Writing and Pitching Music for Sync to Moving Picture – Part 3

Writing Music for Adverts, Corporate Video and Video Games

Music for adverts covers every possible genre. There are no rules, and the types of sync vary from a simple musical ‘ident’ to a full-on bombastic orchestral piece. Also read part one and two before you go further into this article, it might overlap.

If I were to say ‘McDonalds’ you can instantly hear the five note whistled theme. That’s right – just five notes! Consider also ‘We Buy Any Car dot com’, which originally was a sung phrase, which then became just a series of seven identical notes in a rhythm of the original song. Un-mistakable now that it has been ingrained in our minds. Another even simpler musical jingle for a product would be the four-note (with harmony this time) ‘Intel’ theme. We all know it.

These are all still musical compositions, no matter how simple.

Now compare these to, for instance, your average action film or game trailer, which is after all, also an advert. Often, trailers will be incredibly complicated and HUGE in terms of sound and musical content.

While the type of music required is varied, the reasons why a particular piece of music makes the cut can be just as complicated and varied.

Take, for instance, a brief I pitched some music to a while back. This was for a well-known furniture retailer. The ad agency (also the ad production company) sent out a brief including the following types of phrases: ‘Yummy Mummy’, ‘Sophisticated’, ‘Grown Up’, ‘Chillout’, ‘Zero 7 – type instrumental’, ‘cool laid-back vibe’… etc. The idea was that this would form a backdrop for a smooth voice-over throughout the entire ad. When the ad was broadcast, the sync chosen was what can only be described as a gospel choir type cover (not instrumental) version of a 1970s classic rock song. The music chosen was very different to the original brief, which is in the advertising world, very common.

This can be because there are many more decision makers involved in an advert than a film or TV sync placement. Think ‘Chinese Whispers’. The client may be totally non-musical, and conveys their idea to the ad agency, who interpret this in a certain way, and send out a brief. When music pitches come in and they are auditioned, there may be ten people who are all acting as ‘music supervisor’ along the way – even the client’s wife or neighbour’s cousin may have a say. Who can say which of these opinions really matter..?

These are the phrases you will hear constantly (also sometimes in the TV world):

‘We will know it when we hear it’,

‘Just come up with something catchy’,

and, my favourite:

‘There’s no budget for the music’.

The first two are simply a non-musical person unable to really put across an idea to a musician or composer, which is forgivable. In these cases ask for references, maybe, so you can narrow it down. Try to show willing to get to the kind of thing needed. Most people know the difference between Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, so communicate in terms they understand.

The last quote (‘There’s no budget for the music’) is simply not true. It is so important that we all stand firm in the idea that music is crucial for the effectiveness of the media it is synced to, and therefore has a value. ‘There’s no budget for the music’ means ‘It has no value’ which is quite simply not the case.

I recently visited a wedding industry event, which had a ‘cat walk’ fashion show, showcasing wedding dresses. This was very professional, slick and impressive to watch. The lights bounced off a million gems and sequins, the choreography was beautiful, and jaws were dropping at the incredible ‘loveliness’ of it all. The music was a compilation of very emotive songs and instrumental syncs. One thing is for absolute certain, though. Without the music, the impact would be less than 10% of what it was. I mean, imagine models walking up and down a catwalk to silence. That would be a joke.

General Hints for Writing Music for Adverts

If this was 2005, I’d say ‘Learn to play the Ukulele!!’

It’s amazing that simple Ukulele strums combined with non-lyrical phrases like whistles or ‘Hey’, or claps and snaps are still being used for adverts for banks, washing powders, whatever.

This is to do with the mood that this type of music portrays. In a nutshell, products or brands want to be associated with feeling of happiness, positivity, confidence, strength and well-being. We will not buy into a product which gives us the feeling of mistrust or unease. Adverts are selling a lifestyle or a dream usually, along with the actual product. The general pitch is ‘buy this product and your life will be better’.

For the more ‘cool’ campaigns, such as aftershave or the more ‘thinking person’s bank account’ type ads, the use of COVER VERSIONS are very effective. These are those dark, moody, emotive stripped-back covers of previously massive hits. Here’s a good example:

The current Lloyds Bank ‘For Your Next Step’ Advert.

We hear it, and some of us know the music already and it resonates with us. This is no coincidence. This is a song that the over 40s will recognise as ‘Mad World’ by Tears for Fears from 1982. For the younger ones, it’s the song ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews from the 2001 film ‘Donnie Darko’. Or perhaps, it’s the song ‘Mad World’ that Adam Lambert performed so amazingly on ‘American Idol’.

Obviously, it’s all of them. Written by Roland Orzabal (one half of ‘Tears for Fears’). Lucky old Roland, eh?

The Lloyds Bank advert is a piano instrumental version by Jennifer Ann.

