) The non-exclusive pay a fee upfront for membership deal (often referred to as the “TAXI” model): Not really a music library per se: You pay $250+ per year to be a member of an organization providing a platform for your music to be reviewed for various projects. Whenever a project is seeking music via the service, that info goes out to the membership. You send what you think the project needs and pay another fee ($5-$10) to have your track heard internally. If the listener at their end deems it appropriate to send along to the supervisor (or whoever), they do. Either way, you’ve paid up-front to get your music heard. If the supervisor then thinks yours is the right piece for the scene, they contact you directly. In addition to your superlative composer skills, you now get to turn yourself into a licensing expert or hire a lawyer to review the license agreements (better option) and/or handle the negotiations and later chase down the money and cue sheets yourself. With some of these services, they may also offer a critique process whereby they’ll tell you why they didn’t forward your composition and recording of it for the specific pitch. This may be useful to the beginning composer or songwriter who is still learning what kind of material to pitch for what project and how to record it well; for seasoned composers, not so much. They own NO part of your work.

(4b) The non-exclusive “pay up-front to have a certain number of songs on our website, but that’s all we do” online deal: This is similar to the TAXI model, and something that’s cropped up more in our über-digital age. You pay an up-front fee to someone with an online portal open to anyone who wants to peruse music for their projects. The fee is based on how many tracks you upload to the service and may also include a monthly service fee for storage. It may not require potential music licensees to register in order to hear your music. If someone’s interested in your music, you’re put in touch with each other. End of the site’s involvement. Again, you’re on your own RE negotiations, licensing and cue sheets. There may or may not be quality control for content and/or supervisor/client vetting. In most sites of this nature there’s no tracking of your music’s activity (how often has each track been listened to, licensed, etc.).

(5) The non-exclusive, “you retain all ownership to your work, we take care of everything and you get free parking” deal: Not too many use this approach, and to be precise, since they’re not seeking to own any part of your compositions and/or recordings, they’re not really libraries, but central repositories for lots of libraries, artists, composers, songwriters, etc. to all park their music to be heard and (hopefully) licensed. Your compositions and/or recordings are represented on a truly non-exclusive basis—meaning you can have others representing the same works and the same recordings with no conflict. Nothing is re-titled, so you keep all your publishing back-end, and (of course) your entire writer portion. You can even record a famous song and have these folks rep your master of it for licensing (whoever wants to use your recording would still have to go to the publisher to obtain the sync rights). The arrangement is usually a 50/50 split of all up-front license fees generated only by this company’s efforts. If the company is making full use of digital technology and licensing via an online web portal, it’s simple to keep track of the source of the license fees and who got what from where, since you’ll get reports from the site or be able to see when/if your music is licensed. Site use for such online portals is free for everyone on both sides of the licensing aisle, but closed, in that no casual listener can hear (or download) your music. Supervisors, directors, etc. have to sign a terms of agreement and are checked out to make sure they are who they say they are. Artists, composers, etc. are fully vetted—not everyone’s gonna get in because there’s quality control in place. Those providing music have access only to their own accounts and music—no poking around and peeking in anyone else’s drawers. You pay nothing up-front to have your tracks included on the company’s website. With the old-fashioned, “send CDs of all our stuff to every supervisor we can find” licensed uses were a little more difficult to track, but most supervisors (myself included) usually went with the “he/she who got the track to me first gets the gig” approach. A supervisor using an online portal such as this has the advantage of finding songs and instrumental music from a myriad of diverse sources in one location, and all the paperwork is handled for them (and you) as well. You just keep making great music and don’t need to be a licensing expert. You can track the activity on your music, and while you may not know WHO is listening and/or licensing, you certainly know THAT they’re doing so. The supervisor is actually coming to you instead of vice versa. They have a vested interest in such portals because they don’t have to deal with thousands of CDs in their office or multiple Licensors. Everything is handled from one spot, and in some cases (depending on the service), licenses and cue sheets are automated.

