Insights & advice from a professional who is a part of a team that has granted over 5,000 sync placements Worldwide!
BUT FIRST, WHAT IS A SYNC PLACEMENT?
Sync licensing refers to the use of music in visual media such as TV, film, advertisements, trailers, or video games. It describes the synchronization of audio and visuals. Sync licensing has become a broader term that encompasses the process of finding sync opportunities, pitching songs, negotiating terms, and getting paid. Sync placements can help increase an artist's reach and awareness by providing a platform for their music to be heard by a wider audience.
Josh Briggs got his start playing bass in punk bands. He’s worked in the music industry for over 15 years employed at some noteworthy establishments including Capitol Records, ASCAP, and now Terrorbird. His focus has always been on music publishing which sync licensing is a major part of. Josh along with his team at TerrorBird - a music marketing and sync licensing company - are responsible for thousands of placements for hundreds of artists. If there’s anybody to ask how to score a sync placement, it’s this guy!
ROLE OF A MUSIC SUPERVISOR
Can you describe the role of a music supervisor?
A music supervisor's job can involve many different tasks. On the film and TV side, they work in post-production and act as a liaison between the producers of a show and the music industry. This can include being a creative advocate for the music, as well as handling business affairs such as clearing music and negotiating fees and rates. In some cases, they may also need to inform people that certain music is not available for licensing and search for replacements. The common misconception about music supervisors is that they just make mixtapes and create soundtracks for films, but their job involves much more than that.
MOST COMMON TYPE
The bulk of the sync licensing industry is centered around TV, with advertising coming in a close second. TV typically has more individual music needs per episode than commercials, while advertising (including trailers and promos) may be on par with the TV industry as a whole. But TV takes the cake, for sure.
MOST COMMON GENRE
Is there a specific genre that outcompetes or is looked for the most?
Pop music. People want popular music, it’s popular for a reason. It’s the hits, memorable songs that are lyrically relevant and sound current or sound like they’re from a certain era, time, and place. That’s the majority of licensing, but it doesn’t mean that’s all the music that gets licensed. We’re (Terrorbird) looking for developing artists, left-of- center voices, and people who are doing their own thing. It’s really about finding the right sync for the right artist and matching those projects together. It doesn’t mean you should go out there and start making pop music. However, if your music doesn’t sound like what’s currently popular or does not meet current production standards for audio quality, it may be harder to find a place in sync. It's important to manage your expectations but understand that there is a place for every type of music, every piece of music out there, right now.
LEAST COMMON GENRE
Is there a genre that is least asked for?
In my experience, we don’t see a lot of Country. But the biggest thing is library music, music supervisors are huge music fans so they can smell bullshit. It’s a mistake to try to make music that is specifically tailored to sync licensing because music supervisors can tell, it’s quite obvious when an artist is trying to be the "flavor of the week." It’s not a good use of time to make a copycat album based on songs from different ads, trailers, or TV shows you’ve heard. That, and certain types of genres, such as techno, electronic, and metal. Some very specific genres of music in that way tend to be used as a caricature when it's used in film and TV, and do not get licensed as often. It’s easy to create and to find a facsimile for it. You rarely hear the biggest artists, even being licensed in those spaces, let alone the up-and-comers. It's probably the biggest challenge because it tends not to be taken as seriously in the sync space. And I'm not really sure why that is, but it is.
RECOMMENDED ROUTE FOR ARTISTS
Is there a recommended route artists should use when first starting out in the industry?
To succeed in sync licensing, it can be helpful to look for artists who are a step or two ahead of you in their careers and see how they got there. This can provide a roadmap for your own career, and help you understand what steps you need to take to reach the next level. Paying attention to what shows and movies artists you admire are appearing on can also be helpful, as it can give you an idea of where to focus your efforts. If you see an artist you idolize on a show or in a movie, and they are represented by a particular rep or publisher, it can make sense to reach out to that rep or publisher and let them know that you make music in a similar vein. This can help you get started on the right path. The path has already been laid out, you just have to go find out what it is.
ADVICE FOR A GREAT PITCH ROLE OF A MUSIC SUPERVISOR
Can you give advice for a good pitch?
