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Songwriting: How Much Money Can I Make?

January 2, 2010

According to Dan Kimpel’s article in Music Connection Magazine, “Songwriting, Where Did All The Money Go?”, the following amounts are the average payments songwriters are receiving for song use:

$45,500 : One song on a million-selling CD. This is based on the 9.1 cents per album sold mechanical license rate with a publisher taking 50%. If the songwriter self-published their music, then they would get the full $91,000 per million albums sold.  This rate can further be reduced if the label or artist has negotiated a reduced mechanical rate.  Standard reduced rate is 3/4  or 6.8 cents per album sold.

$15,000 – $60,000 : Feature film, one song, writers and publishers share sync fee’s.  (Synchronization License – syncing  music to moving images).  This can vary greatly depending on the use of the song in the film.  A song used for the end-credits or trailer would demand much higher fees than a song used in the background.  This is all negotiated between the music supervisor and publisher (or songwriter if he/she has been able to make the film aware of his/her music).  Well known songs can demand more where unknown songs will garner much less from a sync license.  The exposer may be worth the low sync license though as people who see the movie hear the song.  If a soundtrack is released, this will lead to mechanical rates generated from soundtrack album sales (see above).

$20,000 – $100,000 : Non-hit song, national commercial.  Advertising agencies and music supervisors are looking for new music to use with commercials and sometimes prefer unknown songs and independent artists as they are less expensive.

$75,000 – $1,000,000 : Hit song, national commercial.

$60,000 – $70,000 : Unknown song, major film trailer.

$12,000 – $100,000 : Known song, major film trailer.  “Negotiations will take into consideration whether or not the song that accompanies the visuals is a theatrical trailer for in theater use only, or a television or internet commercial.”

$300,000 + : Hit song, major film trailer.

$2,500 – $20,000 :  Song used in video game.

$1,000 – $3,000 : Indie artist, network television show all-in (master + sync) fee.  All-in meaning the TV show gets all options for use of the song without further payments.  So if the show was later released in a different medium such as an internet channel, home video, or on-demand, the show would not have to pay more monies to the songwriters.

$800,000 : U.S. radio and television performance royalties, hit single.  There are three performing rights societies that make sure the copyright owners of songs are paid performance royalties when those songs are performed in public.  This includes radio, television, restaurants, nightclubs, dance halls, websites, and other venues and broadcasters.  The three societies are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC and they receive payments from the music venues stated above for the right to perform the songs in their respective catalogs.  The performance rights agencies use their specific systems to determine the amount of times songs are played throughout the different venues and send publishers / songwriters royalties checks based on amount of play.  Published songwriters must choose which agency to register with based on the different pros and cons of each organization.

0.66 cents : iTunes takes .34 cents per download from the standard .99 cent fee charged (although the rate now varies between .66 / .99 / 1.29 cents per song due to new negotiations between Apple and the labels).  If a song is attached to a label, the label will take .46 cents giving the songwriter .10 cents and the artist .10 cents per download.  If two songwriters co-wrote the song then this is now .5 cents per download.  It is also .5 cents per download if a publisher has 50% rights to the song.  Of course, you don’t need a publisher to get your songs onto iTunes or in other music stores, you can pay TuneCore a small fee and then keep the .66 cents per download.  Tunecore special offer below:

Again, the above numbers are just an idea of potential income that a great song can make when used through different venues.  Amounts will definitely vary depending on the negotiating power between those looking for music and those providing music.

Disclaimer: This article was not written by a lawyer and the information is the opinion of the author only. This article is not intended as legal advice or counsel. The author does not make warranty or representation as to the accuracy of contained statements.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 2:18 am

    Thank you for sharing this. This is super interesting. All of us songwriters need to make sure we are putting in the time and practice to make our songs worth the money they can be!
    – Chad

  2. Pops permalink
    February 4, 2010 2:27 am

    Interesting article… but what about royalties for when your song (not a “hit song”) is on a TV show or in a commercial? And what’s the difference in royalties for a song on basic cable show versus a network show or what time of day it airs? And isn’t it true that you don’t get any royalties for songs played in a movie theater? Just curious.

