If you’ve ever watched a popular TV show, sat through a great trailer, or enjoyed a film and wondered how to get one of your own songs onto the soundtrack, you are not alone. Many artists, from singer-songwriters to rappers to post-rock bands, dream of a plum song placement in a prominent television show, film, game, or advertisement. After all, a sync license (short for “synchronization license”) is a means of earning several thousand dollars without ever having to unload a drumkit from a van.
Getting an indie band placed in a hot TV or film property is, for the most part, a matter of nuanced networking, negotiation, and marketing. Even though music supervisors are often some of the most passionate supporters of independent music, most soundtracks do not solely consist of great original tracks from eager, deserving, and totally unknown indie artists. A recognizable song or artist is often a necessity or more justifiable spend for projects that use the song for a historical reference, reference the song as a cultural touchpoint, or just benefit from the recognizability of an iconic or hot new song.
That said, even when an iconic song is the right fit, the corresponding iconic recording of that song might not make it into the final cut. Sometimes a director will decide that the well-known song is overused or, often, not worth the price tag. Sometimes the song is perfect, but the original recording seems dated or not quite right for the ad campaign: wrong genre, wrong style, wrong decade, wrong gender of vocalist. In those instances, sometimes someone from the crew (i.e., the music supervisor) will gently suggest a compromise: license a cover version of the iconic song.
Searching for a cover song is a nearly unavoidable part of being a music supervisor. The first step is reaching out to a network of reputable catalog reps to solicit pitches that will clear for the relevant fee and the terms. The second step is loading up Spotify or iTunes to see what comes up when you search “Fade Into You” or “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” and then figuring out if it might be possible to get a same-day answer on licensing from the relevant artist or label.
If a music supervisor is searching for a cover song in Spotify or iTunes, it benefits you, the independent musician, when your version comes up in the search results. If your version works, the music supervisor will need to secure a sync license from you for the use of your recording and a separate license from the publisher that owns the song. Even if your version doesn’t end up getting used, someone in charge of creative ended up seeing your name and probably listened to your music. If you end up in enough searches, get name-checked in enough articles and turn up in enough direct pitches, you will eventually find a way to cut through the noise. And as the highly licensed artist Digital Daggers can attest, one good sync placement often paves the way to another, so make sure sure that your contact information, or the contact of someone who can speak on your behalf, turns up quickly in the Google search results.
To make it possible for the music supervisors of the world to stumble on your cover song, start by making your cover song available on iTunes, Spotify and other music stores.
Thanks to a recent partnership between CD Baby and Loudr, it’s now much simpler to sell and distribute cover songs legally, which means that you may end up finding an audience that you never expected. Your version of “Take On Me” might win you new fans and end up earning you more than that wedding gig you played last month in New Jersey.
AUTHOR BIO: Annie Lin is senior counsel at Loudr. She’s also a former touring musician and CD Baby artist who has worked in music supervision and licensing for more than a decade. When she’s not working at Loudr, she can usually be found at a rock show or record store in San Francisco.