On the face of it, it’s a recognisable tune under a bank advert, but the whole point goes much deeper. The advert has the voiceover ‘This is real life, but none of us are standing still. We are all about to take the next step’. It features the iconic black horse galloping through the various ‘next steps’ taking place in the foreground. You could say that the horse is steadily guiding us through this ‘Mad World’ so we needn’t be afraid. Hopefully this demonstrates to you the thought and attention that goes into the process of choosing music for adverts. When you are advertising a multi billion dollar industry, and paying this much attention, therefore, to the details, you better believe that THERE IS BUDGET FOR THE MUSIC!

An important thing to think about is that publishers are aggressively pitching to sync opportunities with their back-catalogue. These catalogues often include well-known songs. They are most likely, therefore, happy to get their catalogue synced, even if it’s a cover version of one of their songs. I’ve recently had cover versions requested by publishers. There’s obviously no worries when it comes to getting the publisher’s permission to allow a song to be synced if it’s the publisher who is doing the pitching for you. The down side is that they would probably want to ‘buy-out’ the master rights to your version.

Just as a footnote to the cover versions market, I’d just remind readers that a cover version means that you would receive no PRO (PRS) royalties form this type of sync, but hopefully you own some or all of the ‘Master Rights’ to your version, or will received a buy-out fee you are happy with from the publisher.

All that said, obviously there is a place for a very sad or emotive piece of music for adverts for, say, charities, and that is just not my area of experience, and cannot advise on that at all.

Writing for Corporate Video

This should prove to be an altogether simpler deal.

Usually, you will be liaising with just one or two people who will have a more definite idea of what is needed to enhance the video or web presentation etc.

The great thing about corporate video is that there are video production companies all over the place, and as I’ve mentioned previously, it’s amazing how film-makers are happy just to find someone who can give them the music they want with no copyright issues. Always offer your services for a simple fee, and keep 100% of the music (unless they are willing to pay a substantial amount). Make it clear that you are licensing your music to them non-exclusively for a specific use, and you retain 100% ownership of the music, and will collect all performance royalties and also are free to pitch the music or license the music elsewhere. Generally, video makers, especially small independent ones, will be happy with that. They just want music with no complications.

Writing for Trailers

As with music for adverts, film trailer music, especially lately, is becoming more song based. Trailers are often in three or four ‘movements’ or ‘chapters’, so they will need a few different songs or pieces of music. There are no rules.

Action film and game trailers are usually orchestral hybrid pieces. The key words here are ‘Authentic’ and ‘Bombastic’. This is a notoriously difficult niche to get success at. It is a business where it seems a few of the top composers are getting most of the syncs.

This is down to a few things:

If you are going to pitch these big orchestral hybrid trailer pieces, you MUST be able to make your music sound like a real orchestral in every possible way. People choosing these sync know their music, and they know what an authentic sounding orchestral piece sounds like. They can sometimes even recognise the various orchestral sample libraries used just by listening. Your music has to be as good, if not better than those pieces already out there in this market. Your ‘hybrid’ elements should be interesting and unique. The same old slamming drums are sounding tired now. Throw in some risers, synths, pulses, whatever, but make it different.

I met a very successful trailer composer a few weeks ago at a networking event. We talked a lot of ‘techie stuff’ about sample libraries and DAWs, but his simple answer as to why his music gets used is that he can ‘do what no-one else can do’. That is probably the most important piece of advice to anyone pitching music. If your music is the same as everyone else’s, then it’s a lottery. If it rises above else’s because it has that extra 10 or 15%, the odds are at least looking better.

(Just as an aside, he doesn’t use Logic, Cubase, Protools, Studio One, or Ableton Live, but favours a much less popular DAW just because it works for him. He does, however, spend at least 100 hours on a composition to make sure it is head and shoulders above the competition.)

Trailer music will come under a different agreement to syncs for the actual film or game, since it is advertising. This is why the music in a trailer will usually be different from that in the film. If a piece from the film is used in a trailer, there will be a separate sync fee for each – and usually a higher fee for the trailer.

Keep in Mind

In general, Trailers and Adverts will require a much faster turnaround than film and television. You may submit music to a brief and the advert is broadcast 48 hours later. I’ve recently recorded a vocal for an advert, which was broadcast before any paperwork was signed – within a couple of days of sending over the vocal stems. It can be that fast.

Whatever you’re pitching to, keep listening to what is out there. Listen, listen and listen again to music for adverts, TV and film. Don’t seek to emulate, but seek to take it to the next level. Imagine what the syncs will be 6 months from now.

Lastly, remember all music has a real value. We’re in a difficult stage in the business where the industry is desperately trying to keep up with and keep track of technology, which is running away with and running down the value of music if we let it.

Just because our music is sometimes stolen, that’s no reason to give it away. It’s your music. Value it and keep it safe.

Gary White is an Independent Music Producer, Composer and Songwriter 1994-present. He plays guitar, bass, keys, drums, whistle, banjo.gary white music sync tank
For the ‘Techies’, I use Protools, Studio One 3, Logic Pro X, and Cubase 8 – depending on the client’s preferences, Studio One 3 being my ‘go-to’ DAW.

