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Music in Play: Beginner's Guide to Sync Licensing - Tips and Tricks of the Trade

By Laurence Malpass - Sync Licensing Manager on 12 Oct 2017

Monitising Your Musical Content

The world is waking up to the vast revenue that can be generated from getting your music placed in Films, TV shows, Games, and Adverts (i.e Sync). Some have been in this game for a while and know all of the ins and outs, but to those just starting out it can seem like a complicated maze of industry jargon and metadata. Luckily we’re here to de-mystify the sync world a bit, and make it easier for you to get started.

Your Music Copyright (legal rights)

To understand sync, you first need to understand copyright, because owning or controlling copyright is how you are going to get paid. It’s one of those things that seems complicated at first, but don’t worry, just keep reading and soon you’ll be a licensing jedi.

There are two copyrights you need to understand:

Master rights - This refers to the recordings themselves, the right to copy and exploit the master recordings hence ‘master’ rights. Each recording has its own master right attached to it, which can be bought, or sold, or licensed for sync.

Publishing rights - This refers to the songs themselves. The actual music and lyrics and melodies and harmonies. You know... the song.

To give you an example of how these work, if you write and record an original song all by yourself, you own 100% of the master and publishing rights for the song and the recording.

If you performed and recorded a cover version of an Ed Sheeran song, Ed (and his publisher) would still own the publishing rights for the song itself, but you would own the master rights for the recording. Because it’s his song you performed, but you recorded the cover version.

Legal Clearance (Master & Publishing)

Great, now we’ve got that down, we can talk about it in context of sync licensing. Your rights are what are going to make you money in the world of Sync. Every time one of your songs is about to be placed, the person licensing your music (the music supervisor or client) needs your permission to ‘clear’ or authorise the use of both your recording (master), and the song (publishing).

If you have collaborated on a track with another writer and each of you owns 50% of the song, the music supervisor has to clear the publishing rights for both you and your co-writer, and whoever owns the master rights. It’s because of this, it’s becoming very popular in sync for all the rights (both sides master & publishing) to be controlled by one person, a label or a publisher, or sync agent, this is commonly called one-stop. Meaning the Supervisor only has to make one stop when clearing. The more people they have to clear with, the trickier it can be to clear (sometimes), and when there’s a short deadline (and there often is) this can get in the way of a deal going through.

Once you’ve ‘cleared’, they’ll send you the license or quote request, and you can sign off and once the show airs they will pay you an advance fee, commonly known as a ‘sync fee’, and after that you can collect royalties as well through your Performing Rights Organisation (PRS for Music, and PPL in the UK).

It’s a long slog. But it’s worth it!

The Decision Makers & Gate Keepers

1. There is a chain of people in sync that you have to get through to get your music placed in anything, whether it’s a game, or a film, or a hot new TV series, your music has to jump through some serious hoops. The Director. At the very top of this decision chain is the director, they are the creative driving force behind all productions particularly in TV and Film, in Games and Advertising, the director is often called creative director, or head of creative creative producer or something like that. These people will be the final deciders in placing music.

2. Music Supervisors. These are creative and legal experts whose entire job is to find the right music for a scene or ‘cue’, manage the music budget, and clear and license that music on behalf of their client or employer (project by project). The supervision world is a small one, there are only roughly 800 - 1000 music supervisors in the western world operating at any given time (depending on how you define them). These really are the people you want to get your music to, the only drawback is that there are tens of thousands of other music companies and individuals who are doing the same thing. It’s an insanely competitive market, and the world is massively oversaturated with music. The key here is curation, which brings me to my next point in the chain.

3. Record Labels, Production Libraries Companies, Music Publishers, and Sync Agents. Your best bet of getting your music placed in anything is having good working relationships with one of these three. Each has their own pros and cons, and each work slightly differently. We’ll look at each in the next section.

So, what are your options?

Music Publishers - Publishers have always exploited sync licenses in favour of the artists & writers. It’s one of their main revenue streams. It’s one of the reasons you should want to sign to a publisher. Publishers will take a % of your royalties, as well as your sync fees if they get you a placement, this will be agreed upon in your contract with them.

Record Labels - These are traditionally more focused on distribution, streams, sales, and marketing the artists. But labels are realising that having a sync placement can be a huge marketing boost to new or upcoming releases. More and more labels are hiring dedicated sync managers to push for placements, and even making deals for publishing rights as well, especially with one-stop rights being so important for a fast clearance these days.

Staying Independent - Essentially doing all the hard work yourself. This means going to the sync conferences and rubbing shoulders with the supervisors, building relationships, and getting them to send you briefs. This alone can be difficult as where do you start? But another angle many have taken is researching what shows are using what music, and if you have relevant music, finding the supervisor and just sending some music along. There is a right and a wrong way to do this, so check out our blog on the best pitching practises on how to do this effectively.

Even then, it’s a hugely time consuming thing to do, leaving very little time to write and record your music!

Sync Agent - Sync Agents will represent your music and pitch it for you to their music supervisor clients, of which they will often have many that they’ve built relationships with over the years. Their sole purpose is to help get your music placed, often taking a % of the sync licensing fee.

For artists and writers that are very busy writing and touring, and want to stay independent and keep all of their copyrights, sync agents can be a great way to do this.

We’re all about empowering creatives and supporting independent music as best we can, and want to help in any way we can. If you’re interested in sync representation, please do check out Music Gateway’s Sync Portal service.

Thanks for reading, hope you found it of help. Laurence x