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The perfect fit: an introduction to music synchronisation

Tip Published Sunday 22 July 2018
The Sound Pound brought YesYou and Weis together to create a musical fruit salad, if you will.

Music synchronisation, or sync as it’s commonly referred to, can be a lucrative income stream for songwriters and composers. Essentially, a sync is created when music is combined with a form of visual media such as a video. For music creators, the most common sync opportunities arise in film, television, advertising and gaming.

Landing a great sync can be a game changer, and many songwriters have experienced considerable success thanks to the right syncs. As we’ve previously explored, music publishers play a key role in finding syncs for songwriters, but there are others who also specialise in bringing together music and visuals.

Jen Taunton is a music supervisor who has worked on campaigns for big brands, films and TV shows with music supervision company Level Two Music. Jen also formed sync agency Midnight Choir to work directly with a roster of independent Australian artists and help them access sync opportunities in the USA.

Tyler McLoughlan runs sync agency The Sound Pound, and is a music copyright specialist. Like Jen, she represents independent artists and composers and, similar to a publisher, works to place their music in ads, TV and film, primarily in Australia.

“People commonly assume we’re a publisher, though we cover just one of the functions of a publisher. There’s no development or royalty collection involved for instance,” says Tyler of the difference between sync agents and music publishers.

“Publishers often pay an advance to a songwriter in exchange for controlling their copyrights for a long term,” explains Jen further.

“Generally the agreements that sync agents offer are more flexible, short term and better percentage rates compared to publishing agreements,” says Jen. “But I’ve seen some pretty terrible offers from sync agencies, so they are not all the same. Make sure you do your research,” she advises.

When a work is synced, there are two copyrights that need to be cleared – the master sound recording (which may be owned by a record label if there is a deal in place) and the composition (which may be administered by a publisher if there is a deal in place).

Sync agencies often represent both of these copyrights, which means a client can negotiate a licence for both copyrights directly through them.

On the flip side are music supervisors, who source music for TV, films, ads, docos and games, and then license it from copyright owners or their representatives. Their clients can be anyone from a production company through to a brand looking for music that’s a good fit for their product.

Supervisors may share music briefs with labels, publishers and agents who will in turn pitch music and song ideas that fit the brief. They can also work directly with songwriters and composers, and Jen says this relationship can work in a number of ways.

“Music supervisors may be asked to suggest composers to directors or producers to write and record the soundtrack for a film, TV series, commercial etc. From a financial and a creative point of view, it’s very common for any long form project to have a composer involved,” she says.

“Also, when either the budget doesn’t extend to license a song or the perfect song cannot be found, songwriters or music producers may be commissioned to write and record a song that fits the brief.”

Jen worked on this Strongbow commercial featuring New Zealand band The Naked and Famous' song Young Blood. "I was driving home from the office. I heard this track on FBi 94.5 and knew immediately ‘this is the track for Strongbow’."

Much of Tyler’s work at The Sound Pound is within the advertising space, and she works with both pre-existing songs and new commissions. She says that many factors come into consideration when determining what to pitch for an ad, including the budget, brand and terms of use. Quick turnarounds are often required, and there is a lot of back and forth before a song is chosen.

“There’s a lot of playlisting involved, and for the most part the writer/artist won’t know they’re being pitched at the initial stage unless it’s a brand that may require checking, eg fast food advertising is sometimes an issue for vegetarians,” says Tyler.

“It depends on the job and level of communication from the client as to when the conversation with the writer or their rep begins – loads of songs get pitched and ditched from playlists for every job, so it’s usually not until it’s looking serious that usage details are discussed and worked through. The golden rule for writers/artists is to never spend the money in your head before a licence is signed!”

In terms of fees, there are again many variables that determine how much a creator may be paid for a sync.

“While we have a bit more flexibility on fees in working with independents, a budget may not be feasible for a track getting radio traction from a band with five members and a manager. But it might work for a self-managed solo artist who needs to fund their next record,” says Tyler. “It’s still hugely important to maintain the value of music licensing for everyone by working to minimum fee benchmarks.”

When it comes to negotiating sync deals, particularly for writers without a label, publisher or sync agent, Jen says it can be tricky to know who to trust.

“There are a lot of fantastic, honest, up front music supervisors who will present the best possible terms and fee to an artist, and then there are others who might push for terms that aren’t necessarily fair. You can ask other musicians or friends in the music industry if you are unsure,” she suggests.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the artist or writer if they want to do the deal. There are other factors to consider above and beyond just the sync fee. For example, TV commercials will generate broadcast royalties every time the spot is played on TV, and they can add up and be significant extra income, especially in Europe (writers receive this income via APRA AMCOS).

“Landing a promo on TV can be great additional marketing for a song if timed right,” Jen says.

The sync effect

Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream

Some eight years after Empire of the Sun released their single Walking on a Dream, the track stormed the US charts in 2016 – all thanks to its use in a commercial for Honda.

Walking on a Dream topped the Billboard and Clio Music’s Top Commercials chart for months, and became one of the year’s most Shazamed tracks in the US. This generated significant digital single sales and streams, and lead to a highly coveted performance on Ellen.

“The timing of this was perfect, coming into the release of their new album and single,” says Damian Trotter, Managing Director of the band’s publishing company Sony/ATV Music Publishing Australia who secured the placement through their commercial team in New York.

“It’s stories like this that really highlight how powerful a tool synchronisation can be in the way people discover (or perhaps re-discover) music and the undeniable influence this can have on the overall success of an artist.”

Empire of the Sun are no strangers to the impact of sync, having topped the charts in Germany back in 2008 with their song We Are The People which was featured in a Vodafone commercial.