Producer and Writer (Mainstream Pop) credits include Cheryl Cole, Emma Bunton, Gareth Gates, S Club 8.
Production and Composing (Film, TV and Music Library) credits include BBC, Renegade Pictures, Countdown Media, Aston Martin, Red Slate Pictures, Red 90, Hens Teeth.
BAFTA nominated for ‘Best Original Music’ (BBC Documentary)

Making Money From Music: Intellectual Property

Every artist’s dream is to be able to quit the day job and focus on their music full time. But in order to do that, they need to begin making money from music. This can seem like an impossible feat, considering the industry is crying out that the value of music is dying. This is thanks to piracy and micro royalty payments from digital platforms.

But there are still some ways you can begin making money from music and every little helps. We are aiming to cover how to strategise in your career and understand what opportunities are available to you. This first part is about intellectual property.

Understanding Intellectual Property

The main thing to understand about intellectual property (or IP) is copyright. When a song is written and/or recorded, there is automatically a copyright attached to that piece of work. You can make money from this copyright.

There are three different types of copyright within a song. The individual(s) involved in creating each of these are entitled to a share of ownership of that copyright.

  • The lyrics.
  • The composition (i.e the melody).
  • The master recording.

To make things simple we will group the copyright for the lyrics and the copyright for the melody / instrumentation together. This is normally called the song rights or publishing rights and the recording copyright is called the master rights.

Making Money from Intellectual Property

If you own the song rights:

Earn money from your compositions by having your song placed in sync opportunities, such as films, television shows and advertisements. The Music Sync Tank are doing an excellent series for us, delving into what exactly sync is and how to get these kinds of deals.

Another way would be to get another performing artist to record your song. Every time this new recording is performed live, played in public, broadcast on radio, used in a film, television show etc. you earn a performance royalty from these usages.

The best way to keep track of this is to be signed up to the Performing Rights Society (PRS). You register any song you have written with them and they give you and your songs unique codes. They can then track the usage of your song and pay you what you are owed. Their website tells you what they do, but essentially if you’re writing songs there’s no excuse not to use them!

If you own the master rights:

If you’ve recorded a song you can be earning money from this. You will earn money each time the composition within your master recording is synced to visual media. Whoever wants to use the song will need permission from the owner of the song rights and the master rights. Both will be entitled to a fee for this usage. This fee depends on the negotiated contract.

How Else Can We Start Making Money From Music?

You earn a royalty from MCPS each time this master recording is reproduced on CD, download etc. This is called a mechanical royalty. This is also handled by PRS but is solely about the usage of the recording of the song. Basically, if you have recorded a song written by someone else, you will earn an MCPS royalty whenever the recording is played in public. The songwriter will also earn a PRS royalty. You can learn more about MCPS here.

Also, if you distribute into physical stores or on streaming / download sites then every time that is bought / streamed you will get a cut of the money earned from this. You will receive the money from whoever distributes for you e.g. our sponsors Horus Music. You can distribute with them for free and they in turn will pay you your cut. No need for you to chase up the money yourself. There are other distribution options that are available depending on what you’re looking for.

If you have written your own songs and retained your master recording rights then you’re lucky. This means you can earn money for both copyrights! If a song is played on the radio you will earn the performance royalty. If you distribute your music you will get a royalty from PRS / MCPS and your direct payment from your distributor.

As with anything like this it is easier said than done. If you get your music out there but don’t tell anyone about it then there is less chance that it will be bought or listened to. Sync companies won’t know about it to use in their media either. You have to make some noise about what you’re doing to reap the benefits.

Writing and Pitching Music for Sync to Moving Picture – Part 2

Writing Music and Songs for Film and Television

Firstly, let’s get some sync to moving picture terminology out of the way. See also part one before you go through with this article. There are some grey areas where they will crossover, but for a general guide:

A ‘Cue’, ‘Sync’, ‘Placement’ or ‘Spot’ are pretty much the same thing. A piece of music or a song used alongside some kind of visual image.

A ‘Trailer’ is a short film, to promote a feature film, TV show or episode.

A ‘Theme’ (fairly obviously) is the main musical theme to a film or television show. This could be at the beginning, middle, end, or all three. Sometimes variations on the theme will crop up at various intervals also.

A ‘PlaceHolder’ is what film or TV shows in the edit stage is using as a temporary ‘sync’. This is usually because there’s some kind of problem with using the ‘Place-Holder’, such as copyright clearance.

UnderScore’ or ‘Score’ refers to where the music is there to enhance and create the desired emotion. The music itself isn’t actually part of the scene (for example, a battle scene with a big orchestral crescendo). An entire film score can be over an hour of music.

A ‘Music Bed’ is similar to Under-Score, but is usually much less intrusive. For example, simple beats or loops used behind a News Bulletin. It is there to kind of ‘fill the gaps’.

A ‘Montage’ is usually a series of film clips or scenes, which demonstrate the development of a story over time. Or to re-cap or reflect on the whole of a TV episode towards the end. It’s a very popular and powerful film-maker’s tool which almost always requires that perfect sync. It’s often used in sports shows to sum-up the story of the season, or in a ‘still-to-come’ segment.

