Sync for Dummies: First Things You Need to Know to Get Your Music Synched

Benjamin Debusschere
4 min readApr 25, 2017

According to the latest IFPI Global Music Report, synchronisation revenue — revenue from the use of music in advertising, film, games, television programmes, etc. — rose 2.8 per cent from 2015 to 2016 and represents 2% share of the global music market.

The business of sync is now worth more than $314 million and has been growing for the past fifty years.

Sync is also a great source of music discovery. Ipsos research shows that one in four people discover artists through music that appears in films, TV shows and video games. The exposure gained can help propel artists, particularly unsigned or unknown, towards new heights of success.

To navigate in the maze of the sync business, you need to understand how it works.

What is Sync Licensing?

A music synchronization license, or “sync” license for short, is a music license granted by the holder of the copyright of a particular composition, allowing the licensee to synchronize (“sync”) music with some kind of visual media output.

Music licensing is the licensed use of copyrighted music. Music licensing is intended to ensure that copyright owners are compensated for certain uses of their musical works. A purchaser has limited rights to use the work without a separate agreement.

How Copyright Ownership Works

The rights to a composition or a “song”, which is different from the sound recording are most often administered by the publishing company that represents the writer/producer. The copyright of a song is divided in two parts:

  1. the “master” sound recording, which is the actual studio recording of the song and is most often owned by the record label;
  2. the composition, which consists of the underlying lyrics and melody written by the songwriter and is administered by the music publisher.

Type of Media Where Music is Synched

Music can be synched in any form of visual media.

Film

Here is an example of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen synched in Mike Myers ‘Wayne’s World’:

Movie trailer

‘No Church in the Wild’ by Jay-Z & Kanye West in The Great Gatsby Trailer:

TV shows & series

‘Why Don’t You Do It’ by Little Barrie in Better Caul Saul theme:

Advertisements & commercials

‘High Ball Stepper’ by Jack White in ice cream brand Magnum commercial:

Videogames

All songs synched in FIFA 2017:

Traditionally, the film, television, and advertising industries have dominated the licensing market. In the past decade, more and more licensors of recorded music have found synchronization licensing opportunities in the growing video game industry, thanks to videogames series such as Guitar Hero and Singstar.

Music Supervisor: The Gatekeeper to the World of Sync

A music supervisor is a person who combines music and visual media. Music supervisors are the professionals who oversee the process of finding the right song for a scene and making sure the right people get paid for it.

They are the gatekeepers who decide which tunes you will be hearing in that latest hit TV show, the essential liaison between the creatives who make the programme and the business people who ownes the music.

The Role of a Sync Representative/Agent

It can be difficult to get your music in the ears of music supervisors but you can get the help of a sync representative or agent. This person will represent you to the music buying community. It can be powerful as sync representatives have privileged access to music supervisors and they can make sure your music is properly labeled and cleared.

Sync Negotiation & Fees

When someone wants to use a recording in their work, they must contact both the owner of the sound recording (record label), and the owner of the composition (songwriter via publishing company). Producers with tight budgets will often prefer to use a cover version of a particular song to save money on the master side. Once the producer has made an inquiry with the copyright administrator (and additionally the record label if they choose to use a famous recording), the rightsholder or administrator issues a quote, usually for a one-time fee.

This can trigger negotiations, covering things like how the work is being used, the length of the segment, the prominence of the cue (whether used as background music, or as the title track during the credits), and the overall popularity and importance of the song or recording.

Sync licensing fees can range anywhere from free, to a few hundred dollars, to tens of thousands of dollars for popular recordings of a song: in the last case, the producer must pay for both the use of the master and the composition.

The fees for synchronization licenses are really all over the board, and they vary with the usage and the importance of the song.

Takeaways

Sync deals can be a great way of licensing your music and developing your fanbase. But before going into sync licensing, content owners must know about how sync business works and how much a song is worth. A good entertainment attorney will know the value of your song in a variety of media. Become familiar with the industry standards if you are negotiating your own sync licenses, so you don’t miss out on opportunities.

Have you ever synched your music? How was it? Please let a comment below if you’d like to discuss this further or contact me by email at benjamin.debusschere@gmail.com or on Twitter @benocaz

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