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What Is Sync Licensing? Get The Clarity You Need On Sync

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This is a high level overview answering the question of what is sync licensing?

Post-synchronization is one of the most important and potentially profitable aspects of an artist’s music career. 

Any visual media that contains copyrighted music has a post-synchronization license (also known as a sync license).

What Is Sync Licensing - Everything You Need To Know

Sync licensing includes music that is used in movies, TV shows, commercials, video games, music videos, vlogs, podcasts, audio books and any other visual mixed media like kiosks and instore displays. 

“Going Live” has emerged as a new trend common across social media platforms, adding another form of public performance use to sync licensing opportunities. 

TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae are becoming mainstream celebrities off TikTok song and dance videos, and the platform is quickly drawing the ire of major labels like Universal for copyright infringement issues, when these videos reach millions without the proper music clearance in place. 

To take advantage of earning revenue from the song’s use in media, It’s important to know what percent of the copyright the artist owns along with the label and publisher.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about synchronization licensing, including what it is, the nuts and bolts of how it works, and who can help you get started. 

This guide is an overview of what the sync is, the types of places a song can potentially be placed and who can help that happen. 

What Is Sync Licensing?

A sync license controls the usage of a musical work in film, television, and other video-based media platforms. It’s derived from the “synchronization of music with visual elements” and covers the reproduction and rebroadcast of copyrighted material. This ensures the owners of the copyright will be compensated with a license fee and also collect from the royalties of the media’s broadcast or airing. 

Sync licensing is one of the best ways for an up-and-coming independent artist, producer or music label to generate revenue and expose themselves to new and different audiences. 

Take the band Sofi Tukker, for instance. You may not have heard the name, but you’ve heard the band’s music featured in a variety of Apple advertisements for products like the iPhone X to the Apple Watch.

It’s important to realize artists don’t always maintain their full ownership of the copyrighted material and there are many examples when an artist’s music is licensed or used in ways they don’t approve. 

Ownership of your songs is a relatively new phenomenon in the music industry paved for by many in Hip-Hop, like Cash Money Records, Rocafella Records or No Limit Records. 

There are a variety of ways your music can be used in video recordings, for example:

Film

When a film is made, music is needed to promote in trailers and also in both the film’s score and accompanying soundtrack. Your song can be featured in the opening/closing credits, the film’s trailer, in the background for ambiance, or even be performed by characters on screen in a musical format, like in Sing or Moulin Rouge. This can raise an obscure song’s profile to household name status or reintroduce a golden oldie. 

Television

Music use of course has a long history in TV too (check out SNL’s decades of music performances on YouTube, for starters). 

Or a show’s theme song, like the incredibly popular “Friends” is iconic not just for its characters and style, but it’s use of “I’ll Be There for You” from The Rembrandts’ third studio album, will be forever associated with the show and earn royalties from the show being in syndication. In fact, it’s the most famous single the band ever released. 

Commercials

Commercials are a great way to generate revenue outside of sales, streaming, merch, and touring. Apple has long been on the cutting edge of the marriage between commercials and music, featuring new music in advertising for products from the iPod and iPhone. The company often breaks new bands in its ads, and you’ve likely fallen in love with a song after hearing it in an Apple ad. If not, when you hear it later down the road, it’ll be recognizable. 

Online/YouTube

YouTube and other social media outlets, like TikTok, also must abide by copyright rules (or at least they’re supposed to). This means an artist can expose their music to a widespread audience by a song’s use in an influencer’s channel. Whether that means creating your own video, collaborating on one, or simply including your music as the soundtrack is up to you.

Video Games

There are over 164 million gamers in the U.S. alone, and that audience loves music. Some game franchises, like Guitar Hero and Beat Saber, are targeted directly at hopeful musicians. 

Others, like Madden and Final Fantasy, are known for their booming soundtracks that can break upcoming artists into the mainstream. Whether on a radio station in Grand Theft Audio or a featured song on Just Dance, sync licensing to video games is a big win.

Sports, Politics, and Live Events

Political events and live sports always play music. There’s a difference between the music playing in the stadium for the live crowd and the music being broadcast on TV for that event. Both require a license. 

The stadium simply needs a public performance license to play whatever archive its licensor has if it wants to entertain the crowd. Then there are live performances like the Black Eyed Peas or Hank Williams Jr. singing songs specifically for major sporting events, like Monday Night Football. 

Now that you know what licensing opportunities are available, it’s time to find out who can help you get these contracts. 

Who Can Help Me Land or Enforce Sync Placements?

Protecting your sync rights can be a hassle for indie musicians, especially those working without a record label. You need to find the right people working in the business who are looking for music placements. This is the need to be signed with a Performance Royalty Organization like BMI or ASCAP so in the case someone is using your song it can be identified. 

In addition to having the song copyrighted and being registered with a PRO, you need to deliver a quality mixed and mastered version readily available. You also need to have a general understanding of the elements of a license request:

This will ultimately all factor into your sync fees. 

Of course, if you prefer to focus on the art of making music, you’ll need a team around you who can help out. This includes:

Tapping into these resources will be invaluable in generating revenue as an artist. Artists must be able to diversify the revenue streams and sync is a great one to develop. 

The more popular and prominent music becomes, the higher the fees will demand. In fact, let’s dive into some of the financials.

Where Can You Collect Sync Royalties?

Having the right team and protocols in place is important to be ready for sync opportunities. 

This includes copyrighting your materials, being registered with a PRO, having mixed, mastered, and even instrumental versions of the song, and a generic licensing agreement ready to be adjusted per request. 

Or this can be managed by members of an artist’s team like their manager or the sync department from the label and publisher.

This means you need to depend on the parties above to protect you, and it’s a combination of all of them. Another good tool is the YouTube Partner Program which will automatically tag any videos that use the copyrighted material. 

Once the music is copyrighted it is protected, although new media is always emerging resulting in new types of uses for music. Because of this, major music labels and publishers have ongoing infringement issues with new social media apps like Tik Tok for example. 

These songs will often reach widespread audiences of tens of millions at once, and you can usually have your music attached to an iconic moment in history. 

Recently this happened when Tik Tok user Doggface was skateboarding and drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice while singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” 

This turned into a genuinely viral moment causing the song to get back on the charts after over 30 years since the original release. 

what is sync licensing

Sync licenses will pay fees upfront that will be distributed among the owners of the copyrighted master and the copyrighted composition. Later payments of royalties work the same way. 

Brands often pay big bucks for the right song that sets that perfect mood. It’s time to talk about how much money that really is. 

How Much Money Can Be Made in Sync Royalties?

The value of sync royalties vary wildly, first depending on the popularity of a song or artist and then also the license request mentioned above as how it’s featured, and more.

There’s no gold standard to how much any song can be licensed for, or limit to the factors, so an artist like The Rolling Stones or Kanye West will earn a higher sync fee than a newcomer who’s well known like Billie Eilish or an unknown just starting out. 

Brands has famously spent millions on advertising campaigns that feature well-known songs. Jeep and Imagine Dragons for example and well-known composers, like John Williams and Danny Elfman (who himself started in a rock band, called Oingo Boingo), have built massive success from the catalog of work they’ve produced over their careers that have lasted decades.

Wrapping It Up

Sync licensing may not be the first revenue stream you consider when starting a music career, but it becomes important as the music becomes more professional in production and mix quality. Check the rest of our site to learn more about your other possible revenue streams.

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