Source Music’ is music used in a scene where the music is actually part of the scene. This could be, for example, music in a club or bar scene, where the music is actually supposed to be playing through the club sound system or a jukebox, or coming from a radio in a café or car stereo. Sometimes the action actually interacts with the source music (see John Candy’s scene in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ for a classic placement of Ray Charles ‘Mess Around’).

What Music Works for Sync to Moving Picture and Why?

Music, Film and Television is Art. The use of music and songs in Film and Television is part of that artistic process. It can absolutely make a scene come alive, and it usually does in the right hands, but it can also destroy a scene. The reason why a particular piece works and another might not may be because of many factors, and sometimes there’s just no explanation.

Turn down the sound on your TV or computer and do some channel surfing while you play your music alongside the muted pictures. This is a great way to instantly see your music being placed! If you play an instrument, try to capture the mood of a scene on the fly. Even play along with the existing sound if you want to interact with the dialog etc. Another great experiment, if you have the necessary technology, is to make your own montage of simple clips from your phone, and write a piece of music to sync to it in your DAW (some DAWs allow you to import a movie which will run along with your timeline).

Put simply, a great sync is where the music perfectly maximises the desired emotional impact of the scene. This might be suspense, sadness, happiness, aggression, or whatever. If the lead character in a film is holding his or her newborn baby for the first time, Marilyn Manson probably won’t work. You get my meaning…

A placement can also set the time of a scene. A brilliant example of this is the Robert Zemeckis film ‘Forrest Gump’. The song placements are classic rock and pop, which each instantly identify the point in time of the storyline, since the songs are so well known and also resonate with the audience, many of whom would have lived through those points in history.

Film, TV and Trailers use a completely mixed bag of syncs these days. Music supervisors are constantly on the look-out for the ‘next big thing’ or a really ‘cool’ band or act that they can use, and are therefore part of the artist’s career-launch or discovery (this is not in a self-serving way, but simply for the love of new music and the ‘cool factor’ of being part of its discovery).

Trailers have become a major part of TV also. Sky Atlantic is a great example, where they will advertise a new series with a trailer as bombastic or with similar production values as a major Hollywood film trailer. Both music and songs can work for trailers, depending on the film or TV show. Sports show trailers often like to go with high adrenaline rock or ‘hybrid’ orchestral rock pieces with lots of impact, for example. Some film trailers will save the big orchestra for the final part, using maybe a couple of songs for introduction. There are no rules about what music should be used, since this is art after-all, but some obvious guidelines apply.

General Guidelines for Writing Instrumentals for Sync to Moving Picture

music sync tankTV ‘cues’ usually refer to instrumentals. Here’s some tips.

Stick to one single emotion. If the scene requires a sudden change of emotion in the music, the Film-maker will use two different pieces of music usually. The chances that you will perfectly hit the required emotional change they need with your music, is extremely remote.

Gradually build on your single ‘theme’ to add or take away elements within the music.

It’s generally a good idea to stay away from a soloing instrument, such as a guitar. You might have some tasty lead guitar chops, but if you’re soloing, then your music is demanding too much attention from the viewer. Film-makers will see this as a distraction from the dialogue. Keep your licks to more rhythmic stuff – the viewers won’t care if you can shred.

Make it authentic sounding. Industry professionals will always spot a poorly executed, out of time, out of tune, or ‘midi’ sounding piece of music. They simply will never use it. Orchestral samples need to be convincing in terms of sound and arrangement, as do all other instruments. If you can play real instruments well and record them well, that is the best option. Sometimes, simply overdubbing a string section with a few live violins can help. Always use references to A/B compare your music to. If you’re putting together a bluesy rock piece, do an A/B test with Stevie Ray Vaughan, for example, for tone and mix.

Give the Film-maker easy ‘edit points’. This is where the music stops, starts, changes, etc. Don’t fade in, or fade out, or have enormous reverb tails hanging over to the next section of music. If your music is 2 minutes long, but they need 25 seconds, give them plenty of places in the music where they can chop away until they have what they need. Most competent editors will be able to edit your music without a problem as long as everything is nice and tight.

Make sure it is ‘Broadcast Quality’. This doesn’t just mean that you’ve compressed the life out of your music, and brick-wall limited it! It means the overall quality of the performance, recording and mix needs to be of a high standard. If your acoustic guitar is, for example, very badly played, recorded or mixed, so it sounds very nasal or harsh, this will be a major problem. Again, use A/B comparisons with similar music to find where you might be going wrong. If your music is supposed to sound ‘lo-fi’ and grungy or ‘swampy slide guitar’ style, there is still a limit to what can be deemed as ‘broadcast quality’.