    • April 26, 2010 12:18 am

      Pops, the performance royalties will vary depending on how much air time you are getting. If it is a national commercial or network television show you will get more royalties. The sync license fees will vary by contract and are decided up front between the songwriter and the studio. Having a hit song will give you better negotiating power for the sync fees but only more play time will give you more performance royalties. If it is a hit song though you’ll be making mechanical royalties from downloads or CD purchases. It is true that you don’t get performance royalties for songs played in movies. If the movies ever go to TV though, you will make royalties then.

  3. April 25, 2010 12:51 pm

    can I succeed in america from nigeria as a songwriter.people hear my song demo and think I should move out

  4. Mariah permalink
    May 1, 2010 7:19 am

    Hey Scott. I would like to know about a contract/arrangement… see, this songwriter/producer sent me a contract to offer my songs to Tv Shows in USA, and he stated that we’ll get 50% from the song payment, plus royalties… isn’t that too much? Or should I take the offer? The songs are registered in my home country.
    Thank you in advance.

    PS. Some of the songs will also credit me in Singing.

    • May 1, 2010 7:33 pm

      Mariah, I’m not an attorney and definitely recommend talking to an attorney over any legal contracts before signing them. 50% is a standard Publishing deal hear in the States. It can get pretty expensive and time consuming to pitch songs and to collect and administrate all those royalties so that is where that 50% comes in for the publisher. I would definitely look into his/her past success rate before considering giving them your songs to administer.

      We’ve also just launched a new product here in the States called MusikPitch. You can pitch your songs there for the same type of deal with the exception that your song is only published by MusikPitch if you win a contract for it – as chosen by the contest holders. I think this is a better format as you sign your song away only when you having a paying opportunity for it (i.e. you win the prize amount shown). You can check out the new service here: Spread the word if you like it:)

  5. Greg permalink
    May 4, 2010 1:22 pm

    I like the information a lot. Okay, so let me get these questions to you. Suppose I am a writer of an instrumental song. Suppose the producers of a big movie like 007 wanted to use the song. If I’m an unknown artist and they wanted to use the song in the credits, how much would I charge for them to use the song in your opinion, up front. And if they did want use the song wouldn’t Harry Fox deal with the mechanical and sync license for me, if I joined them? Thanks!

    • May 4, 2010 2:12 pm

      As a songwriter for a major film, you will get a fee plus songwriter royalties. The fee’s can range from zero to over $100,000. The royalties can be much greater overtime. U.S. doesn’t pay performance royalties for films but overseas does. Plus if the film is released on TV in the future (or whatever new medium the U.S. is consuming) then you will get those performance royalties. You would also make mechanicals if the album is released via CD or downloads.

      Quoting Passman’s book on the initial fee, “The vast majority fall in the range of $25,000 to $50,000 for major studio films. Whether or not the writer gets a part of the publishing also affects the size of the fee.”

      As an unknown writer, you would doubtfully get any publishing although its possible with clout to get from 25% to 50% of the publishing income, and usually the same percentage of copyright ownership – although you won’t have any administration rights. Problem is that a film of this nature will have you write the song for them as work-for-hire so they will own the copyright. In reality, it is doubtful they would want to use an existing work for their credits and would probably want to use their films underscore. 007 films also usually have a specific song written for each movie that carries the movies name – ex You Only Live Twice.

      • Greg permalink
        May 5, 2010 4:11 am

        Thank you Scott, that helps a lot.

  6. May 18, 2010 7:13 pm

    Hi Scott,

    I have a song that an advertiser wants to use just on their website to promote a new product. The song has lyrics that are vaguely associated with the name of the product. What kind of license fee should I ask for? The song is not well-known, was just released digitally on iTunes and other major download retailer, but is a good song and fits with advertiser’s target audience. Thanks.

    • May 18, 2010 7:30 pm

      Hmm. I don’t think I would ask that much as you can get some basic web music licensed for a few hundred. The fact that your song is unique to them makes it worth a bit more. It depends on the product, company, and traffic to the site.

      If it is a major company like Coke or General Mills, then I would ask for a couple thousand.

      For a smaller unknown, the max I would ask for would be $1000.00 but you have to remember that people will hear the song and possibly buy it on iTunes. Personally, I would say $500 and negotiate from there but that’s just my opinion based on the limit of my knowledge of the song, website, and product.

