Music Licensing 101 with SoundSync Music

Now more than ever, musicians are looking for new ways to monetize their music. Learn how to license your music + receive income through film, TV, commercials, and video games.

Kelsey Peterson
May 28, 2020 · 8 min read
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Those pre-COVID days when we could perform out in public + build our following. Now, as we look to diversify our income streams, musicians look to music licensing.

At the end of April, we sat down with Nathalie Phan, musician + co-founder of SoundSync Music. With their small, yet powerful, curated catalog of local music, they are changing the way modern musicians license their music for Film, TV, commercials, and video games — globally.

Now more than ever before, music licensing is paving a new path for musicians to receive income through their music — Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (to name a few) are sourcing music from local channels such as SoundSync Music.

So what better time to sit down with Nathalie to ensure all musicians, especially local + indie artists, can get a piece of this booming streaming industry. You can watch the full webinar here.


What is synch licensing?

Anytime a song is united with a visual component — Film, TV, Commercials, and Video Games. Whenever there is a union of music + visuals, a Music Supervisor is responsible for coordinating and licensing the songs in a production.

What does a Music Supervisor do?

The Music Supervisor is often the most difficult job in the entire music industry. Seriously. They receive a lot of correspondence, and are often working on both a very tight deadline + budget.

They must be able to work with the director to select the right songs for a project within a set budget, and must also: license both sides of the songs, replace any temporary tracks that cannot be licensed due to budget or rights limitations, work within tight deadlines, and complete cue sheets that are sent to Performing Rights Organizations (PROs).

Cue sheets are reports that are sent to PROs which make sure you get paid for your music when played. (We’ll go into more detail regarding these later on in this article.)

Some PROs you may already be familiar with are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. It’s important to register your music with the right PRO or else you will miss out on receiving royalties, and select one based on what fits with you (there are benefits + restrictions). For instance, let’s say you get a synch deal for one of your songs for $10,000. Yes, you receive the check for the deal, but if this was for an episode of Breaking Bad (for instance), the cue sheet will go to the PROs and no one will know how to send you your share of the royalties.

What are my rights as as Owner + Creator of my music?

Once you create any piece of work (i.e. write an original song), you are automatically entitled to these rights.

The right to:

  • Reproduce + make copies of your original work;
  • Prepare derivative works based on your original work;
  • Distribute copies to the public by sale or another form of transfer, such as renting or lending;
  • Publicly perform your original work;
  • Publicly display your work; and,
  • Perform sound recordings publicly through digital audio transmission.

Note: it’s always recommended to register + copyright your music. If you need any help with this, get in touch with us here. (Our team has personally gone through this process ourselves + would love to help you.)

But what does this all mean? Why does it matter?

Well, like a coin, every song has two sides — the Master Recording + the Composition.

The Master Recording includes the recording artists, record label(s), record producers, the label/artists of any sampled music, or the label that releases the soundtrack (for the film or TV series).

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Example song + how the master recording is broken out (SoundSync Music)

As shown in the corresponding graph, the master recording is divvied up similar to how equity for a project or business is shared to those involved. If you have a record label, they usually might take 50%, and then your share will be divvied up by others involved (the Producer, other sampled work, etc).

But, if you’re an independent artist + own majority of your song(s), then the majority of royalties and licensing deals goes directly to you. Remember though, when deciding how much of a share everyone gets, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

The Composition (synch) includes the songwriter(s), their publisher(s), any PROs that the songwriter(s) is part of, as well as any songwriter(s) for any music that is sampled.

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Example song + how the sync license is broken out (SoundSync Music)

This is when the publishers come in — and why it’s important to have the right publisher, too. Publishing companies help secure the rights for others to use your music. They often have a large, diverse, and organized library.

More info on publishers below.

So, what’s the difference between a licensing agent and a publisher?

There are two main differences:

  1. Agents will not usually pay an advance for artists;
  2. They are also usually limited to individual tracks or songs to pitch. This is different than a publisher who’s agreements cover any song you write during the term of the agreement.

Publishers receive a portion of what you write + are generally like labels on the songwriting side. They invest in you and may pay advancements on your music depending on your agreement.

Should I sign an exclusive or non-exclusive agreement?
Well, there are pros + cons for either.

  • Exclusivity bars you and any other 3rd party from pitching the songs you have agreed to let your agent license. If you have two agents pitching your songs (non-exclusive), this can often mean that they don’t actively pitch your music. You may have a better chance at landing this deal if it’s exclusive.
  • However, many music supervisors prefer to work directly with agents that have exclusive contracts with their songwriters.

What kind of income can I earn from a placement?