Try to find what your ‘niche’ is (you may have a few or just one). For instance, I’d say that my best genres are Rock/Pop, Acoustic/Celtic Folk and Orchestral. That’s not to say that I can’t do EDM, Reggae, Soul, or Metal, but I know that I’m wasting my time trying to compete with others who are far better than I am at these genres. Play to your strengths. You may even surprise yourself and realise that you’ve been in the wrong genre all this time!

Some General Guidelines for Writing Songs for Sync to Moving Picture

Many of the previous tips regarding instrumentals also apply here, obviously, but here’s some songwriting tips for sync. We’ll presume that your song has actual lyrics, and not just the odd ‘hey’, for example.

You might be thinking:

Who cares what the lyrics are about? If my song is just playing in the background of a bar scene, does it matter?

You may be right about the fact that by the time your song is placed in the film quietly in the background, and some of the characters are talking over it, no-one will hear the lyrics properly. BUT, getting the song placed in the first place means your song has to COMPETE. It has to be the best option for the person choosing the music. Lyrics will count. If the main difference between yours and someone else’s song is that their lyrics are better, but apart from that, they both work perfectly for the scene, yours will lose the contest.

So what makes lyrics ‘better’? In most other ways that your songs are performed apart from sync, there is often no answer. Lyrics can be very personal to the writer. Sometimes completely non-sense lyrics make great songs. In the sync world, though, there are some things to bear in mind.

Your lyrics should be ‘Universal’. This basically means that they are non-specific, but people can still relate. For example, if you mention a person’s name, a place, a time, a brand, you’ve immediately made the song specific and non-universal. If your song is about growing up in the 1940s Alabama, it won’t work for a film about Scottish Steelworkers and their families. A song about hard work and loving, supportive relationships could work brilliantly, however. In fact, that same song could work for a film about working in the field in 1940s Alabama, just the same, making it ‘Universal’.

‘Show, Don’t Tell’. This should be every songwriter’s mantra. Use imagery to paint a picture. Don’t just say ‘I’m upset’ or ‘I’m in love’. Describe how it feels in a way that shows the listener how it REALLY feels, instead of just telling them. Most people know what love feels like, so try to explain it in a new way, if that’s what your song is about.

Avoid profanity (swearing). There will be times when films require a song with X-Rated lyrics. These are the ‘pool party’ type scenes, with crude hip-hop source music, where the vibe of the scene is definitely on the rude/crude side. This is pretty rare, though, and it is such a specific requirement that the music supervisor will already have an existing song in mind. Generally, profanity in your lyrics will be an instant rejection for most uses. It just isn’t worth the extra work to get a ‘clean’ edit or any other special allowances made.

‘Don’t Bore Us – Get To The Chorus !!’. This is good advice for general songwriting these days, especially for Pop, but it’s very important for sync. There’s no need for 8 bar intros, double verses, long pre-choruses, etc. The traditional song structure doesn’t apply. Get to the ‘hooks’ that grab the music supervisor quickly. Your song will be auditioned against the visuals, or they will already have a very clear idea of the emotion needed, and your song will need to make an impact quickly. If it doesn’t grab the music supervisor or film maker within 15 seconds, it will be either immediately rejected or, at best, fast-forwarded for another quick listen to a more ‘interesting’ looking dynamic part (by viewing the song’s waveform in ‘Soundcloud’, for example). Your song has to IMMEDIATELY draw-in the listener and demand that they hear it.

In General

Watch as much TV and Film as you can handle, but concentrate on the kind of music being used, and try to work out why. This is the best way to get educated. Sometimes it’s obvious why certain music or songs were used, and sometimes not. Personally, I’m irritated the obvious syncs used in, for example, house renovation type TV shows, but this is the ‘not-so-artistic’ end of the scale, where a TV show is edited in a day and the production company has a blanket license to use music. There are, however, countless inspired music choices in the world of film and TV, and in some cases some serious effort has gone into not only choosing the syncs, but also obtaining clearance and negotiating fees.

Watch, but more importantly, Listen (and learn), folks!

Gary White is an Independent Music Producer, Composer and Songwriter 1994-present. He plays guitar, bass, keys, drums, whistle, banjo.gary white music sync tank
For the ‘Techies’, I use Protools, Studio One 3, Logic Pro X, and Cubase 8 – depending on the client’s preferences, Studio One 3 being my ‘go-to’ DAW.

Producer and Writer (Mainstream Pop) credits include Cheryl Cole, Emma Bunton, Gareth Gates, S Club 8.
Production and Composing (Film, TV and Music Library) credits include BBC, Renegade Pictures, Countdown Media, Aston Martin, Red Slate Pictures, Red 90, Hens Teeth.
BAFTA nominated for ‘Best Original Music’ (BBC Documentary)

Writing and Pitching Music for Sync to Moving Picture – Part 1

A Brief Music for Sync Background

In recent years, ‘Sync’ or “Synch’ has become a buzz word in the music business. Music sales (or ‘mechanicals’) in the old sense of the word have diminished to the point where bands, artists and writers are looking for additional income streams. It seems the entire industry are looking to get a piece of the ‘music for sync action’. Most publishers now have a dedicated music for sync department whose sole purpose is to pitch their back-catalogue to sync opportunities. It’s a very competitive sector of the music market. Sometimes the Music Supervisors (the people choosing the music) are seen as having God-like power over music creators. Make sure you read one of the previous blogs about music synch deals.