      Hope this helps!

      • May 18, 2010 8:28 pm

        Thanks Scott. That does help. Generally, for that $500-$1,000 would you recommend the license be for a specified window–one year—or are you suggesting perpetuity or something in between?

      • May 18, 2010 8:48 pm

        If I was the website owner, I would probably shy away from timeframes as there is already so much to keep track of online. You could say for a year or two but that may cause them to consider a new song in a year or two based on sales performances of their product. Since you are getting “airplay” from them, you may just consider in perpetuity to keep your song playing for as long as possible.

        I would also register your song with SoundExchange and you may receive some performance revenues from internet play.

  7. June 3, 2010 7:40 am

    Hi Scott,

    I just had 2 songs I wrote and recoreded placed in a series set to air on Showtime in the fall. They will be played in their entirety over the end credits. I agreed to let them be used for a nominal fee $25 each. According to BMI’s website the rate for royalties for this is $5 per play. Does that mean that I’ll only make $10 when this airs?



    • June 3, 2010 3:34 pm

      Sounds like you’ll make $10.00 per airing. That sounds really low but I’m not familiar with BMI’s exact rates. I’ll see if I can find out the answer to this and get back to you.

      • June 4, 2010 7:04 pm

        Thanks Scott. The rate for me is the high end of the range. It goes down under $1 for song fragments. Seems like their must be some kind of multiplier but hard to tell what it . I was thinking that maybe they figure it according to how many affiliates pick it up but figured that way it seems too high. On top of that it’s cable and I don’t know ho that figures in. In any case it’s great exposure of course.

  8. June 8, 2010 11:12 pm

    Hmmm. This is a great discussion following a great article.
    Scott, I had a project just fall right in my lap- a theme song for a TV ‘reality show’ pilot.
    It was produced with local actors- pro bono- compensated with footage for their reels and the theme song was written as such: I wrote the music and much of the lyric/melody content. My partner sang the piece and I did the accompaniment. I’m also publisher of the piece.
    To avoid getting the cold shoulder from the networks when the producer pitches this project, what do you think would be a fair licensing figure as well as an all-in figure? I’ve got a good feeling about the project’s popularity appeal and I’d hate to be like an American guitar manufacturer and price myself out of the market…

    • June 9, 2010 6:52 pm

      As always I would recommend consulting a licensing or entertainment attorney for the best advice.

      In this situation you have to consider that the show is still pending being picked up so you don’t want to scare the network. Some songs are even being synced for free due to payments from later royalties and exposure. Plus I haven’t seen the show so I’m not sure if it’s a potential super hit. If it’s just great, you may be able to ask for more as they’ll want the whole package. I would look at the potential exposure and royalties you think you can get and weigh how much you feel you should be compensated in the beginning. The more well known you are as an artist the more you can ask for in a sync fee and vice-versa. Just to throw a number out there – $1,000 for the initial sync / $5,000 for the all-in.

  9. June 10, 2010 4:08 pm


    Here is some more feedback I’ve received from your question. Lisa had a few questions for you:

    “Theme music can be tricky, in that you don’t want to short change yourself if and when it becomes the show’s signature.
    Creating an episode or season step structure can help secure that you make money if the show makes money.
    Answer some questions, and I can try to give you a ballpark based on previous songs I’ve licensed for the same.
    Do you control the master recording as well as the publishing?
    Depending on the media rights they are asking, will determine what you can ask.
    What is the specific media they are selling? Network TV? Cable TV? Internet?
    Territory? US? World?
    Term? 2 years? 7 years? perpetuity?
    You may not be able to answer any of this yet, as it’s the cart leading the horse right now.. but get back to me with whatever you know, and we can sort it out. ”

    -Lisa Bauman Wasiak
    Owner, Music Wrangler (Music Licensing)