There are many streams of income when you’ve received the song placement:

  1. The Synch fee earned by the songwriters + publishers
  2. Master-use fee earned by the owner(s) of the master recording
  3. Public performance royalties earned by the songwriters + publishers
  4. Film credit (which may earn you more placements in the future!)
  5. Mechanical royalties from streaming (a side effect of placements)

A lot of the time, when a viewer is listening to a show + they like the song they hear, they may find out what song it is + add it to their playlist on whichever streaming service they prefer. Then, whenever your song is streamed, you receive mechanical royalties directly from the streaming service.

Music licensing is 80% administrative work + only 20% creative work.

I’m ready to pitch! What do I need to know?

This is a field where networking + referrals are crucial. If you’re not physically located in Los Angeles, take part in online music industry groups. Find Music Supervisors from the credits of your favorite shows + follow them on Twitter or any other social platform. (Nathalie mentioned how Twitter is a gold-mine for music licensing, so if you’re not already on that system, consider making a profile.)

The Lingo

  • MFN — Most Favored Nation. States that if a better offer is given to another party, the music supervisor will have to come back + give you the better terms.
  • All Media NKHD — “now known or hereafter devised.” A term created to account for usage in “new media” that is created after a contract is made. This was especially crucial once streaming became a huge part of the music industry. For example: if you have “film + TV only” in your contract, you could then be missing out on Netflix and other modern watching services.
  • WW — Worldwide. This term secures global rights to your music for use in a film or TV show.
  • In Perp — in perpetuity. Basically means “forever” or without any end to the term of the agreement.
  • One-Stop (or 200%) — this means “all rights are cleared” prior. You want to make sure every single right is ready to go for your song. For instance, if you sampled work from another musician but haven’t cleared the rights from that songwriter and/or their publisher, then you could miss out on getting the placement. Remember, Music Supervisors do not have a lot of time to go back + forth on a song — they’ll just go on to the next one.

Pitching to Music Supervisors

Let’s start with what NOT to do:

  • Never use attachments. Always link to your music instead.
  • Don’t send an email with only 1 song. Instead, send links with 5–6 songs. They’ll add this to a saved area for easy use later on.
  • Never spam them with follow up emails. Know when + how often to follow up. (Honestly, this is a good practice to know in general.)
  • Never use samples or cover music you haven’t cleared first.
  • Don’t pitch to them if they don’t want to be pitched to. If there’s a note on their website that says “we don’t accept submissions,” take their word for it.

Research. Research. Research.

  • Get on Twitter. They’re all on there + are asking for submissions, too.
  • Personalize your message. Make sure you’re contacting them and not their agent — there is a big difference.
  • Find out what shows the music supervisor is currently working on. IMDB is helpful, but not necessarily a trusted source. The worst thing that could happen is the project was in the works but got cancelled.
  • Use to understand what music is already working for the show. Think: “Atlanta”
  • Get involved with the Guild of Music Supervisors (they have a great directory) and attend industry conferences. Great options are: the Guild of Music Supervisor Conference or SyncSummit.

Metadata + Organization is key.

  • Music Supervisors often are very high-stress people. Make their job easy for them and add in your metadata.
  • Make sure your metadata is airtight. Licensing is not a field you should participate in if you do not have great attention to detail.
  • Use tools like Disco (made exclusively for music licensing metadata) and Airtable (spreadsheets to keep your details organized for you).
  • Include: keywords to help music supervisors search for your music, lyrics, genre, lyrical themes, moods, and all basic information (contact info, songwriters, PRO affiliations, publishers, IPI numbers, Title + Artist of the song).

What if they want to edit my music + I don’t agree with the changes?

Generally, when you provide the music license, the Music Supervisor will have you sign a contract saying they can edit your music to fit the placement however they see fit.

However, you can ensure that specific parts of the song aren’t edited, such as: the overall lyrical theme, swear words, certain words or phrases that in turn change the premise of the song, and so forth.

Additionally, remember: you can always negotiate any agreement, even after it’s all signed. You have a lot of flexibility whenever you license your songs due to the exclusive rights you already own once it was created/written.

Thank you for reading through our guide that accompanies the Music Licensing 101 interactive webinar we hosted with Nathalie Phan of SoundSync Music. If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us or Nathalie, please visit


SoundSync Music is a music licensing and sound design agency that applies local creative forces to unite sound + vision.

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Kelsey Peterson

Written by

Founder, singer-songwriter, thriving cat mom. Culture + HR at Square Root. Lover of scones with the perfect cup of tea.

Day Dreamer App

Day Dreamer is an application that helps creatives connect & get hired in their local area. Across a variety of artistic mediums, our communities thrive when we create together.

Kelsey Peterson

Written by

Founder, singer-songwriter, thriving cat mom. Culture + HR at Square Root. Lover of scones with the perfect cup of tea.

Day Dreamer App

Day Dreamer is an application that helps creatives connect & get hired in their local area. Across a variety of artistic mediums, our communities thrive when we create together.

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