Here’s a simple guide to the world of Film and TV music for sync, and writing and pitching music for Sync opportunities from my own personal experience. This is a very rapidly evolving part of the industry, but hopefully this will be a useful introduction.

For simplicity, we’ll assume a ‘sync’ or ‘placement’ means music used for Film, TV, Games, Adverts, etc.

There are a few different paths, in my experience, to take to get your music ‘placed’ or ‘synced’.

1. Music Supervisors

Music Supervisors are generally part of the major Film, TV and Games Companies’ world. This is where music is crucial for a particular scene or title sequence. Music Supervisors are in the business of ‘knowing’ music and knowing what will work. This is based on the emotional impact needed to enhance the visuals. After all, that’s the whole point of music for sync.

Here’s the good news. Music supervisors WANT to hear your music. Honestly, they do! They don’t have time to listen to your album from start to finish, and they definitely don’t want to be hassled with ‘follow-ups’. They do, however, LOVE music. That’s why they do what they do. Most of the supervisors I’ve met like to receive music via a link – don’t send them files via email. A download (e.g. ‘Dropbox’) or streaming link is the best plan. Some supervisors are actually still OK receiving audio CDs.

Music supervisors will hold on to your music if they think it may be useful in the future, even if it’s no use for their current project(s). Again, they don’t like to be reminded that you sent them a link to your music. They will listen, and if they think it could be good for a project, they will file it for future reference. Don’t expect a call to let you know they’ve received it.

2. Sync Agency

A Sync Agency is a useful link between you, and those looking for music to sync. They will send out a ‘who’s looking’, ‘tip sheet’ or ‘listing’ for opportunities in the business. Some may charge membership, or charge per ‘submission’, or both. A Sync Agency could also act as A&R, and actually evaluate your music before sending it on to the opportunity or even send it back as being ‘not on target’. Their reputation is on the line with the Libraries or Supervisors they are feeding. So understandably, they won’t want to send music which they consider to be below standard or irrelevant.

Sync Agencies generally supply music to Music Supervisors (Film, TV, Games), Music Libraries, Producers or Artists looking for songs (not for Sync in this case, obviously), Independent Film Makers, and Editors.

3. Music Library (or Publisher)

Music libraries can contain MILLIONS of tracks. BMG publishing, for instance boast having over 2 million in their ‘Catalogue’. Often, these large publishers buy-out smaller libraries to add to their own catalogue. Some libraries are more ‘Bespoke’ or ‘Boutique’, which generally means they have a smaller number of tracks. Music libraries are often called publishers, because they usually own a portion (or all) of the copyright of their catalogue. They therefore make their money by sharing the ‘sync fee’ and ‘performance royalties’ from the placements with the creator. (More about the money later.)

If your music is in a library, then hopefully they are pitching to every suitable sync opportunity out there. You will have an agreement with the library with regards to percentages, plus ‘exclusivity’ etc. If they have your music ‘exclusively’ then you’re not able to offer it to any other libraries, obviously.

4. RELATIONSHIPS – The most useful word in the music business!

After listening to successful publishers and music supervisors, you start to notice the same of advice cropping up:

Relationships are absolutely the key to the music business. My most successful syncs have been the result of relationships. Picture this. You have a 9 o’clock meeting with the Director of a major television documentary film, which is in the edit stage, to discuss the music he needs for a particular scene. He gives a brief outline of what he wants then he shoots off to the editing studio. You have something you think may work by around 2pm, and send over a rough mp3 mix. He, and the Editor get back with a few ‘tweaks’ by 3pm, and by the end of the day you have secured over a minute of music synced to the film. Then, the following morning he’s back. He wants more!

creating music for syncThis happened to me, and together with my co-writer, we ended up placing almost 30 minutes of music in a 60-minute film. This only happened because we had a RELATIONSHIP with the Director. He knew us, knew our work, and trusted us. Also, there was no Music Supervisor on the film, and it was quicker for the Director to join forces with us to supervise the music and create it on the fly, than to spend days listening to track after track on music library websites.

So, get out there and meet people. I confess, I’m normally quite shy, but I recognise that relationships are vital in this business. I have no choice if I want to increase my chances.

A good start would be to find local independent Film Makers or Production Companies making corporate video. Mostly, they need music, but are not sure where they can get so-called ‘copyright-free’ or ‘royalty-free’ music and use it without problems later. Just point out to them the fact that music isn’t ever really copyright-free, but you can provide them with yours, without worry, for a ‘sync fee’ and you will still retain full ownership of it. (This is presuming you own or control your music 100% in the first place). Film makers love the security of being able to do this directly with the writer or artist.

I’ve known film makers edit for days to a track which they believe they have free license to use, only to find that their film is blocked on certain devices in certain countries if they upload it to YouTube.


