For those of you new to the world of licensing, music synchronization license, or "sync" for short, is a music license granted by a band or musician, allowing a third party to synchronize ("sync") the music with film, TV, ads, video games, movie trailers, etc.
Some of the most recognizable bands can attribute their success to a sync placement. Music supervisors play an important role in the sync licensing process and understand how music can resonate with their target viewers to sell products or create emotion. Some of the most successful marketing sync licensing placements include:
- Jet - “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” - iPod Dancing Commercial
- Passion Pit - “Take A Walk” - Taco Bell Commercial
- Matt and Kim “Daylight” - Bacardi commercial
- Phoenix - “1901” - Cadillac SRX Commercial
Understand the landscape, process and terminology before pitching to music supervisors
But before submitting music for licensing deals, it is important to understand the landscape, process and terminology before pitching to music supervisors.
Copyright and composition
Song – what the music industry is centered around. All other forms of revenue including recordings, sheet music, streaming, etc., can not exist without the song.
Copyright – The set of the exclusive rights granted to the authors/owners of the original works/musical composition in tangible form (the expression, not the idea).
Intellectual Property (IP) – A creative result that can be in the form of a song or composition that can be protected by copyright. There are two forms of copyright under intellectual property that have different royalties and revenue streams:
- Copyright for the musical composition (also known as "circle-C" copyright: ©)
- Copyright for the “master” or the physical recording of the musical composition (also known as "circle-P" copyright: Ⓟ)
Fees and royalties
Royalties are payments given to recording artists, songwriters, composers, publishers, and other copyright holders for the right to use their intellectual property. U.S. copyright laws give artists these exclusive rights to their work. Without royalties, the artist does not get paid.
The four main royalty types and agreements that determine the specific revenue stream are:
- Mechanical: Revenue that is generated from the physical “mechanical reproduction” of a master
Examples: CDs, Vinyl, LPs and EPs, and streaming royalties because it is available on demand
- Public performance: Royalties from the right to “publicly perform” compositions
Examples: Radio (Terrestrial/Streaming) Live TV, Venues, Digital Media, Bars
- Synchronization: Compositions that are “synchronized” to visual images for audiovisual work
Examples: TV, Film, Commercials, Trailers, Video Games
- Print: Royalties from the sale of sheet music
Examples: Sheet music, musical plays, and merchandising
Performance Rights Organizations (PROs)
There are 3 major PROs in the US—ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. These organizations track, collect and pay copyright holders for their owed revenue and are responsible for tracking every public performance of a composition. The venue, network, or channel using the intellectual property (IP) is responsible for payment of royalties and licenses used. But the PRO is the entity gathering the required payment for the utilization of the IP.
Without PRO representation, it is difficult to follow and collect the revenue associated with landing a successful sync licensing deal.
Not knowing the inner workings of the industry can hurt your career
Although the industry is welcoming more DIY licensing, it is uncommon to find a commercially significant, successful and completely independent musician. It is possible to be an artist or band without a record label or publishing company, but not knowing the inner workings of the industry can hurt your career.
Music publishers rarely “publish” anything anymore but they do pitch and land you licensing deals. They are known to be the point of contact in the commercialization and administration of songs and offer both creative and administrative services.
- Creative services build and nurture a songwriter’s career. A creative department plugs songs, pitches for sync licenses, and arranges co-writing and demo sessions to nurture artistic growth.
- Publishing administrative companies organize enormous catalogs of music. This includes tracking and collecting royalties, ensuring accurate payment and accounting, negotiating licenses, and managing copyright and other registrations such as Performance Rights Organization (PROs) association affiliations.
Sync representatives are extremely beneficial for artists attempting to sign a sync licensing agreement. There are typically two different types of sync rep companies: music libraries and selective pitching.
- Music libraries have a large repertoire of tracks and songs and typically charge a 50% rate of the revenue earned from sales of licenses on their platform. Music libraries main clients are the licensees and not the artist. And artists may sign un-exclusive representation deals by retitling or renaming their songs.
- Selective pitching companies typically sign representation contracts with artists in order to pitch specific songs and the split rate for these types of contracts can range from 35%-50%. Selective pitching companies’ main clients are both the licensee and the artist. Because these contracts are generally more exclusive, many artists send unsolicited submissions in hopes of landing a contract.
