When it comes down to it, music is almost 50% of the film-going experience. Between score and source, dramatic cues and needle drops at the bar, music can create a unique and specific character to help complement the narrative of any story. But too often the budget for licensing music is the last thing anyone thinks about. And since it’s the last thing a production will typically pay for, when money is needed elsewhere, the licensing budget is usually the unwilling martyr.

Even if there’s only a tiny, tiny budget for all things music (which includes music licensing and composing), I highly recommend doing everything you can to get a music supervisor on board. They will assist with solving problems you didn’t even know existed and stretching your licensing budget further than you could have ever imagined.

"In the new world of digital and social media, your reel can be as short as six seconds or as long as two minutes. There is no set length—just the length that best fits your story."

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For new filmmakers, wrapping your head around a soundtrack can be overwhelming. Here are some thoughts on how to create a great soundtrack on a not great budget:


If you don’t have money for music licensing, perhaps you’ve put aside some money for a composer. If the budget is appropriate, the composer deal could include original score, as well as original songs for the film.

Music Libraries

There are countless music libraries in existence, and new ones popping up every single day. Seek them out and engage with them to see if you can negotiate lower rates based on the number of cues you end up using. Even try to work out a blanket license, where you can pay one large lump sum for an all you can eat buffer of production music. Among a ton of others, some examples include APM and Extreme.

Royalty Free Music

If you’re simply looking for music as a texture in the background of scenes, and only need a cue or two, there are plenty of royalty free music sites where you can buy tracks for as low as $5–$10 for a one time fee. Some examples include Audio Jungle and Pond5.

Be Resourceful/Creative

Scour Bandcamp for little known artists and engage your friends who are looking to break into scoring or interested in licensing their music.

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I believe everyone should be fairly compensated for their art, but I know that budgets don’t always allow for the necessary funds to do so. Please always consider a step deal (offering artists more money based on certain achievements of the project: distribution, financial benchmarks, theatrical release, etc.) or points on a film.

Keep in mind, when licensing music, the different types of media you’ll be exhibiting your project on will affect the rates and costs of music you are licensing. It all boils down to distribution—if you’re licensing for “theatrical,” that will be more expensive than for “streaming.”

And when you get bigger projects with bigger budgets, remember to bring your friends who were giving you music for next to nothing along with you for the journey.

Rob Lowry

Rob Lowry is a human being who loves music, movies, and television. His relentless passion for the melding of the different mediums lead him to a career in music supervision, where he has worked on groundbreaking television shows (The Bold Type, Ramy); genre-bending films (Villains, Serenity), and musical tour de forces (Her Smell, Summer Night). Outside of frequenting shows, laboring over (actual) mixtapes, and curating spotify playlists, he often finds himself over-caffeinated, dreaming of the ocean, and searching for a nice, quiet wine bar with an outside patio. His first and truest love will always be Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day."

Hero Photo Courtesy of: Tangelene Bolton (FTB Composer)
Cover Photo Courtesy of: Anja Tietze Lahrmann (FTB Composer)
Rob Lowry Headshot _Resized

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