Keep it personal, short, and sweet. We can always ask for more or seek out information on our own. Generic emails that are sent to multiple people at once are not as effective, tailor each email to the specific recipient. It’s important to even just change the opening sentence, make sure you spell the recipient’s name correctly, and if you can reference a reason why you want to be there. Mention why you are interested in working with the rep, such as a shared interest or connection with an artist on their roster. If we see you’re friends with an artist on our label, we’ll go verify that and ask about your music firsthand because their opinion matters a lot to us. On the other hand, if you genuinely have a unique sound that is unlike any artist(s) on the roster, mention that. It might be that you're the odd person out - that you are something different for them to be able to put forward for sync opportunities that they don't normally get to pitch for. Additionally, letting the rep know where you are from can be beneficial, as geography can be a factor in certain opportunities. Geography matters because certain cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Austin have a lot of production. A music supervisor might need music from a certain area, it's always helpful to know where you're from. Location can be the difference maker between pitching one artist over another.
[ Music supervisors are currently looking for the Bay Area sound, learn how to start pitching your music today ]
ADVICE TO BREAK THROUGH THE INDUSTRY
What's your best piece of advice for artists trying to break through into this industry?
One of the most important pieces of advice for anyone looking to break into the music industry is to build a community, it is important to work with and support other musicians. No person is an island, I think that’s very true in music. Opportunities often come through connections and building a network of friends and colleagues in the industry can be beneficial. If you feel like you’re unable to or don’t have local connections, you can very easily build connections online. Many artists have said, "their DMs are open," you might be surprised with whom you can connect with in a meaningful way, whether it’s just to say “Hey I like your music or let’s do a show together, let’s collaborate, would you ever want to topline something, or feature on this track of mine, etc.” You'd be amazed at how many people will say yes because creators believe in other creators. Everyone can learn from everybody. Trying to operate within a vacuum is a mistake. It is important to connect with others in the industry to succeed.
THE BIGGEST MISTAKES ARTISTS MAKE
What are some of the biggest mistakes artists make when approaching the sync placement industry?
Trying to be all things to all people is one of the biggest mistakes that artists can make. And we've even been victims of that, we try to have a diverse roster, and have as many different sounds as we can for all the assorted needs of various music supervisors. Instead, it is better to focus on doing one or a few things well. I’ve had conversations with music supervisors where they’ve essentially asked us to even put our composer clients in a box. This is because music supervisors often have to deal with thousands of artists, and it is easier for them to work with specialists who excel in specific areas. Additionally, artists who try to show the range of their skills may not be as good at any one thing as a specialist would be. It is important to identify what you are good at and focus on that in order to be successful. Somebody actually reached out to me this morning saying, “Let me know if you need anything.” I was like, “Well, I don't need anything, I need very specific things at very specific times."
EXPECTED PAY CHEQUE $
How much money can musicians typically expect to make once they get their music into film or television?
Sync licensing fees for television placements can vary widely, but on average they fall in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. This fee includes both the master license fee (paid to the record label) and the sync license fee (paid to the publisher). If a musician is self-published and self-released, they receive the total fee. However, sometimes the fee may be lower, and in those cases, a representative can help negotiate a fairer price. One of the greatest benefits of a rep is saving you from yourself when you don't want to ruin a relationship with a music supervisor who reaches out directly. If you trust the people who are representing you, you should trust that they're not going to try to sink a deal or sabotage so trust that they can vet that fee and get it up to something reasonable. Additionally, there may be performance royalties for the show once it airs.
MUSIC ATTORNEY RECOMMENDED
Do you recommend musicians hire/contract a music attorney to go over their potential sync placement deals?
It definitely doesn’t hurt. Having a music attorney review a sync placement deal is a good idea. If you can't understand the agreement yourself, having a lawyer look over it is a worthwhile investment, as it can provide peace of mind and ensure that the deal is fair. It’s probably only one to two hours of a lawyer’s time. Even if the lawyer doesn't make any changes to the agreement, their opinion can be valuable in determining whether or not the company is trustworthy. This can be especially helpful if you're not familiar with the company in question.
Advice for artists who want to use samples in their music?
Highly discourage the use of samples in the music you’re trying to get placed for a sync project. There ares a lot of risks involved and if not all the music is cleared you are looking at around 6 figure fees in settlements, litigation fees, etc. Nowadays, companies are more litigious than ever. I recommend replacing samples to remove any liability. At the end of the day, if you're manipulating samples creatively it shouldn’t be difficult to outright replace and create your own.
WORDS OF WISDOM
It’s hard to find a place for a beat or instrumental on its own for a sync placement because a lot of it tends to be handled by composers. Music libraries are full of free or extremely cheap instrumentals that are easily accessible and already cleared to use. Full, complete songs that sound upbeat, happier with a memorable hooThere are is what’s getting pushed these days.
Sometimes, sync placements happen first and help jumpstart a musician’s career.
Work as hard as the rest of your team. If you have a great team backing you, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. Make sure to pick a good team.