I have a story for you about how I fought for $15,000 for an advertisement placement of a song of mine.

I’m a hustler. When I make a song, I let people know. When I release a CD, I give it to my friends. One of my friends is a video editor, and works a lot on commercials.

One night, I was watching the series finale of The Office. No big deal. But it was 2009, 8pm and network TV.

The commercial break came on.

OMG THAT IS MY SONG!

There it was, my song, playing under a lovely foot-long hot dog commercial. No voice over, just my song.

(This is still the best feeling in the world if you are a songwriter, artist, or composer who worked on music for a commercial.)

I was freaking out.

And then I thought “wait a sec…. I didn’t sign anything.”

That’s right. This song placement was not negotiated. I had not copyrighted it. It was a song I wrote and co-produced for a non-profit event. It wasn’t even on one of my records.

Yet there it was.

Tracking The Placement

I called my friend the video editor. It turned out that he liked the song (I had included it on a CD of my music I gave him) and put it in his cut (the version of the commercial he was editing). His cut ended up making its way up through the red tape of ad agency and client approvals and made it all the way to air. Somehow, the music paperwork fell through the cracks.

I asked him to put me in touch with the producer so we could work it out. No word for days.

Finally, I wrote a very friendly email to the head of marketing for the hot dog company saying that I was “joyful to be part of their most recent campaign” and was “just dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s and wanted to make sure the paperwork was in order… and that I hadn’t signed anything”.

Meanwhile, a lawyer friend of mine told me to make sure I register the song with the copyright office, which I did. (Apparently you have a few weeks of grace period after a claim to get your song copyrighted. It didn’t matter in this case, but good to know.)

The VERY next day after I had sent the email to marketing, I received a message from the commercial producer, saying he’d send me a check for $500 right away. Which he did. My lawyer friend said not to cash it.

What’s It Worth?

I called around to some music producers I knew to ask about song placement deals. It turned out that a “Baby band” – aka an unknown artist – could get paid between $20 and $60k for a commercial placement, depending on some factors including:

  • How long the ad was running (this one was a summer special running a month)
  • How long the ad was (this was :15 seconds)
  • If there were vocals or not (there were no vocals- they just used the instrumental version- GET YOUR INSTRUMENTALS MASTERED!)

So it looked like I could ask for around $20k.

The producer let me know on the phone they “only had $250k for the budget for two ads” which means they should have had about 10% (standard for the industry at the time) of that to spare for sound. Seeing as there was no voice over, and only music, $25k should have been put aside for music.

The producer tried to tell me he was taking the money from his own pocket. He tried to tell me that I got “great exposure” for the placement. I told him that no where did hte company give me credit, link to my website, or share the song. So no, that was not exposure at all. It was a great talking point for me, but wasn’t actually “exposure”.

The Underdog

I realized I was in a unique position to fight for the underdog- the virtually unknown artist who had recently spent $15k on a credit card to pay for musicians, studio time and mixing and mastering her most recent album. And a brand who was using the music to set the mood and encourage people to buy their product should certainly be paying the appropriate amount.

I decided to request $15,000, just enough to pay off my credit card debt.Hot Dog

My lawyer advised me to ask for $10,000.

I stuck with $15,000.

3 weeks later, I received a check for $15,000 and a letter saying how graceful I was through the process (I never threatened suit or got upset. I was just standing for my value).

Long story short…. copyrighting is something you can do to be protected, but standing for what you deserve is what is actually necessary. That, and sharing what you’re up to with everyone you know, because you never know who’s going to put your song in that ad….

Lastly, my favorite take-away is one that continues to come up with every small or large success: powerfully making requests. It’s so important. I made a checklist about it. Take a gander, it may help you get that next big check.