On the plus side, a sync fee could be as much as tens of thousands (especially for a high profile ad campaign). It could be even higher for a famous artist singing the theme to a blockbuster film. On the downside, these days the sync fee for a placement in, say, a reality show on MTV is often zero. Sounds unfair, but for most of these shows they will often use over 100 instrumental ‘cues’ (another name for a sync – but more background type use), and for a few seconds each. There’s millions to choose from, so it’s a simple case of supply and demand.

Your income will come from the ‘back-end’ royalties. This is your Performance Royalties, usually through PRS membership for UK writers. This could be pennies per sync, so it’s a numbers game. You have to rely, therefore, on multiple syncs, and lots of repeated episodes if this is your market.

For a placement in a feature film which is ‘source’ music, such as music playing from a jukebox in the background of a bar scene, you can expect £100-500, to give a general idea.

The actual amount of performance royalties you receive will depend on the channel, country (territory), time of day, etc. When you have music out there in various placements, your royalty statement can be an absolute lottery.

Often, a film or TV production company working on a reality-type show will have a ‘blanket license’ with a library, and their Editor will work incredibly quickly, putting a 30-minute show together, acting also as Music Supervisor. He will have a ‘bin’ (I hate that term!) of music on a hard drive to use, categorized for ease, crammed full of music from that library, and use as much as he wants. Any sync fees are worked out later for the writers involved.

So, all told, it’s very difficult to put a figure on the value of sync. It’s all down to the individual placement.

Some Useful Tips on the Music for Sync Business

Make sure all your Metadata is in place for every track. If a Music Supervisor comes back to your music months down the line, they need to be able to contact you or at least know who you are.

It is YOUR music. You should never have to give away the ownership of your music entirely. In fact, you shouldn’t ever need to give up more than 50% to a publisher (library) to get your music placed.

If you have secured a placement or got a song cut with a major artist, and you need a publisher to deal with the administration and royalties’ collection, a 90/10 in your favour is pretty standard.

Music Supervisors generally won’t want any part of the ownership in your music.

Music Supervision is taken VERY seriously in the Film Industry. They also love to be part of ‘Discovering’ new bands and writers. They will spot ‘less authentic’ music and songs a mile away and they want the real deal!

If you are un-signed and un-published, you are at a real advantage, since clearance for use of your music is far simpler for the Supervisor. Clearance is a major part of using music in film and TV, and top Supervisors have a legal department within the film company to deal with this. If you own 100% of your music, they love it!

100% ownership means that you (or your band as a collective) own the copyright (the song or composition) AND the master rights (the ownership of the recording or ‘master’). This is often called ‘both sides’ in the business. Make sure that if you use a studio, they pass the master rights to you upon payment for the recording session. Get it in writing.

If you are published, it just means that your publisher is part of the clearance and negotiation process for your music to be synced (and they will be receiving their percentage of the sync fee and performance royalties).

If you sign to a library or publisher, you need to weigh-up the pros and cons of exclusive versus non-exclusive. Non-exclusive library music sometimes makes supervisors nervous that another library will claim ownership of the sync because they also have it in their catalogue. Exclusive could mean that your music is tied to a single library, and may never achieve its full potential. It’s a difficult one, but at least make sure there’s some kind of ‘reversion clause’ so you can have your music back after a couple of years if there’s been no placements from an exclusive deal.

Remember that it is the Music Business. Take time to take care of Business.

You might not like the idea of library taking 50% of your sync income, but remember that they are in the music business to do business, and make money. They won’t make a penny if you don’t. 50% of a decent sync fee or performance royalties is better than 100% of nothing.

gary white music sync tankGary White is an Independent Music Producer, Composer and Songwriter 1994-present. He plays guitar, bass, keys, drums, whistle, banjo.

For the ‘Techies’, I use Protools, Studio One 3, Logic Pro X, and Cubase 8 – depending on the client’s preferences, Studio One 3 being my ‘go-to’ DAW.

Producer and Writer (Mainstream Pop) credits include Cheryl Cole, Emma Bunton, Gareth Gates, S Club 8.
Production and Composing (Film, TV and Music Library) credits include BBC, Renegade Pictures, Countdown Media, Aston Martin, Red Slate Pictures, Red 90, Hens Teeth.
BAFTA nominated for ‘Best Original Music’ (BBC Documentary)

Do you Have What it Takes to Land a Music Sync Deal?

Trying to land a music sync deal is something we’ve all thought about at some point, right? When you write that perfect song and think it would work great in the next action film? Or you’re watching the latest romantic film and think your last track would have been just as good if not better than the lead song on the soundtrack.

But do you really, truly have what it takes to land a music sync deal for yourself? Here’s 4 questions you should be able to honestly answer before your first pitch to a music supervisor.

1. Do you truly love making music?

We ask this because sync deals can be very unforgiving. It is unlikely that the first sync deal you land is going to be for a major advertising company or blockbuster film or award-winning sitcom. It is likely to be a small commercial, probably on local TV. The pay can be minimal and the demands can be kind of crazy, but if all you want to do is write and record original music then you shouldn’t mind! This is where you learn the craft of writing to a brief which you can use to develop and land those bigger deals later down the line.