(6) Finally, the “re-titling” of a single composition so that multiple libraries can have “exclusive” representation: This usually includes a single recording of the composition that goes out to all the libraries and is currently the most common kind of deal out there. The philosophy is this: You have a copyrighted composition to which you own all rights—call it “Love is Blue.” We (Library A) want an exclusive deal on it, but know that you don’t want to give up your ownership of the composition or your recording of it, so we don’t call it ownership, but take an exclusive deal on a new title, “Blue Love” and own some or all the publishing rights for that new title. We’ll re-title your master to correspond with the new composition title and rep that for licensing too. Now, Library B also wants that work, so they re-title it “Blue is Love.” It’s still the same composition and the same recording, but now Library B owns some or all the publishing rights to their newly titled composition, and is also using the same recording as Library A, but have re-titled it “Blue is Love.” This could be repeated over and over again, so there could be numerous titles attached to the same composition and the same recording of that composition. The music libraries say this is so they can easily track the back-end (publishing) revenue, and composers sometimes say this allows them to know how much money they’re earning from each library, thereby knowing which ones they should continue to use to rep their music. You may or may not participate in up-front master use and/or synchronization fees, depending on your contract. The library may or may not choose to let you know whether something has been licensed, or you could be totally in the dark until you receive a check a year (or two or three) later from your PRO. Today this is often referred to as the “Pump Audio deal” although it’s been in use by traditional music libraries for decades. With all the new sound recognition technologies out there (that identify works and recordings of them by sound, NOT by title[s] attached to the recording), and the fact that more libraries, labels and individual artists and composers are starting to avail themselves of such tech, tracking may be a whole new ballgame with a new set of challenges. Only time will tell.

We’ll delve more into direct licensing of your music and the ongoing debate surrounding re-titling in future columns.

And a reminder (from my attorney): All statements above are my opinions and not intended as legal advice or counsel. No warranty or representation is made as to the accuracy of these statements. You should hire an attorney before entering into any agreement or contract. So there!

© 2009 Gael MacGregor, Independent Music Supervisor •

Gael MacGregor is a Los Angeles-based music supervisor, musician, songwriter, author and advocate for strong intellectual property rights for all content creators.


  • August 6, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

    […] This post was Twitted by paigetrist […]

  • xmian
    August 13, 2009 @ 8:06 am

    It is an awful world of fakes, there are no more real artists – just comedians, hustlers and moneys. I feel ashamed to be musician myself.

  • Blumuze
    August 13, 2009 @ 11:57 am

    Re-titling deals are a devils bargain for writers, and a scourge for music supervisors and licensees. See this post:

  • October 22, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

    Calvera, played by Eli Wallach in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN said it best: If God didn’t want them sheared he would not have made them sheep.

    I think I should run for Howard Berman’s seat in Congress. Bring some sanity to the whole music biz charade.

    Gael, you’re a nice peerson but I’ve been discussing these things for years.

  • November 11, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    Very good article.
    I’ve actually had very good results via Taxi. I’ve signed with several libraries, both exclusive and non, and a couple of publishers who are also supervisors. I’ve had several placements as a result including regular play on daytime tv and a background placement on True Blood season 1. I have also done direct marketing to libraries with some success. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the whole retitle thing. Thanks for elaborating on that.

  • November 17, 2009 @ 10:48 am

    Like Mazz, I’ve had good results from TAXI, who forwarded me to music libraries and music publishers as well as music supervisors. My most recent TAXI deal is with a music library who signed me as a *composer*, meaning they come directly to me and ask me to write for their current needs.

    I’ve been dubious about the re-titling aspect of the industry. Recently at least two libraries I’m aware of have changed their policy on this due to pressure from clients (end users) who no longer want to use re-titled music. I think we will see this trend continue. My recommendation is to avoid signing the same track to multiple entities under different titles.

  • November 26, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

    If anybody out there can tell me how to enter into a nonexclusive publishing agreement without re-titling the music I would surely like to hear it. If you are happy with your publisher and think they are doing a great job then sure stay with them and let them take fifty percent of your back end royalties. If you are your own publisher that is even better, collect all of your back end royalties. But good luck with chasing down all the cue sheets and making sure all your music is registered properly and so on. One of the great things about re-titlers is that you can publish your music through them and still retain all the rights to your music as long as you don’t have an exclusive deal with some other publisher of the same material. You could have fifty different publishers peddling your tracks and whoever gets you the placements would get just their portion of the royalties while you still retain all the rights to your music. Most re-title libraries take only half of the publishers share if your of back end royalties so you are already getting a better deal than the old school exclusive publishing arrangements. For the record I tried out taxi and thought they were a ripoff but Pump audio has made me several thousand dollars over the years.

