WHAT’S MUSIC SYNC LICENSING?
Music sync licensing is basically placing one of your songs in a YouTube video, on a TV show, in a film or in a video game. In exchange, you get paid a synchronization fee upfront and, depending on where and how often the track is played in public, on TV, for example, you also get paid royalties.
There are other ways you can license your music – you could license a composition to a performing artist for example, but, for the purposes of this post, let’s keep it simple. We’ll focus on licensing music for film and TV.
WHY DO YOU NEED TO SYNC LICENSE YOUR MUSIC?
1- It can be more financially rewarding than any other revenue stream available to indie musicians
2- You can do it from the comfort of your own home
3- It won’t negatively affect your day job or family life since you can easily work on it on your own time
Now the money doesn’t have to be the be all and end all…
Having a track featured on a popular TV show can also blow up your plays on streaming platforms and become a great promotional tool.
On top of that, I’ve mentioned it before but it’s well worth repeating…. sync licensing your music also allows you to work from home, at your own pace, without any huge financial outlay to get started.
SYNC DEAL OPTIONS
So now that I’ve made my point about why it makes sense to invest some time in licensing your music, let me give you the 3 main strategies that are available to you.
1- Get a publisher that will find, negotiate and sign licensing opportunities for you.
2- Place your catalogue in music libraries and benefit from the traffic these platforms get.
3- Build relationships yourself, bypass publishers and libraries to license your music directly to customers.
As with everything, there are good points and bad points to each of these 3 options.
OPTION 1: WORKING WITH A PUBLISHER
Good points: The publisher takes care of all the boring admin stuff and leverages their relationships.
Bad points: High-end publishing deals (those that will help you advance your music licensing careers) are sometimes exclusive. That means that if the deal doesn’t work out for you (and it can definitely happen), you’re stuck.
How to mitigate the risks? Make sure you don’t sign a lifetime exclusivity deal. Keep the agreement period reasonable. Negotiate an advance that makes sense for you. That means it should be big enough that you’re not in trouble if you don’t get a single deal from the publisher.
OPTION 2: PLACING YOUR CATALOGUE IN MUSIC LIBRARIES
Good points: Once you’ve set up your tracks in music libraries (under non-exclusive deals, you can upload your catalogue in multiple libraries), the income you get from these platforms is passive. There’s no extra work.
Bad points: There are so many music libraries of varying quality that it’s difficult to know where to start and easy to suffer from information overload and analysis paralysis and do nothing.
How to get started? Take it slow but take action. For example, you could aim to submit 3 tracks to 3 libraries every week. You don’t have to start big and have a huge catalogue of tracks ready. Slow and steady is a good way to go.
How to avoid mistakes? You can’t avoid “mistakes”. You will absolutely waste time on some libraries that go out of business 3 months after you’ve been accepted. That’s ok. It’s part of the game. Just make sure you stick to non-exclusive libraries or very short-term exclusive deals (say 1 year). This will ensure your career doesn’t stall because of so-called “mistakes”.
How do you know which libraries to send music? You don’t! A library that does a good job for me won’t necessarily be a good fit for you. To some extent, you’ll need to spray and pray when you’re first starting out.
Pro tip: You can check a library’s monthly traffic for free using tools like SEMrush or Serpstat. This is helpful to evaluate big music libraries. Keep in mind, however, that small boutique libraries may generate very little traffic and still have great relationships in the industry. They may be more hands-on and available to discuss your music as well.
OPTION 3: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS YOURSELF
Good points: You’re in complete control and decide who you want to work with. You also get to keep all the money (the standard being 50/50 splits with libraries and publishers, that’s not negligible). On top of that it’s highly gratifying when you pull it off and relationships you build that way tend to be stronger and more rewarding (both creatively and financially).
Bad points: It’s a LOT of work, takes a lot of time and you’re going to fail a lot. As an indie musician, you’re probably used to all that but still, it’s something to consider. Maybe you’re not in a place right now where you can take a lot of rejection.
How to get started? Stay focused. If you write in different genres, focus on one to get started. Study the market. Go on YouTube, do research on TV shows, video games, films, fashion shows, retail stores, any place that features music in public. Figure out where your genre of music is already being used. Start small. Sure, you can go ahead and try to get an internship with Hans Zimmer, I’d never discourage you from trying! But be prepared for a lot of rejection. By starting small, you’re giving yourself a chance to experiment and make mistakes without big consequences.
Pro tip: If you’re reaching out to gamers with a YouTube channel, you can afford to write crappy emails. If you start by reaching out to music supervisors of big TV shows, chances are you’re just wasting time because your subject line sucks so bad they won’t even read your email, one of the dozens they receive every day!
Slow and steady beats fast and erratic pretty much every time. If you’re going to build long-lasting relationships in the industry, you need to show that you’re reliable. Music supervisors, filmmakers, they need to be able to count on you and trust you’ll deliver. Slow and steady ensures you don’t burn out.
WHAT’S THE BEST OPTION IF YOU’RE JUST STARTING OUT?
When first getting started with music licensing, a combination of options 2 and 3 is ideal.
I’ll explain why in a minute but first, let me tell you why I wouldn’t focus on option 1 and signing a publishing deal right from the start.
First of all, you’d need as much time researching publishers as you’d need research music libraries, might as well stay in control of your catalogue then!
Secondly, publishers usually won’t want to sign you until you’ve proven you’re financially viable. Publishers who want to sign you before you’ve had any success are not always good news…. Whatever their sales pitch, it’s more likely that they’re taking a punt on your music and trying to beef up their roster to look more impressive and professional. That doesn’t mean they can’t work for you. It just means that there’s no guarantee that they can make you any money and signing your catalogue over to them on an exclusive basis is probably not a great idea.
If you’re a more experienced and seasoned musician who has seen it all in the music industry, then that’s a different story! You can probably smell a nasty scam from far away. In that case, if you find a publisher that seems like the right fit for you, it could be a great deal that saves you a lot of time and effort.
With that in mind, let’s get back to options 2 and 3…
Here’s why I encourage all indie musicians who are getting started in the music licensing business to approach non-exclusive music libraries and start building their own relationships.
First, researching and submitting to music libraries is a great way to discover the world of music licensing, to understand what kind of music is being used on TV and film, what a license agreement looks like, how you get paid and all that super important information that you’ll need to know if you’re going to start making decent money.
Second, going direct-to-customer is like a real-life MBA that costs you nothing! Researching and talking to potential customers gives you immediate feedback, good or bad. If nobody wants to license your music, it can mean 3 things: the production quality is not up to standards (poor quality product), you’re pitching to the wrong person (wrong market), you’re not pitching the right way (bad communication).
Pro tip: The problem is rarely the music itself. You can find licensing opportunities in any genre if you have a good product(ion), take the time to do your market research and work on your communication.
Third, as long as you sign non-exclusive deals, you stay in control of your catalogue and your music career. You can keep pitching your music to different people and, little by little, figure out who you prefer to be working with and what type of projects you like best. That’s incredibly important because when you’re first starting out, you have no clue where you’re going. You want to have that flexibility to make mistakes and build your career on your own terms.
Some will prefer the anonymity of music libraries that make it easy for you to upload your music and stay out of the hustle and bustle of the industry. Others will love the creative and entrepreneurial energy that comes from working directly with indie filmmakers and content creators.
Both are pretty cool ways to make money from your music!