2.  Do you have a positive outlook on life, that things will eventually work out somehow?

A career in music can be a long, hard, slog. The competition, the lack of sleep, the lack of money… it’s a wonder any of us try! This is true of trying to land a music sync deal. If you have a tendency to look on the negative side of things you will find it very difficult to keep pushing yourself forward. You need that natural self-motivation to make it in this industry.

3. How long are you willing to keep trying until you succeed?

Musicians could be considered entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t smarter or better with people than unsuccessful entrepreneurs – they just didn’t give up. If people give you a no, ask why and improve before trying somewhere else. If you don’t have the skills right now, learn them. Do your research, what music does the company you’re approaching normally use in their syncs? Have a go at creating songs for sample briefs. Keep going until you get to where you want to be. Keep going until you land that sync deal you want.

If you’re not prone to perseverance then maybe this isn’t the career for you.

4. Are you a good listener? Can you work to deadlines?

If someone does hire you to write a song for sync, this person might not know anything about what it takes to write music. They can come back with remarks like “That’s not what we are looking for”, “can you make it happier?”, “can you make it longer?”, “can you finish a song with lyrics and melody by the end of today?” Briefs can be very specific and have tight deadlines so you need to learn to listen and focus on getting the work done in time. If you’re unsure of something you need to learn to ask the right questions, listen and respect the answers. This could be the difference between writing a successful sync or being out looking for another job.

Land a Music Sync Deal

This might be putting you off pursuing a career in sync deals, or even music at all! But if it hasn’t, and your love of music is powering through, then you’ll be fine. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is!

Careers – Music Supervisor

A music supervisor connects the music industry with visual media through the selection and licensing of music. The music can be featured in films, TV shows, video games and advertising.

There are several dedicated music supervision firms, but there are also many freelance supervisors and big production studios will often employ music supervisors themselves.

What Does the Role Involve?

The role of a music supervisor covers all musical aspects of a project. They work from the initial selection of tracks to the placement within the piece; they cover the use of music in the marketing of the finished product.

This job does not just involve picking music. A music supervisor must be aware of contract negotiation, licensing, budgets and cater to the desires of the team. The supervisor will also handle any secondary products such as soundtracks, videos etc. that aid in promotion.

They will receive music submissions directly from artists as well as from music publishers. They also need to be knowledgeable about a wide range of music and find music themselves as needed. Music supervisors typically have a brief which they need to fit music to.

Making Money as a Music Supervisor?

Obviously the main way to make money as a music supervisor is to be hired for projects. However soundtrack sales can garner royalties for the supervisor who designed it.

Salaries are very varied depending on factors like project size, experience of the supervisor and the manner of hiring. Permanent jobs at big production companies or networks offer good job security but a lower salary. Providing you can keep getting plenty of contracts, working freelance can be much more profitable with 6 figure fees on offer from feature films.


How to Get Your Music Played on Radio and TV

Music is in the background of TV shows, in shops, in lifts. Music is simply all around us. Everyone loves music but why? What is it about music that can bring people together in a way that nothing else can? Why do we see so many wannabes on talent shows hoping for their big break?

Get Your Music Played on Radio and TV

So how can artists get their music played on Radio and TV. We are going to look here at a couple of services that could help in these areas.

Utilising some of these services to get your music played on radio and TV. From there, your music could soon become the soundtrack to our lives.


Rumblefish helps consumers, as well as those in the industry, create soundtracks for their projects.  The artist and labels receive royalties when their music is used. There is  a 50% split and it works on a non-exclusive basis.

Rubmefish provides music for TV shows, films, advertising agencies and video games. Royalties are paid to its members for the licensed use of their music. Its music-licensing store was launched in 2006 and was the first online resource for 100% copyright cleared music for business. A licensing deal with YouTube in 2008 lead to them launching Friendly Music in 2010. Here consumers can license soundtracks and is a great way for artist to get their music out there.


Youlicense is an online music-licensing marketplace. The service is non-exclusive and anyone with music content can upload and offer licenses to sell. It simplifies the business of music licensing and trade making it more direct. It is free to register for an account which can be upgraded to a professional or business account.


Taxi is an independent A&R company established in 1992. It works by forwarding your music to labels, publisher’s film and TV. Taxi has a 200 strong team of music industry professionals that listen to music and match it with requests. It provides artists with access to people with the power to take their career to the next level.

Detailed feedback is also offered which can help to identify your strengths and weakness. This does come at a cost but Taxi don’t take a percentage or any commission on deals made with labels, publishers etc. It could be a sound investment in your future.


Fastrax is a distributor of audio to commercial radio stations and new music videos to TV industry.  It also has a verification system that allows labels to keep track of who has listened to the song or watched the video. The company charges for delivery, so the more stations you deliver too, the more you pay.