Wired and some other publications are getting around to covering a trend we've known about for years. Companies like Pump Audio make blanket licensing deals with independent musicians, then including pre-licensed works in a catalog for use by directors and editors -- usually on reality shows and other projects that don't have the budget for a full-time music supervisor.
Since an entire library of over ten thousand songs is on a hard drive or an iPod, it's easy for editors to quickly find something that fits the mood of the scene, without the worry of having to license the track later. As an artist, if your song gets picked up by a show, you'll get a little slice of the revenue.
Because the songs are usually in the background or clipped down, it's very hard to covert new audience members from these appearances. (Very few folks that hear your song on an MTV reality show will pause the tape and ask, "who was that?") But there's certainly an opportunity to get some extra passive income and some potential licensing connections from these stock music libraries.
Some tips to keep in mind when licensing your work to Pump Audio or other reputable companies:
Avoid licensing recordings that appear on your own albums -- there are some major long-term ramifications to that. Instead, license your alternate takes or your outtakes. Some folks recommend a gray hat strategy of registering your songs under alternate names with BMI -- I'd prefer you just buckle down and get really prolific with melodies and quick recordings.
Ask for references. Like rogue booking agencies, song-shark licensing consultants are popping out of the woodwork. Pump Audio has built a great reputation because they're open and clear about what they do. If you can't find some legit references to an agency that's pitching you, don't feel tempted to be the guinea pig.
Avoid fees and exclusivity. Stock music libraries make their money from industry-standard placement fees, not from nickel-and-diming musicians. Steer clear of folks that demand a placement fee or a marketing fee. Likewise, avoid exclusive deals that would cause you to pay a commission for any placement you get, especially when you broker a deal yourself.