The Adventures of: Your Song, Before it’s Licensed


The path a song takes before being licensed is always unique. But we wanted to lay out a typical process of what happens to a song between the stages of download and licensed. Generally, it goes a little something like this…

  • Inception

    • A small team of 1 - 2 agency creatives pitch work to brand clients, hoping they like the concept of the ad and, ideally, “buys it”. This means the client agrees to spend the money to have the ad produced.  During these meetings, the creative team is usually presenting storyboards and talking through the concept of their ad.  At this stage,the creative team might sometimes use music to help sell the idea, but this is rare and usually well-known songs will be used.

  • Pre-Production

    • Once a new ad idea has been “bought”, the creative agency starts putting together a production bid, outlining a timeline and potential costs of producing the commercial.  A pre-production book is made covering different details for producing the commercial and the agency usually starts to think a little bit more about the music around this time.  During this time, the agency will put down some kind of general description, such as “the music will triumphantly support the narrative of the ad in a contemporary way which will resonate with the core target market of 20 - 30 year olds.”  

    • At this point, some agency teams might try to get  started on finding music by using the storyboard and the music description in the pre-pro book to engage with music companies.  This doesn’t happen too often, as it’s generally very difficult to predict the right tone until the film has been shot and there is an edit to work to.  Without the film, trying to guess the music can be nearly impossible to figure out.

  • The Rough Cut

    • The most crucial time for music is when an editor is editing the film for the first time. At this phase, the editor chooses a song to cut the film to. Depending on the song chosen, this can either secure the song’s place in the ad or create a strong redirection of what type of music should be used. Having your music in the editing room tremendously increases your odds of being chosen for the final cut of an ad. For this reason, Marmoset has strong relationships in place with not only creative ad agencies, but editors and directors as well. The editing, rough cut and making revisions generally take the last two to four weeks of the production schedule.

  • Revisions

    • Once a rough cut has been made, the creative team needs to run the cut by both the creative director (or executive creative director) at the agency and by the agency account team.  At this point, a lot of feedback will be given and revisions to the cut will be made. Once the agency is happy with the cut, they will finally show it to the brand client. There are multiple tiers of decision making which happen on the brand client side as well, and usually the rough cut will go through many rounds of revisions before it is approved.  

    • On our end, our client will approve their music choice and final negotiations for the licensing fee and terms will be made with the song rights holder.  If the agency producer did their job right, the song will be available and on budget.  

  • Trafficking

    • Once all client approvals have been made and final production details like the final mix and film color correcting have happened, the ad is ready to air.  Sending the final commercial out is called “trafficking” because in the days of broadcast you would send the final format to the traffic department at the network (like NBC, PBS, etc…) so they can intersperse the ad correctly during different shows.

    • Broadcast (TV) can take weeks for the trafficking department at a network to process the ad. The timeline for online web videos are much quicker as a commercial can go live on the web as soon as it’s been uploaded.

  • Overall Timeline

    • From inception to trafficking, the entire process usually takes around two to three months time. This timeline isn’t always the case, however High profile ads, such as those for the Super Bowl, can be produced in as little as one month's time.


So what does this mean for your music?  

When you see your songs are being downloaded from our website, that’s a good sign.  That usually indicates creatives like your music enough to start getting it into their mix.  That “mix” is usually comprised of your song, along with songs by other artists that are now all living in the editing room being put to the film. If your song hits the picture the right way, brings out the right emotion in the film, and checks additional boxes that the creatives have outlined, then it will make its way to the short-list. The short-list then will be shown internally at the agency to different creative directors so that it can be whittled down to the favorite song and then finally,  presented to the brand client.  

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts and approvals which need to happen.  With that said, it sometimes can feel like winning the lottery if your song works well with the edit and checks enough of the right boxes to make the rounds for approval.  There’s not an exact science as to what works and what doesn’t. Working with a company like Marmoset is a good starting point as we can help make sure your music gets into the right people’s hands.  At that point, it’s the luck o’ the draw.