  • Vince
    November 30, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

    Let me get this straight..So this only works as long as the piece of music in question never gets used in a way that receives a lot of attention or generates a lot of income correct? If you retitle a song 50 times and retain the publishing on one of the titles of that song, and then that song becomes a Britney Spears hit single, it would be naive to think none of the publishers that hear it on the radio and hold the rights to different titles of that song will be cool with you collecting all the royalties on your version of the title?

  • December 17, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

    Thanks! long read but worth it…this is the area I am looking to get into so it’s good to find a site that has the information I need.

    I was looking at joining taxi myself, so it’s definitely good to know all these scenerios.

  • January 18, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

    Great topic. I think the problem is not so much with the re-titling but more with the non-exclusive deals. I know a “LOT” of writers who have large catalogs of songs signed with 5 or more libraries. The problem here may come when the end-users don’t fill out the cue sheets properly and the PRO’s begin to have problems distributing the publishing royalties.

    In a way a re-titling may not be too bad as it provides a unique format of recognition between you & that library, so if you have a music supervisor who used your song which also came in through 3 other libraries he/she can properly indicate on the cue sheets where those royalties go.

    However I can also see where the end users are probably wasting a lot of time getting repeated music.

  • January 20, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    Thanks for the info, this is very helpful and I am saving this info to keep for future use.

    As far as the rest of the comments goes, I suggest being your own publisher and doing your own submission for royalities. It’s pretty fast and easy to do directly to ASCAP’s website.

    As Far As TAXI goes, had several really bad experiences with them and still haven’t had them admit to it.

  • January 20, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    Great article. Taxi is a legit platform. I have been using them for a few years and have had some very decent placements The biggest thing bout taxi is most people don’t realize that it is very competitive and the submissions that “Get through” are top notch. It took me almost a year of submitting to TAXI to get a good bite. I have started submitting through film music network as well after hearing some success stories from a few friends that are composers as well.

    Thanks again for the great article Gael.

  • January 21, 2010 @ 8:12 am

    Great article. Definitely saving a link to this.

    Here’s a review of TAXI that some of you may find helpful:

  • February 11, 2010 @ 9:48 am

    hello gael, hope you are doing well. great article, clearly written. you know i like example #5 the best :) i’m going to share this with all my FB friends. looking forward to catching up with you soon. cheers

  • February 18, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    Nice article Gael…It is a complicated world indeed. I’ve signed all kinds of deals : exclusive, non-exclusive, re-title, etc. I’m still learning everyday and it’s a hard thing to figure out what’s best for each composer. I’ve signed well over 500 song deals so far in 2 years and have had 7 network TV placements and many of them are re-titiles and non-exclusive. I was a member at TAXI and they do help ( but don’t say anything negative on their forum or you might get kicked out ). I prefer pitching my music myself and using helpful sites like Film Music Network…PS – Nice to see Vicky and Mazz still waving the TAXI flagg and kissing butt.

  • February 26, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    I was a member of Taxi for two years and none of my submissions were forwarded. The critiques always found something wrong about the songs.
    Pumpaudio saw all my songs posted on and licensed them all. I have received a LOT of uses via Pumpaudio now for 5 or 6 years, and am just branching out to other networks via Sonicbids and Broadjam.
    It’s just like the Beatles approaching record companies and getting rejected by all but one, you never know who’s gonna bite.

  • April 9, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

    I see litigation for fraud and prosecutions for mail or wire fraud from alternate-titling in the future. Re-titling fraudulently inflates the writer’s catalog. Representing users I always recommend that the licensor provide the licensee full copyright registration documentation. The license is in the copyright and the copyright is in the underlying work not the title. The only reason the practice is so wide-spread is because music people will commit fraud so long as it makes them a buck. You may as well create one digital work and assign 50000 alternate titles to it. That is, until you’re indicted by a federal grand jury. I’d hate to see musicians writing the protocols for heart surgery. Or a re-write of the U.S. Constitution. And you people licensing your work from music created under a work-for-hire deal had better watch out, case law states clearly that the creator of the work never has any right, title or interest in the work, ever. Besides that, the talent at work today is no better than some amateur with a taste for noise pollution. Amazing any of you ever sell anything, it’s all so dreadful.

  • Carl
    April 14, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    Does anybody out there wish to give us a list of “BAD” libraries. or good ones for that matter?

  • aftermidnight
    April 14, 2010 @ 9:50 am

    TAXI is not a scam but it’s similar to a pay to play at a club, occasionally an artist might make a little money but it’s not a way to make a living. Paying someone to rep your material instead of a commission based fee structure based on results is always a bad idea. The looser will almost always be the artist.

