Music Sync and Licensing

At a time where music business models and the industry as a whole is in a state of flux and change, it is more important than ever to find ways to monetise your music. Allowing your music to be part of a TV show, an advertisement, a movie or a radio program has become an important part of musician income.

The opportunities to place music within other media have been expanding over recent years for numerous reasons including:

  • The rise in the number of digital tv channels many of which are self-producing large amounts of content
  • The emergence of quality television productions and tv-movie like shows
  • Web TV/Film providers like Netflix are starting to produce their own content with shows like House of Cards,
  • Independent film production is growing due to the plummet in cost of visual production
  • Radio programs and advertising is still an important and popular medium in 2015

All of these content creators have one thing in common: They require music to complete their productions. Without music most visual productions cannot be completed. But

  • What are the opportunities
  • how does a director, music supervisor, independent You Tube creator find a song to use?
  • How can you get paid and what does the business model look like?
  • Where do I go from here?

The term for placement of your music within another medium is called ‘Synchronisation’.
Synchronisation or “Sync” rights as they are known, are the rights to include a piece of music TV & Radio show, advertising, internet, TV advertising, viral advertising, music on the background of a web page or any other situation where music is put together with another form of media.

What are the opportunities?

Music is required in (not an exhaustive list) the following instances:

  • TV and Web Advertisements
  • Film – Studio commissioned and independent
  • TV Programs and TV series
  • Radio – show theme tunes
  • Video Games
  • Youtube clips

How does a TV/Film-maker director, music supervisor etc. go about using music in a production?

Music in Film image

This can happen in any number of ways:

  • Scenario 1. A classic song like Jimi Hendrix ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ will be in the back of a film-maker’s mind and obviously most film makers would like to include hit songs that the audience already knows. However, Music Supervisor Sarah Glennane, a classic song owned by a major label could immediately blow the entire music budget of a movie in order to gain rights to that song. So a film-maker will be often looking for alternatives.

  • Scenario 2: Re-record that classic hit song with a sound-alike studio band. That way the film-maker is only paying the songwriter and not the record company for the rights to use the song.

  • Scenario 3: Use music from an unknown sound-alike band/artist. This might be a completely unknown song which evokes the same feeling as the song they originally might have wanted to use in the script but the film-maker can probably get the rights to this relatively cheaply as the unknown artist will not have huge bargaining power.

  • Scenario 3: A film-maker watching their budget and possibly wanting more original content may look to current popular songs doing well on radio for inclusion. Because of their ‘newness’ its likely the film-maker can secure the rights to those songs for less than option 1 or 2.

  • Scenario 4: A film-maker may scour SoundCloud, YouTube, BandCamp or any of the places that independent music is available to freely browse. If they think a specific song would work for their scene/application they may directly contact you to discuss a license agreement.

  • Scenario 5: There are now many music sync libraries. These are middlemen companies between you and the potential client users or your music. If they think your music is right for them, these companies will put your music on file tagging it with terms like ‘dark’, ‘joyful’, ‘tense’, ‘mournful’. When a request for music comes to them they offer some suggestions to the client of the music they have on file. If the client likes what they hear then the sync company will go about licensing your music to the client for use and you will receive payment for that use. Example companies are and

How much is a song placement worth and what does the business model look like?

A song placement can be worth zero or it can be worth 6 figure sums – and everything in between. A music supervisor or music lawyer will be able to give advice at the time based on what the budget is from the Film-Maker and the popularity of that song at that time. According to Music Supervisor Sarah Glennane there apparently is no calculator and is more of a negotiation based on past license placements and feel. These sync agreements are usually one time buyout fees which means that if that film is shown 1000 times in movie theatres you will receive no more money.
If a song is used as part of the opening credits, closing credits or has an integral part in the film then it is worth more. If it is background music behind dialog then its worth less.
A song can be worth zero if you decide to allow a film-maker to use your song for nothing. However, it would be wise to sign a contract whereby if that film makes money then you as the recording owner would get a certain percentage of that future profit. The mutual advantage here is that you get a placement by offering your song for no money upfront while the film-maker gets the job done for minimal budget and if the film does well then everyone gets paid.

Where do I go from here?

  • Make the songs easily available online either privately or publically. Many sync placements are scored by simply stumbling upon your music on YouTube, SoundCloud, MySpace, BandCamp etc etc. If your primary concern is not the sale of your music but the exploitation then make it publically available for this reason. You can also choose to make the link to the music private on some cloud services like SoundCloud so that you can pass that link to interested parties. The industry moves to fast to wait for CDs in the post these days.
  • Approach music sync library companies to submit your music so that potential sync opportunities are exposed
  • Join a service like ‘Taxi’ which is a portal for sync opportunities. This particular site might have requests for certain style of song that you may pitch to potential clients.
  • Contact advertisement agencies and pass them links to consider your music for current/future ads.
  • Try and make relationships with directors for TV and Film. This is a more direct route to music submission than hopeful blanket submission.
  • If you are an unknown artist consider allowing your music to be used for free in a movie whilst making a written agreement that if that movie generates profit that you benefit also.
  • Use CD Baby or Tunecore to make sure that your YouTube revenue for uses of your music get collected.
  • Try and find management/representation with links in the sync industry who may be able to take your music to the most appropriate people.