How to Make Money from Music Publishing: Advice from Zerbin's Peter Mol

Peter Mol of Zerbin in his studio
Peter Mol of indie-pop band Zerbin

Want a career in music? Go all in.

Peter Mol is an Edmonton, Canada-based producer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and shining example of a guy who’s made a career in music because of his willingness to do a little bit of everything. At twenty-five years old, he has toured extensively with his band Zerbin, sharing festival stages with the likes Arcade Fire, The Roots, and Bruno Mars. He’s produced records for artists across North America, and his songs have scored Xbox ads and Hollywood film trailers. But no matter if he’s on the road or in the studio, his devotion to music in all its forms drives him to keep creating.

“People always are baffled when I tell them that after a nine or ten hour work day, I still love to put on music,” says Mol.

Zerbin, which takes its name from founding member Jason Zerbin, released their debut LP in 2010, Of Fools and Gold, and followed with 2013 five-song EP, Touch. In 2015 they released their first full length album, Darling.

Whether it’s recording with his band, collaborating with other writers or musicians, or working on one of his many projects, Mol offers valuable lessons for aspiring musicians and producers.

 “Put something out that in three years you’ll still be like, damn, that’s my song!"

The Bread and Butter: Making Money from Music Publishing

When Zerbin released their first single, "New Earth," they began to hear it on the radio. Soon after, Los Angeles-based music licensing and publishing company Secret Road found the song a home in an international Coffee Mate campaign. 

“We were baffled at seeing this amount of money come in from an industry we didn’t even think of,” says Mol.

Both Mol and Jason Zerbin individually signed publishing deals with Secret Road. While music publishing is one of the only places that musicians can make consistent money anymore, according to Mol, there’s no shortcut for creating music good enough to earn placements in Xbox commercials, Coffee Mate campaigns, and trailers for movies like A Bigger Splash.

“Make the best music you possibly can, and don't cut corners,” Mol says. “Hire people who are the best at what they do.”

From hiring mixing and mastering engineers to instrument-specific experts who can tune vocals and time drums, Mol pays a team of subject matter experts to do what they do best. 

“If that means you need to spend a couple more hundreds or thousands of dollars, find a way to make it happen,” he says.

Essentially, don’t put yourself in a situation to make excuses about the quality of your published music Mol advises, even as time passes. Musicians should look back at their old tunes and think they sound as good as was possible. “Put something out that in three years from now you'll be like, ‘Damn, that’s my song!’”

Writing Songs Remotely: Dropbox and Dummy Tracks

In 2016, Jason Zerbin moved to the UK with his wife. With more than 4,000 miles between Edmonton, Canada and the UK, you might think that collaborating would prove too difficult, but Mol and Zerbin are used to working remotely. Before moving to the UK, Zerbin was living on Vancouver Island, an eighteen-hour drive from Edmonton. During that time, Mol and Zerbin developed remote songwriting and producing processes that center around one simple tool: Dropbox. 

“We've gotten good at this long-distance thing,” Mol says. “We have a collaborative idea folder with voice memos, shitty guitar riffs, or little top-line melodies just floating around.”

These ideas are organized into two main folders, labeled J and P (Jason and Peter), and they rank them by favorites and likelihood they’ll make it into a song. While Zerbin focuses more on melody and lyrics, Mol will work on production. But they each do a bit of everything: writing instrumental lines, recording them in Pro Tools, mixing, and swapping ideas back and forth on Dropbox until they land on ones that feel right. They’ll continue this process until the track is complete.

Having roughly the same plug-ins on each of their DAWs also makes remote collaboration that much easier, mirroring their tools so that they’re always the same. Recently, Mol and Zerbin have been using iZotope’s Ozone mastering plug-in. “Along with the ML 4000, Ozone has the nicest limiter I’ve heard,” Mol says. “The EQ functionality is great, and it doesn’t eat up CPU the way I thought it would.” 

Still, sometimes it’s best to hole up together and make music: Darling was conceived in a house out on Vancouver Island. “We were out in Victoria for months and just worked on it until it meant something to us,” Mol says. “It started with the respective idea folders, and we found that we were merging ideas that spanned years. It was kind of crazy how it all came together, but we found that secluding ourselves on an island was the best process. We flew in a good friend of ours up from Nashville to help engineer everything so we could focus on the creative and not be hovering over the keyboard.”

“My head would implode if I were just doing commercials and jingles for the rest of my life. You’ve got to make sure you're flexible.”

Avoiding the Jingle Spin Cycle

As much as Mol is committed to Zerbin, his success so far in the music industry has come from spreading a wide net. From side projects like Nevada Wild that have fueled his music licensing contracts, to traveling to Los Angeles and New York to work with other producers and songwriters—and even conceiving ideas for an album of his own—Mol has his hands in a little bit of everything. Not only does this keep him afloat financially, it keeps him sane.

“My head would implode if I were just doing commercials and jingles for the rest of my life,” Mol says. “You’ve got to make sure you're flexible.”

Learning new audio production techniques is also important for Mol, but so is continuing to grow his network and maintain relationships with experts in the music industry. Dave Pensado, who mixed three tracks on Darling, is one of those guys. “I always make sure to go see him every time I'm in L.A,” says Mol. “We’ll hang out and he'll tell me what I'm doing right or wrong or just encourage me. He has been an absolute godsend on that front because audio engineering [techniques] are always changing.”

Beyond Mol’s close network of fellow audio producers, mixing engineers, and artists, Mol relishes his relationship with Secret Road. “Having an amazing A&R team that you can just bounce ideas off of is huge,” he says.

Zerbin live in concert

Zerbin live in concert

The Importance of Making Your Music Available Everywhere

With so many music streaming services, blogs, and curated and personalized playlists popping, these days there are almost endless opportunities to discover music. In Mol’s opinion, the more places your music can be discovered, the better.

“A key to success is having your music be accessible, regardless how much people are paying for it, or even if they aren’t. Because if you're making a fan, they're going to be invested in your music.”

As far which streaming service Mol prefers, Spotify is still top dog. 

“Its curated playlists are so good for discovering new music, and it works seamlessly between your phone and your computer,” Mol says. “I also love how everything is black, because I'm a person who stares at a computer screen all day.”

Making his music available everywhere also means releasing Nevada Wild songs that were originally intended for and used only in commercials. 

“We’ve seen a bit of traction just from people who generally like the songs, and they're like, ‘Oh, I heard this in a commercial. Where is it?’ That's how people get discovered as well.”

Although Nevada Wild exists as a publishing project, Mol isn’t ruling anything out. 

“If things took off and there was a demand for it, I wouldn't be opposed to playing rock music every once in a while. It's straight-ahead, catchy rock music, but I enjoy it every once in a while. I didn't expect people would like it so much!”

As for the Darling record, Mol has been proud of the final product since the day it came out.

“It's interesting to like really like something that you've done, even years after,” Mol says. “I’ll go months without listening to it and remember making that moment or riff and really like it.”

Want to check out Mol’s music? Head over to his website. Want to try Ozone Advanced? Download a free, 30-day demo.