Submitting for artist representation
Both types of sync representatives are always looking for new artists to represent. If through your research you found a perfect fit for your music with a sync rep and want to submit, it is imperative that your pitch is both organized and provides all the necessary information that reps want to see when scouting an artist.
Thankfully, our team at ReelCrafter has been working tirelessly to provide artists with a streamlined pitching platform that is both easy to use and provides all the necessities to land you that representation contract. Some essential ReelCrafter features that make pitching a breeze include:
- Detailed metrics on listening activity that allow users to see real-time tracking for every single open, play, seek and skip on every reel.
- High-quality audio streaming: ReelCrafter transcodes your original uncompressed audio files to 256kbps AAC for exceptional audio fidelity.
- Personalize and curate each playlist, add your own logo, project imagery, and even video content at your own discretion on your distraction-free profile.
- Password protection and download options allow you to send your submission with an extra layer of security. No more messing around with emailing links to cloud storage or building “secret” pages on your website for private access.
- Build on the fly with non-destructive snippets of your uploaded tracks with ReelCrafter’s in-app editor. You no longer have to open your waveform editing software to chop up tracks and highlight certain sections.
Organization, preparation, and mindfulness of your correspondence with industry figures will give you an edge over other artists. With ReelCrafter, it has never been easier to pitch your art to the people that will help take your career to the next level and/or land that licensing deal.
Sync licensing deals
Congratulations! You’ve submitted your material and landed a sync deal. Regarding synchronization licenses, it’s important to remember that these licenses revolve around audiovisual synchronization that can be found in TV, film, video games, advertisements, wedding videos, etc. Any use of a musical composition paired with a visual piece of work is commonly referred to as a sync. If a visual work creator wants to secure your song for audiovisual synchronization, the creator must obtain two things from you and any other copyright holders associated with the composition and recording:
- They must secure a “synchronization license” from the writer/publisher (if applicable), and a “master use license” from the artist/label.
- Then, they must pay a “sync fee” and “master use fee,” respectively.
Since sync fees and royalties are set at a standard rate by the government like other royalties, different deals can cost significantly more or less than other deals:
- TV syncs typically pay the least ($0-5k for newer artists)
- Video games ($5-10k)
- Films ($10-20k+)
- Ads (depending on the size of the artist and company purchasing the license, the fees can be upwards of $300k)
Read every single line of your contract and know exactly what you’re signing
When signing a sync or publishing deal, be sure to read every single line of your contract and know exactly what you’re signing. Some common terminology for a sync deal can include provisions and terms such as:
- Assignment/Grant of Rights: In a publishing deal, writer “assigns” copyrights to publisher in perpetuity; admin deal is a “license”; writer will ideally retain some “approvals” over certain uses
- Exclusivity/Subject compositions: All songs during the term (i.e., “term songwriter” deal) or just “single/multi song” deal?
- Term/duration: Songwriter deals cover the time during which all songs are assigned; admin deals cover how long publisher has rights
- Minimum delivery commitment: What writer needs to write…
- Advances: Are there any? How much? When is it paid? What is recoupable?
- Royalties/Fees: Pub splits/admin fee calculations explained
- Reversions: Will the writer ever get any rights back? Which ones?
- Territory: Most pub deals are for the “world” or “universe,” but some will be specific to a territory (this is common for catalogs)
The sync process
As an artist or composer, you may find yourself wondering how you fit into this vast landscape of musical licensing. Believe it or not, there is a general formula as to how a sync deal is struck up.
The producers define a specific musical need for a commercial, film, or TV show. Then they will contact a music supervisor to put together sync requests to send out to 3rd party representation companies, such as music publishers or sync representation companies, in order to locate a track that fits the idea of the producer.
After receiving the sync request, publishers or sync rep companies will create a music pitch catered to the needs of the music supervisor and producer. If the supervisor selects one of the pitched songs, they will send a quote, which is then negotiated and a deal is struck.
Once a deal is struck, the sync licenses are signed and a cue sheet is sent to the PRO so that they can track the revenues associated with the license.
Without understanding the scope and spectrum of the complicated landscape of music licensing, it can be incredibly difficult to sign a responsible and fair deal. Once you understand all the players involved in licensing your music, you can successfully solicit your music to the appropriate channels in order to get one step closer to licensing your music.