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Music synchronisations, more commonly known as ‘syncs’, is the process of combining songs with moving pictures, such as film, TV shows, and video games.
They can be very lucrative when you get your music synced, but if you’re writing original music as an artist, they come along very infrequently.
You can build relationships with sync agencies, and if you have access to great music and have the time to build relationships with the decision-makers at the agencies, it can be lucrative.
But you have to put the hours into building those relationships to get the jobs. There are also ad agencies that get music written on ‘spec’ or specification. You have to find and build relationships with the key decision-makers to get these jobs too.
Large publishers have dedicated team members and departments that solely focus on securing sync deals. This is usually a big drawcard for prolific artists with a solid output of material looking to sign to a publisher and a record label putting out a lot of material.
In my experience, the biggest and best syncs have simply come about because the music was great and the director of the film, or creative director of the advert (in the case of TV ads) or trailer editor, liked the music they had discovered independently. We got an email out of the blue requesting to use it and negotiated a sync deal.
It’s not to say they should be ignored as an income source, but often artists believe this is the holy grail of money in the music industry (especially when they hear of a relatively unknown artist getting a $20,000 sync deal for placement in a TV advert). What I’m saying is, unless you dedicate your career to being a sync producing musician, don’t count on this for an income stream. It’s more a cherry on the top when it comes along.
The primary sources of syncs are TV shows, film trailers, video games and brand ads via advertising agencies (for online or TV or both). Electronic music has many opportunities with video games and movie trailers, especially if your music genre is in flavour. For instance, 2010 – 2015 were great years for dubstep as almost all action films wanted some sort of dubstep track in the trailer.
If you sign a publishing deal, syncs will also come under the agreement, which means you depend on your publisher to get the syncs. Most publishers will agree to have a clause in the agreements that states that they take a smaller separate percentage for any syncs secured by the artist directly. This means you get a larger share of any deals you or your manager secure via your own contacts.
With so much music out there, music supervisors like to work with music that is easily cleared on both the masters and publishing sides. For this reason, as a record label owner working with underground artists who have not signed their publishing, it helps to have a clause in the recording contract that gives you non-exclusive rights to clear the publishing side of the track for syncs only.
As a record label, this allows you to quickly maximise your catalogue as you’ll have both the masters and the publishing cleared, which makes you easier to deal with for sync teams or sign the music to a non-exclusive sync publisher.
Tip: Most syncs used are instrumentals, and it makes good practice as a label to request instrumental versions of all tracks you sign. If a lucrative sync comes in, but they need an instrumental and the artist has lost the project file, it can be very frustrating. I’ve had artists recreate an entire track to get a sync – stress that could have been avoided if the instrumental had been bounced out as a mix initially.
Sync Income Sources
Let’s look at the different areas you can use your catalogue for sync income.
There are catalogue publishers that have large online libraries that showcase the repertoire they represent. They have online searchable databases that arrange the music and catalogue it into musical style, mood and themes.
These services are suited to people looking for quick and relatively cheap access to music beds and background music.
Examples are JinglePunks, MusicSupervisors, and MusicDealers, Envato Elements.
They usually offer very low fees for syncs but can be a good place to put your older catalogue music. If you sign up with one of these companies, the services are usually non-exclusive. They usually offer a 50% split on all syncs that are placed, and you have to submit your catalogue of music and for review before being accepted.
Tip: Check with any deals with catalogue publishers that they don’t re-label tracks for registration with PROs. If they do this, it will mean they will also collect on the public performance side of the deal as well, which they don’t have rights to. It’s a slightly shady thing companies have been known to do, so always check.
Sync agents specialise in finding music for mostly TV shows, advertisements, and occasionally film trailers. They are typically non-exclusive sync agents, but some may ask to be excluded from your catalogue for a particular territory, for example, North America or Europe.
With a non-exclusive agent, you sign an agreement that pre-clears them to secure tracks for an agreed fee of anything from 10-30%. Almost all sync deals I have done via this set-up came from non-exclusive agents that reached out to me, and they typically took 10-15% of the total fee for arranging the sync license.
Custom Music Synchronizations
When a composer creates a specific piece of music to specification or spec, it’s called a custom music sync. This is very common in the advertising world, and often the turnarounds are tight, for example, a 24-48 hour turnaround.
Typically, composers who work in this world have agents representing them and source these spec jobs for them. You need to be available to quickly communicate for these jobs, as there are changes to the music right up to the deadline. This can be pretty stressful, and composers need to act in a very professional manner.
An old writing partner of mine, Bruce Gainsford, has built a career doing this, but I know it took him years to get to a stage where it was a good money earner, and he had a head start from his existing contacts in the industry from his days as a guitarist in a touring rock band.
Tip: If you choose to pursue sync music as an income source for film, TV or advertising, you need to develop relationships with the agents and music supervisors that make the creative music decisions. You need to be in regular contact and let them be aware of the music you are releasing.
Usually, there is a music brief, and the director or producer is looking for a very particular sound. You want to make sure that when the style of music you have is being required, you’re at the top of the list that they think of.
Build relationships with these agencies and email them often with what your music releases. They are always passionate music fans, and they love to hear about new music and being kept in the know.
Sync Fees and Royalties
How much can you expect for sync? The number of times I have been at industry sync panels and a music supervisor is asked this question, and they NEVER give a straight answer. And to be honest, as the range of fees is so large there isn’t really a correct answer.
However, I understand this frustration, so I’ll give some hard numbers of tracks I have had synced.
My first sync was one of my own productions: ‘Break It ft. Afrika Bambaataa’ was featured in a FIFA Street 4 game, and I got US$4,000 all-in. We had a Zomboy track synced for the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ feature film trailer for US$38,000. The Prototypes made a track on spec for a Honda TV ad in Japan for US$5,000. Eptic had a track in a McDonald’s TV ad for just three seconds for US$8,000. Memtrix got a sync for the Wipeout Omega game for US$3,000.
The fees listed above are for ‘all-in’, so the total sync fee was split between the master license, which goes to the label, and the synchronisation license, which goes to the publisher (or directly to the composer/producer if unpublished)
These were also MFN – which is short for ‘Most Favored Nation’. This means that the master rights owner and the publishing rights owner are paid equal fees. So the fees mentioned above were split 50% for each side.
Except for the Memtrix track, all the examples came about by someone reaching out to us as they had heard the track elsewhere. Regarding the Zomboy track, they wanted something from Skrillex but could not afford him, so they picked up a Zomboy track, which was more affordable.
Like all tracks, there is a composition side (publishing) and the sound recording (masters) to register and collect performance royalties on. This is separate from the one-off license fee paid for the synchronisation of music to moving images described in earlier examples.
In the UK, broadcasters use a blanket license to use any music registered with MCPS and PRS who collect and pay out royalties to their members.
In the US, broadcast royalties are paid by the broadcaster of a television show, film or advertisement to the PROs, such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Typically, when you get a request, you will be offered a sync fee and asked who controls the publishing. For indie music, a sync agent will usually reach out to the record label first for the masters and then ask who the publisher is (as often with unpublished indie artists, the artist controls their own publishing).
Micro Sync Income
Micro-Sync is a revenue source derived from platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. It’s the same concept as licensing for film/TV with the synchronisation of music to a moving image, but on a much larger scale. On YouTube, the mass use of music in User Generated Content creates thousands of these micro music syncs. Micro-sync revenue generates both mechanical and performance royalties.
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