In June of 2018, Dutch producer YoungKio uploaded an unassuming track to BeatStars in the hopes of leasing it out and making a little extra money. Lil Nas X — a musician looking to make TikTok memes — ended up buying the beat for $30 and turning it into “Old Town Road,” the longest-running No. 1 hit in U.S. history. (Billie Eilish ended its 19-week run with her own breakthrough single “Bad Guy”.)
Due to BeatStars’ clear lease contract, YoungKio is now credited as a co-writer/producer on “Old Town Road,” right alongside the source of its slick banjo sample, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Lil Nas X and YoungKio also agreed to new lease terms once the song became a critical and commercial success, moving 14 million song units and winning everything from a GRAMMY to a Country Music Award.
“Old Town Road” isn’t a complete anomaly either; it’s part of a broad ecosystem built around creating and leasing “type beats” to hip-hop artists. According to producer and Urban Masterclass co-founder Robin Wesley, the industry generates around $30 million a year on initial sales alone, without accounting for subsequent royalty earnings.
If you’re in the business of leasing your beats, or looking to get involved on some level, it’s important to know what rights you have and should maintain along the way. Here is a crash course on what to expect within the growing field of loops worth leasing.
What is Leasing?
“Leasing” your beat means letting another entity — most commonly another artist — use your track in their music, and distribute and monetize it under their name. Lease terms vary in length and financial structure; one of the most important variables is whether the agreement is exclusive or not.
A non-exclusive agreement is usually less expensive because it allows multiple artists to license the beat. It usually has a term or stream limit as well, with options to renew the lease once it’s met.
For example, someone may lease a beat from you for $50 with a one-year term. The artist can then rap over your beat; upload it to digital streaming platforms (DSPs) such as SoundCloud, YouTube, and Spotify; and collect their share of royalties for the new song. However, if the term expires, or a usage limit is exceeded (e.g. a maximum of 1 million streams), then the artist must renew their lease in order to continue using it legally.
An exclusive license is usually more expensive as it gives another artist total control of your beat. The terms are typically negotiable, and result in the beat’s rights going to the licensee alone for the length of the lease.
Be mindful when selling an exclusive license as your beat may go unused by the leasing artist, which won’t earn you royalties in the long run. If you want to earn royalties from the use of your beat, you must ensure that your license includes a royalties split. An important detail to remember is that any non-exclusive licenses you sell prior to the sale of the exclusive license will still be valid until their contracts expire - so make sure you aren’t promising an exclusive beat that four other people have six more months of rights to.
Whether you’re doing a non-exclusive or exclusive license, it is essential to have a contract in place with the person you’re selling the beat to. If you distribute your beat through a professional marketplace, you’ll most likely be protected through the customizable contracts that are built into the service.
Where Can I Sell My Beats?
Beat marketplaces have risen in popularity over the past few years. These services will sometimes provide free contracts and track where your beat is being used once it’s leased.
Curtiss King, a producer with a popular YouTube channel, recommends having your own website to showcase your beats and give prospective buyers some personal information about you. This way, you’ll have a personalized landing page for people curious about your work.
Here are some other common outlets to showcase and distribute your beats:
Many up-and-coming producers upload beats to YouTube to get their career off the ground. Because it’s such a popular platform, it’s best to use SEO terms (“Young Thug Type Beat”, for example) to drive prospective fans and buyers to your music.
Since YouTube is primarily a platform to build visibility, you’ll still need to do the legwork of negotiating the sale and license for the beat. Should someone try to illegally rip and reuse your track, producer tags are a common way to provide a layer of security on your beats and brand.
Airbit is a service designed to connect beat makers and artists. It’s unique in that it uses YouTube’s Content ID system to help collect royalties anytime your beat is used on a video. There is a free version that allows you to upload 10 beats, and a premium account for $19.99/month that grants you an unlimited number of beats. When you upload beats, you can set purchase tiers with different restrictions on the buyer. For example, you could set the lowest licensing tier at $25 and have it include an instrumental audiofile and a usage limit of 5,000 streams.
BeatStars is similar to Airbit, but it also handles publishing and distribution — kind of like a one-stop shop for beat makers. BeatStars has two paid tiers ($9.99 for a regular membership and $19.99 for pro) and a free version. Like Airbit, the free version only allows you to upload 10 tracks. You also have the ability to control prices and restrictions on the use of your beat.
Similar to Airbit and BeatStars, Soundee provides a unique analytics system for tracking how your works are performing. It also lets you set the prices and restrictions for any beats sold within it. A free version allows you to upload 10 tracks for free, and two paid tiers are offered for $7.99 and $14.99.
Millions of royalty-free samples are sold for both commercial and non-commercial use on Splice, a digital marketplace that distributes a percentage of download profits directly to producers. As of early 2020, Splice had paid out more than $25 million to its creative partners. Anyone interested in selling sample packs of their own must follow the platform’s five sound quality principles, including offering content that is original, descriptive, accurate, inclusive, culturally appropriate, and “best serves our users.” In other words, it’s all-killer, no-filler around here. For more information on how you can become a Splice Sounds partner, fill out the information form available here.
A self-proclaimed “crate digger’s paradise,” Tracklib boasts thousands of legal, sample-ready tracks from a wide range of artists and labels — everything from Subliminal Sounds to Sun Records. Three different producer-friendly plans are available for a monthly fee; an essential plan ($5.99) includes five downloads, a standard plan ($13.99) includes 15, and a professional plan ($29.99) includes 35. Once you’re ready to release a new song, Tracklib simplifies the sample license process by breaking it down into three price categories ranging from $50 to $1500.
Set the Ownership Standard Early
What’s important to remember when you’re leasing beats is that you’re technically a songwriter and performer on these tracks, so you’re entitled to collect publishing and master royalties for any streams or sales if the lease clearly states you get a royalty split. Be sure to review the standard lease contracts on beat marketplaces so you fully understand their financial structures. The percentage you receive can vary, and will be based on your agreement with the artist.
Some producers say that a 50% writing credit for publishing is typical for a non-exclusive license. When leasing an exclusive beat, the producer may give the artist 80% of the writing share. Those numbers aside, remember that the split between the producer and artist is always negotiable, so make sure you have a candid conversation from the very beginning.
One important note is that you should almost always avoid selling the rights to your beat(s) for a one-time payment (or a “buyout”). If YoungKio had sold the beat for Old Town Road to Lil Nas X for a one-time payment, that would’ve been all of the money he made on the song. He wouldn’t have received any royalties or even been credited for one of the biggest hits of all time.
Leasing beats is a great way to get exposure and let other musicians access your content, but it’s important to make sure you maintain your rights. Conduct thorough research before signing any agreement, and consider paying for a legal review of the lease if possible.
If you have questions about beat leasing and selling, as well as how this may affect your publishing, please feel free to reach out to our team.