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A sync is a wonderful thing, often bringing artists unexpected income and exposing their music to a new audience. A winning sync is also a boon for the production team. Successfully pairing music and creative uniquely elevates each component, with the artistry involved gaining heightened recognition thanks to a variety of industry awards.
To put yourself in the best position to win a sync for your music, it’s important to understand how the process works. Being prepared ahead of time will allow you to move quickly and confidently when the opportunity arrives and to avoid hitches that can lead music supervisors and other sync professionals to move on to the next track. You can start by understanding the process.
A sync opportunity arises when someone wants to align music with a project, whether that be an ad, TV episode, film or other audio-visual work. Projects can also include audio-only works, such as a podcast or audio ads. The sync outreach may come from any one of a variety of sources, depending on the nature of the project, including a creative producer, music supervisor or music director in charge of lining up music options.▼ Article continues below ▼
Three types of music are used for sync: commercial music (i.e., music made for commercial release to consumers via EPs, albums, and DSPs); production music (music produced specifically for sync and made available through production libraries); and custom compositions. Each of these three categories compete with one another when it comes to sync, with commercial music offering a wide range of diversity as well as artist brand equity; production music offering transactional ease and cost efficiency; and custom composition allowing for creative overlay and flexibility. In all cases, the goal is to advance the messaging and storytelling by finding the best music to fit within the project budget.
Sync pitching is often a speed round. Music supervisors or an ad agency, say, send out a brief describing the type of track they are seeking for their client. Depending on the budget and the creative requirements, all three music options may be on the table: commercial, production and custom. Turnaround time can be critical. If interest is expressed in your track, you need to be ready to license quickly—or the supe or agency may move on.
The vehicle by which you authorize someone to synchronize your music with their project is called a sync license, which grants the holder (the “licensee”) certain rights to the underlying copyright in the music. With any recorded song, there are two potential copyrights: one in the composition and one in the individual recording. If you own or control both, your music is known as “one stop” — meaning that a potential licensee can get all the rights they need directly from you. If ownership in the copyrights reside with more than one party, that music is “multi-stop,” and potential licensees need rights from all copyright holders or their representatives.
With production music and custom music, rights are typically consolidated in a single entity (i.e., the production library or the custom composer/artist), simplifying the licensing process. The same is true for a significant portion of singer/songwriter music in the independent sector.
Copyright ownership in commercial music, however, can get complicated very quickly, such as where there are multiple songwriters, each with their own publisher, as well as multiple owners of the recording. As an artist, it’s important for you to know who owns what rights in your music, and whether you and those who represent you are in the best position possible to make it easy for your music to be licensed for sync.
The music business is based on a variety of revenue streams, such as ticket sales from live performance; physical, digital and merch sales; streaming revenue; public performance royalties; and sync. Any time you do a deal involving your music–whether it be with a booking agent, manager, label, distributor, publisher, sync agent, or others–you are likely impacting one or more of these revenue streams and the portion that will flow back to you. Read the contract carefully! Many artists have unwittingly signed away key portions, if not all the monetization opportunity generated by their creative work.
Fortunately, increased education about the business of music has led artists to be savvier about protecting their interests, including in the area of sync.
The world of sync is changing dramatically thanks to the digital transformation of media and entertainment. Music plays a pivotal role in productions and storytelling of all types. Now, more than ever, commercial music artists compete with production music and custom composition. The ability to respond quickly to sync opportunities spanning a range of budgets and business models, from macro to micro syncs, can be critical to actually winning the opportunity. Artists who provide an easy path to license their music can come out on top.
Cestjon McFarland is an intellectual property rights lawyer who has represented both tech companies and independent music labels in the Seattle area. Together with Kirt Debique, she founded SyncFloor, the leading online marketplace where you can find quality commercial music for sync.