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!
This 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 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.