Music Licensing 101: Understanding Sync Placements

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Music Licensing 101: Understanding Sync Placements

Music licensing has become a significant revenue stream for recording artists and music rights holders, with sync licensing deals, commonly known as "syncs," playing a crucial role. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, sync royalties reached an estimated value of $178 million in the first half of 2022 alone, marking a substantial 29.9 percent increase compared to the previous year. As a result, music labels and publishers are expanding their licensing departments to capitalize on these opportunities, aiming to secure coveted placements that can skyrocket streams and attract new listeners. The resurgence of Kate Bush's 1985 single "Running Up That Hill" through its inclusion in the hit series Stranger Things is a prime example of how a sync can elevate a song's popularity. Syncs not only benefit established artists but also provide emerging talents like Orville Peck, whose track "Dead of Night" experienced an astonishing 812 percent increase in streams after being featured in HBO's Euphoria, with a powerful tool for exposure.

However, navigating the realm of music licensing can be intimidating for many artists and producers. To shed light on this complex process, an expert panel shared valuable insights during a recent Berklee Career Jam session titled "Music in Sync." Their advice encompasses essential factors to consider when creating syncable music, standing out to music supervisors, and negotiating sync deals.

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Understanding Syncability

Not all music is equally suitable for synchronization, making it crucial to grasp what qualities make music syncable. According to Michael Jurasits, creative director and music supervisor for Human Worldwide, familiarity is a key aspect sought after by those in the advertising and brand industry. While it doesn't mean avant-garde or unconventional music is disregarded, music supervisors and brands often favor compositions that resonate with their target audience. Kristoffer Roggemann, creative producer and partner at Mophonics, believes that overly specific lyrics can limit brand interest. Instead, music with universal themes tends to be more appealing for advertising purposes. However, finding authentic and non-generic ways to express universal themes can be challenging, due to the saturation of sync-seeking musicians who resort to formulaic songwriting. Roggemann suggests exploring more creative lyric choices to stand out from the crowd.

Sync Artist or Synced Artist

When venturing into the music licensing business, it is crucial to determine whether you are a "sync artist" or an artist who happens to get synced. Allegra Willis Knerr, executive vice president of global sync licensing at BMG Rights Management, highlights the significance of this distinction. Sync artists must ensure their music is sync-ready, meaning they have various versions of their songs available for pitching, such as instrumental tracks, a cappella mixes, and clean versions. On the other hand, artists who focus on authenticity and uniqueness are better off concentrating on their craft and building their brand. Developing a strong artistic identity is what captures the attention of supervisors and sync agents.

Knowing Your Musical Lane

Artists should align their music with shows that cater to their specific style. Dom Jones, a specialist for Sony SyncShop, advises pop artists to target shows like the CW sports series All American rather than the Starz strip club drama P-Valley. Sending music that doesn't fit the target show's genre or theme is likely to result in disappointment. Chris Brown, vice president of production, North America, for West One Music Group, emphasizes the importance of recognizing one's strengths and prioritizing quality over quantity. Rather than claiming to be versatile in every genre, artists should focus on what they excel at, as this increases their chances of finding suitable sync opportunities.

Sorting Your Splits

For artists involved in co-writing, it is crucial to sort out split sheets, which specify ownership percentages, before pitching music to potential clients.

In-Context vs. Out-of-Context Uses

When it comes to music licensing, it's important to distinguish between in-context and out-of-context uses. In-context uses refer to instances where music is directly integrated into a visual medium, such as a film, TV show, or commercial, and plays a significant role in enhancing the overall storytelling. In these cases, the music is synchronized with the visuals to create a cohesive and immersive experience. Music supervisors and creatives are often on the lookout for songs that can seamlessly complement and enhance the mood, atmosphere, or narrative of a particular scene. These types of sync placements can have a substantial impact on the success and exposure of a song or artist.

On the other hand, out-of-context uses involve the utilization of music in a standalone manner, where it is disconnected from any specific visual medium. This can include music played in public spaces, retail stores, restaurants, or even as part of a compilation album. Out-of-context uses are typically licensed for background or ambient purposes, aiming to create a particular ambiance or enhance the overall experience for the audience without a direct connection to specific visuals or storytelling.

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Exclusive vs. Nonexclusive Licenses

Another important consideration in music licensing is whether the license granted is exclusive or nonexclusive. An exclusive license grants the licensee (typically a music supervisor, production company, or brand) the sole right to use the licensed music for a specific project or duration. In this case, the licensor (the artist, songwriter, or rights holder) agrees not to license the same piece of music to any other party during the exclusivity period. Exclusive licenses often command higher fees or royalties due to the limited availability of the music.

On the other hand, a nonexclusive license allows the licensor to grant multiple licenses for the same piece of music to different parties simultaneously or at different times. Nonexclusive licenses are more common in the music licensing industry and can offer broader opportunities for exposure and revenue. However, it's important to note that nonexclusive licenses may come with certain limitations or restrictions, such as geographic territories, usage restrictions, or limited duration.

Artists and rights holders need to carefully consider the implications of exclusive and nonexclusive licenses. While an exclusive license may provide a higher upfront fee and potentially stronger promotion, it restricts the artist's ability to license the same music to other projects simultaneously. Nonexclusive licenses, on the other hand, allow for greater flexibility and the potential for multiple revenue streams but may dilute the exclusivity and value of the music.

It's important for artists and rights holders to assess their goals, consider the specific terms and conditions of each licensing opportunity, and make informed decisions based on their individual circumstances and career objectives.

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