    • June 10, 2010 5:46 pm

      Thanks Scott and Lisa:
      Yes, I do have the masters and still control publishing for now.
      I’m registered as a writer with BMI and a publisher (Sole Prop) with ASCAP. The Exec-Prod says to have in mind a licensing figure and an all-in, which means, of course, I’ll relinquish the masters and can at that time hope for a co-publishing deal.
      But then again, I’ve no other clout save for the fact that I was approached for the gig. It’s a song that, although tailored to this pilot/series concept, can easily be equally unique to similar interests, e.g.: patriotic interests, etc.
      It’s going to be pitched to both Network and Cable TV in the US market.
      Due to the gag statement I signed I can only say that it’s along the lines of one of those “complete makeover” shows with a human interest angle. The time frame is contingent on the audience’s attention span like any other show. Taxi ran for five and Seinfeld ran forever and has syndication… but I suppose a combination deal would be the sweetest- co-publishing with options.
      I’m shopping for representation as we speak b/c of some clauses in the agreement that I’m wary of, i.e.: perpetuity to the Exec “for promotional” purposes and not broadcast or dramatic performance.
      Now that I’m an overnight sensation after thirty years of plugging at this, I should be grateful that I’m getting a bite at last. BUT, like y’all said, I don’t want to sell myself short.
      This is a great subject for discussion. Thanks again, Scott. And thanks again, Lisa for your participation and interest!
      Peace and blessings,

      • June 10, 2010 6:43 pm

        Hi Eric.
        This advise is all very general.. so please.. read and use with that understanding.

        You said.. “The Exec-Prod says to have in mind a licensing figure and an all-in, which means, of course, I’ll relinquish the masters and can at that time hope for a co-publishing deal.”

        “All-in” does not have to mean any of this. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your work has now become a work for hire.. it can simply mean (and most probably does) that they simply want to pay you once, to secure the rights for whatever they may need in relation to this show… in the actual program itself or any promotional uses.

        Usually with theme songs, there’s a licensing fee paid out for each episode, vs a one time licensing fee.
        Let’s say the show will be sold for network (free) tv, in the united states, for a five year period.
        Being that you own the publishing and master, I would suggest $1,000 per episode for the first season, with a 5-10% increase for subsequent seasons.

        Standard is that the above would include in-context promotional usage.
        Being that you’re an unknown artist, I would also throw in out-of-context advertising.

        Assuming this gets picked up, you would minimally make $10,000 each season (assuming a 10 episode season), plus any royalties for the episode airings and commercials.
        I think that’s a pretty good deal.

        Known artists and songs I’ve papered get anywhere from $4,000 – $20,000 an episode for the same.
        They also have all kinds of option fees set up should the production decide to expand the media, the territory, the term, etc.
        It can get really convoluted.

        All-in fee? That really depends what they want for that. But, using the above as an example of what you can potentially make, I’d use that as a guide.

        Also.. if they want the song to be exclusive, that’ll cost them as well.

        I hope some of this helps.
        Feel free to contact me directly if you have any other questions, or if you want me to review anything for you.

  10. Eric St. John permalink
    June 10, 2010 7:52 pm

    I’m totally glad to have run across this blog. Google is the starving artists’ friend!
    And Lisa:
    You effing rock! Thanks so awfully much for taking the time to address this. With the way this industry is changing, you’ve both given invaluable information to the rest of us trying to break. God bless you both!
    Peace and blessings,

  11. Tam permalink
    July 8, 2010 4:39 pm

    Hi Scott,

    I have a successor membership to ASCAP and I receive royalties that were passed down to me. It is pretty amazing to have been left this, as I had no idea about it until my 100+-year old relative passed away. 90% of the royalties come from one song (there were 3-writers and I receive 25% of the 33%). That may seem crazy small, but last year I was paid around $24,000 and it was mostly from reruns of some TV shows and a movie that used it a while back. 60% comes from international royalties (those checks are from EMI). I lost my job last year, and I’ve been working part-time, so that money is what has kept me afloat.

    I was watching TV the other night and realized that song was playing during the commercials. There was no dialogue in this commercial, just the song. I have seen this commercial every night since then on CBS, FOX, BRAVO, ESPN and USA. Do I get royalties every time it airs? What do you think the royalties might be for this?

    Thank you!

    • July 9, 2010 12:08 am

      Tam, in a perfect world you should get royalties every time it airs but ASCAP can’t track every play of every song or they would be overwhelmed. They use different systems that help them basically estimate how many times a song has played publicly. If you contact them, ASCAP.COM, they can better explain their tracking system and specific payments for items such as commercials!

