What is Sync Licensing and How to Boost Your Career With It

Sync licensing: Everyone wants it. Everyone sort of knows what it is. But not everyone has a black belt in Sync-Kwon-Do. Luckily for you, TuneCore employs some synch licensing and placement masters who can break it all down for you.

Here are some of the most important concepts you’ll want to know when licensing your music for sync.

What Do Sync Licensing and Sync Placement Mean?

Sync refers to synchronizing music (a composition and sound recording) to a moving image.
When you hear people talk about a sync deal or "pitching for sync," they are talking about the prospect of having their song selected and licensed for a visual project (think TV, films, commercials, video games, and more).

A sync licensing agreement, then, outlines the terms by which a song can be synchronized with a moving image. This is also called sync placement.

How Sync Licensing Works

Your song can be selected and licensed for sync in several different ways. For example:

  • A music supervisor, the person responsible for selecting music for visual productions, may already know of your work and think it's a good fit for their movie. They would contact you or your publishing administrator to procure a license and use your song.

  • Your publishing administrator may have a sync team that proactively pitches your music to their network of music supervisors.

  • You may hire a sync agent whose sole task is to procure sync deals on your behalf.

These and several other methods get you from point A to point B. But then what? How do you get paid, and how much? Is the license agreement you enter exclusive? And how do you know the terms are fair? These are all things you should be aware of when it comes to sync.

Making Sync Licensing Worth It

Say a music supervisor reaches out to you wanting to use your song in a new TV show. They will propose certain terms of use for your song (the composition and its recording), including a description of the scene in which it will be used, language surrounding exclusivity, budget, and any other details for how they want to use it. You and your attorney will review and ultimately agree on terms and a sync fee that works for you. For instance, a typical sync licensing fee for a song used in a TV commercial can range from $**** to $****, depending on factors such as the prominence of the brand and the duration of the usage.

Suppose you, your lawyer, or your publishing administrator know what fair terms are and can negotiate these areas expertly. In that case, monetarily sync licensing can be worth it and yield exposure to new fans.

How to Get Into Sync Licensing

"Getting into sync licensing" presents a dilemma for artists. Yes, it's a goal you can pursue as a musician, but you can only take a few concrete steps to achieve it. You can send your songs to music supervisors, but they only sometimes accept submissions. You can (and should) improve your presence on social media so that music supervisors can learn more about you and your work, but there's no guarantee they will find you. Most frustratingly, you can try and write a "commercial" song, but "commercial" songs aren't always the ones that get synced. A few years ago, no one would have guessed that hardcore bands could soundtrack Taco Bell ads. Times have changed.

The simplest way to get into sync licensing is to work with a publishing administrator since publishing administrators (like TuneCore Publishing) work with companies and individuals who license songs, plus work with Performing Rights Organizations that collect royalties on your behalf.

Let's break that down further.

How to Make Money with Sync Licensing

To make money with sync licensing, your work must get licensed. That’s step one.

Step one, unfortunately, isn’t a given. And how much you can make from sync licensing depends on a wide range of factors. Here are some of them:

  • Territory – how many territories around the world will this sync be legally binding in?

  • Timing of sync – is the sync five seconds long? Is it an entire song’s length? This is a factor that can greatly affect how much an artist gets paid for their sync

  • Type of sync – is the song an instrumental? Is it background music or clearly heard in the scene’s foreground? (ex: the J Cole song “Adonias Interlude,” which plays over the training montage in Creed III) Does it play over the opening or end credits?

Once factors like these have been negotiated, the owners of both the sound recording/master and composition must grant permission for use (i.e., license) of their work within the visual project, typically for a one-time fee. This one-time fee is commonly referred to as a sync fee.

A sound recording/master is a recording of a performance of a composition. A composition is any music as it exists as a piece of intellectual property. The melody, progression, lyrics, rhythmic pattern, or any combination of thereof would be considered a composition. This one-time fee is commonly referred to as a sync fee. In some cases, when the visual project is broadcast or streamed, the song earns performance royalties. These royalties are collected by your PRO (Performance Rights Organization), which is a company that ensures songwriters and publishers are paid for the use of their music, and your publishing administrator, who manages the rights and royalties of your music, after the fact as well.

Start Sync Licensing with TuneCore

Working with TuneCore or a publishing administrator doesn't guarantee you'll get synced. But hard work, a strong online presence, and industry know-how ensure you'll maximize your chances and get paid the royalties you deserve when the syncs start happening.

If you want to hear your music on the big or small screen—or scoring the sorts of video games your peers and family love—you've taken the first step, which is empowering yourself with knowledge.

We can help you take the next ones.