    RE: Litigation: The truth of it is that a re-title will never and I say NEVER get prosecuted. Give me one instance of anyone ever suing a library over a retitled work. It never happens and never will. Who’s going to prosecute it, the library that paid nothing for it or the other library that paid nothing for it??? The fact is we’re talking about background music being licensed for a few dollars in fee’s or for completely back end money only. Not a whole lot of money to go after here in the first place. We’re not talking about a Britney Spears track here, not ever. The PRO’s won’t go after it because who knows how many of their members have mud on their hands. Just isn’t going to change, it’s working pretty well for all the parties, they get paid upon their results.

  • blableblibloblu
    April 27, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    I am a talented musician that will never go through all this. I am officially a wasted talent and I have had years to accept and assimilate it, you know? so many unpaid or disgustingly paid music jobs, makes a crater in your willigness to interact (compose for) with such a bunch of vampires, I’m sick of it

    I’d rather be a farmer than re-programming my brain to understand such a nonsense (no offense to the writer, though). Whoever stays is and will pay for it (with pain, of course). There is no worse time to be a musician than now. Hope the future (after the second crisis that will pop up sooner than later) will bring a decent infrastructure for us, musicians, composers, sound designers blablabla, bla, blablablablablabla


  • November 14, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Retitle libraries are a God-send!!!

    The argument against non-exclusive retitle libraries is only made by exclusive libraries. These companies are losing money to retitle libraries and are scared that the exclusive libraries will soon be coming to an end. The exclusive libraries are correct; their days are numbered and rightfully so.

    Every legal and ethical argument made against non-exclusive libraries are actively practiced by exclusive libraries. Exclusive libraries get control for a song into perpetuity. This means that the library has the right to use the song however it wants. Many exclusive libraries enter into deals with foreign publishers where the library collects fees that they do not have to pay to the writer of the song.

    Non-exclusive libraries only retitle for the sole purpose of splitting up the revenue streams from music. Sending the same song to different libraries makes perfect sense because your songs compete against one another instead of competing against songs from other composers. It is a win-win situation. 

  • Adam
    January 3, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

    I started out writing for music libraries. They owned 100% of my tracks, but took NO MONEY like TAXI do. They also got almost every single one of my works licensed and I received 50% of all royalties they made.
    My opinion : you CAN make money from music libraries WITHOUT paying anything. I still make £000’s each year from tunes I wrote over 10 years ago, and didn’t pay to submit.
    Re-titling is fine. Your music gets to more than one library, which means you have more than one chance of someone using it.
    Only sign exclusive contracts if they pay an advance, otherwise it’s not worth being held to one company.

  • February 18, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

    Dear Yadygu,

    Here’s an example of one of those “win-win” libraries of which you speak… a library that went out of business because of re-titling, without understanding the international implications of doing so:

    And Carl, here’s a spot for composers to give and receive info on music libraries — personal experiences — and they are good, bad and everything in-between ( Names are named in many cases. :)

    It is run by Art Munson, a talented composer and all-around good guy. He has a subscription set-up in order to pay the server bills for a site he originally had as a completely free online spot. You can, however, earn a free subscription by participating in the discussions. He even sends out a monthly newsletter — and even tosses in health tips and recipes from his wife, Robin (who is a yoga instructor and talented singer/songwriter).

    My original position on re-titling still stands.

    It doesn’t mean I’m a fan of most of the current exclusive library contracts out there because I feel that many libraries grossly underpay composers for their works — and, unlike the past, have over-reaching expectations for the composer to also pay for the recording of the work. Bad form in my book. You wanna own the work AND the recording? Then you’d better cough up some decent cash for BOTH.


  • Ross Gilmartin
    March 17, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

    Does anybody know any examples of exclusive buy-out libraries?

  • December 26, 2016 @ 7:36 pm

    An update on the link to the article about the library that went out of business because of re-titling… we endured a large site attack/hack, so everything has been redone:

  • Michael Lawrence
    August 15, 2017 @ 3:08 pm

    Great article Gael. I had a question about model #3, the exclusive non-buyout. At the end of the term when the composer gets back their sink and master use rights for their composition and recording, what happens if they want to place a song that was already placed by the music library they previously signed with during the term of the exclusive deal? Could the composer re-title the re-acquired work so that they could get the publishing on placements occurring after the deal with the music library?

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