      Hope this helps,

  12. Lynn permalink
    July 31, 2010 11:09 pm

    I am a new songwriter. I just got major placement on a musical film, and I own my publishing company. I am currently putting together a writers agreement, and I wanted to know what rates and fees writers of my experience are asking?

    What is the industry standard in terms of rates/fees for new songwriters? (e.g percentage to write a verse, hook, bridge, and points) How much are/should new songwriters ask up front? Where can I find this info?

    I REALLY need some help on this. I have been researching and I can’t find a thing. Please help…

  13. August 17, 2010 7:48 pm

    very good music !

    thank you…

    (good luck)

  14. August 18, 2010 3:43 am

    Nice for me….thanks for share

  15. October 7, 2010 3:15 pm

    Hi Scott,

    First of all I want to thank you for your valuable tips on royalties they’re very helpful.

    My question relates to licensing fees for sports programs like ESPN. How much can a writer
    expect to make for a) opening theme or b) background usage? What is the typical length of a
    licensing agreement like this, 1yr, 2 yrs?

    Your help is much appreciated.

    Jimmy S

  16. Johnny permalink
    November 4, 2010 1:41 pm

    What an interesting and useful article! I have a question regarding video games – If the song is to be used in its entirety on a game thats sole purpose is to interact with the music a la guitar hero then what would (should) the payment structure be? I’m thinking in terms of a relatively obscure act but would be interesting to know what a well known act could expect as well!



    • November 4, 2010 4:42 pm

      Hi Johnny.
      For unknown artists, odds are they’d want a buyout of some sort. A few thousand dollars.
      For major artists, a typical fee structure is something like this:
      1 – 500,000 units $0.020 / unit
      500,001 – 1,000,000 units $0.026 / unit
      1,000,001 – + $0.030 / unit

      It doesn’t look like much.. but it adds up, since these videos tend to sell so much.

  17. Edward ormandy permalink
    November 12, 2010 12:28 am

    I just landed an instrumental theme song for a hit TV show in the US, the song will be airing in 12 other countries , the show is on a cable network a 11pm it plays 4 times a day and they use the song throughout the whole show, i did a buy out deal so i was wondering how much Mecanical royalties i get per show in the US ???



  18. Salvador permalink
    November 27, 2010 8:55 am

    Hi Scott

    First off let me just say I find your blog very informative and interesting.

    My question relates to u.s radio and television royalties. I see that you put $800,000 on average for a hit song. Is that in a hit song’s lifetime or just in its most successful year?

    Thanks for your time and your blog.

  19. December 10, 2010 4:23 pm

    yes but what would an unknown songwriter typically get for a song on another artists cd, or what should they ask for if someone is interested in one of their songs?

  20. Dman permalink
    February 1, 2013 9:10 pm

    If i write a song for a tv show that airs between 8 and 10 on monday will i get lets say $10 just once or do all stations pay $10

  21. Not saying permalink
    June 11, 2013 7:04 pm

    How much do you earn a year at the average at least?

  22. June 25, 2013 12:07 am

    Great info but it is now 3.5 years later~can you update thes numbers please? Thanks.

  23. July 4, 2013 6:22 am

    I have 40 songs nd 250 rap. So plz tell me how l make money nd to whom I sold these song. On 25 June 2013 I release my ad1 song on YouTube . . Plz watch this Ad1 sunny Singh on YouTube. . I have 5 adult song also . . . Plz plz plz sir help me if anyone purchase my song so plz contact me. . . Thank you sir

  24. August 21, 2013 10:59 pm

    Scott, i just started a small publishing company and just finished a great dance song with our new female group. A middle size dance label in the states has offered us already to buy the master song for $5K, buy the publishing for $3K and do a 50/50 split on all advances from licensing deals worldwide that they receive also sign my female singing group to a record deal with their label. is this a good deal for my new company and will my song writers still receive royalties from writing this song?

    • September 8, 2013 4:40 pm

      Kevin, this sounds like a pretty good deal. It may be best to hire a music attorney for an hour or two just to review the contract and make recommendations. Good luck!

  25. Cj cent permalink
    August 24, 2013 10:54 am

    I have a song to sell


  1. 2010 in review « Start My Song | Songwriting, Music Licensing, New Songs

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