Sync music to a new tune: How to turn your passion into a profession

Sync music is a fantastic way to create awareness of new material, generate income, and aid your prospects by making your music accessible. But getting a placement can be tricky. Want to get your music featured in the latest commercial? Then it’s worth knowing the basics of the ins-and-outs of the industry.  

THE ART OF SYNC

You know what it means and what it entails, and you’ve decided to go for it. But before you read further, let’s take a quick pause and make sure you know what you’re getting into:

  1. Sync music won’t make you famous. If you land a high-profile sync placement, you’ll get a nice cheque, but with so many mediums using sync music nowadays, the impact of any one placement in diluted. Still, it is a steppingstone.
  2. Your newest release isn’t necessarily the most attractive to music supervisors. Your entire catalogue is fair game because you never know what they’re looking for.
  3. Micro sync licensing is just as great and can also generate small amounts of money that add up through sheer volume of usages (e.g. YouTube videos).
  4. Boutique licensing agencies will not give you higher chances of success just because they have a smaller roster of clients. Music supervisors often like to go for the big agencies with hundreds of thousands of catalogues to choose from. This is different from pitching to a niche publisher. But more on that later…)

With that said, did you know that artists like Fun and the Black Keys owe a big portion of their fame to sync licensing? The first place to start is building a catalogue of recorded music that you are proud of.

Keep your music authentic (don’t chase after trends!) According to Ryan Prewett, “I think it’s mostly just important to make sure your songs are great, marketable and something you could hear behind a video.  Also, make sure the instrumental versions of your songs sound great and can stand on their own.”

So, with that in mind, let’s get to the nitty-gritty:

THE SONG

When pitching songs to music supervisors, yours must fit the bill perfectly.

Some songs are more easily placed than others – desirability can range from age of song, genre, and popularity. This doesn’t mean that lesser-known songs don’t have a chance, but in that case, they must fit the nature and feel of the scene perfectly.

Ultimately, the sync music winners are those that will make consumers pay attention.  

Generally, most placements tend to go for songs that are “recognised or palatable to the widest variety of people,” although you will occasionally find ones targeted to a specific niche.

THE PROJECT

Music supervisors on one side of the table are looking for songs that will enhance their project and will be quite selective with what they go for. The music publishers across from them are looking to preserve the song’s legacy and can be picky with how, when, and where it can be used.

Budgetary restrictions are not just about making deals that will be profitable to the songwriter/composer, but ones that will assure the song’s value doesn’t diminish should it be pitched for other sync music uses.

“Licensing a song that commands $100,000 for $1,000 can often dilute the value of the song in the marketplace and drive down the price for future offers.”

On the flipside, no artist is too small to get a placement. Low budget restrictions allow indie or lesser-known songs to get their music heard by licensing them at a lower price, often a go-to choice for productions with a tighter budget.

The lesson? What you charge depends solely on your goals, but should always take account the future. If your song becomes super popular and you want to get a new sync music license in 10 years time, how will that change what you do with it today?

“More exciting yet is the fact that carefully planned and intelligently executed sync licenses have the potential to launch songs and even whole careers.” –  Peter Schneider.

LICENSING

Sync music licenses cover various factors – some licenses are routine, while others are heavily negotiated.  Every project is different; therefore, every license is different and should be negotiated as such.

When it comes to licensing, all parties need to be involved.

“If a director or a producer wants to licence a piece of music to use in a soundtrack, they will need to speak to both sides,” says Martin Brem, head of the music portfolio at Red Bull Music Publishing. Of course, he means the master rights owner (often the record label) and the creator who composed the music or wrote the lyrics, who frequently selects a publisher to manage their copyrights.

Working with co-licensors can also be a double-edged sword. “The sophistication and ease of working with another licensor can make or break a project,” says Erin M. Jacobson Esq, adding that if the process gets too complicated or decisions can’t be reached, it’s not uncommon for music supervisors to pull out of the project altogether.

Anybody can get a sync placement – the music industry is continually shifting, there are no set rules. But you have to be in it for the long game and be smart about the music you put forward and how you put it forward. To maximise your success in the sync music industry, Angus Paterson suggests knowing your goals, being easy to contact, and not always going for the big dogs (a niche publisher who gives you the time of day can actually be more beneficial in the long run).

Music supervisors get an influx of pitches every day, and it’s no secret that the market is oversaturated. Still, licenses are issued every day. Netflix, car adverts, video game scores, movie trailers – as we talked about in our latest blog on music sync, this is viewed as a golden career opportunity.