How sync licensing works

What exactly is sync?

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.

It’s no secret that landing a sync licensing deal can be a big income boost for independent artists. But what exactly is sync licensing? And what should artists know before submitting their music for consideration?

In this post, we’ll cover the basics of sync licensing, from copyright and composition to fees and royalties. We’ll also touch on the role of performance rights organizations (PROs) and how to submit music for artist representation. By the end of this post, you should have a good understanding of the sync licensing process and be ready to submit your music for consideration.

Some of the most recognizable bands can attribute their success to a sync placement, including these successful marketing sync licensing placements:

So let’s get started with the basics of sync licensing so you can land an amazing deal like the ones above!

Landing a sync licensing deal can be a big income boost

Copyright and composition

Song/Composition – what the music industry is centered around. All other forms of revenue including recordings, sheet music, streaming, etc., cannot exist without the song.

Master recording – the specific recording of a composition by a particular artist. Sometimes, the composition and master are owned by the same party (a “one-stop”), especially independent artists without a record label.

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 songwriters, composers, publishers, and other copyright holders for the right to use their intellectual property (recording artists are paid under different business models than those covered below). U.S. copyright laws give creators these exclusive rights to their work. Without royalties, the creators do not get paid.

These are the four main royalty types and agreements:

  • 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) all forms of 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 and merchandising

Be sure to check out our article on how to maximize rights and royalties »

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 most public performances 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 and pays out to writers and publishers in equal shares.

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 mean missed opportunities

Artist representation

Although the industry is welcoming more DIY licensing, handling licensing alone is nearly a full-time job for a 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 mean missed opportunities.

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 non-exclusive representation deals by retitling or renaming their songs.Although it still exists, retitling is become less and less favored these days, due to digital recognition technologies used by the PROs being unable to distinguish between the same audio track being licensed by 2 separate parties under different titles.
  • 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:

  1. They must secure approval (which can be granted or denied for any reason whatsoever) for the use for a “synchronization license” from the writer/publisher (if applicable), and a “master use license” from the artist/label.
  2. Then, they must pay a “sync fee” and “master use fee,” respectively.

Since sync fees and royalties are not 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:

  • Term: how long the license lasts
  • Territory: what part of the world does the license cover
  • Media: what media is covered by the license
  • Usage: how is the song used in the production
  • Timing: how long is the use
  • Fee: totally negotiable and not set by statute. Usually a 1 time payment, unless options are negotiated  and exercised (see below)
  • Exclusivity: most sync licenses are non-exclusive, which means that the same song can be licensed to multiple parties at the same time
  • Performing rights: the right of the publisher and writer to collect their share of income from the PROs is included in the agreement. Some producers request that the performing rights be included as part of the sync package and that licensors waive PRO income. This type of deal is not recommended.
  • Options: rights negotiated for additional terms beyond the scope of this original grant.
    Example: film festival rights with option for broader exhibition.

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. In many cases, music supervisors draw on their own knowledge of music instead of sending out a “cattle call” for music that they need.

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. Most publishers and sync reps pitch based on the nature of the program, not to a specific scene. It is important for the party making the pitch to research the music needs for the program and only send the supervisors songs that fit the production. Example: no need to pitch country songs to Game Of Thrones

If the supervisor selects one of the pitched songs, they will send a quote request, which is then negotiated.

Once a deal is struck, and the use of the song is confirmed (several songs may be cleared for the same scene, with only one being actually used), 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.

Wrap up

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.

Check out the rest of our music licensing series:
Choosing the right vehicle for licensing your music

4 things composers can do to get paid what they’re owed
Everything you need to know about cue sheets and music royalties

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