How Do I Pursue Sync Licensing Opportunities? (Questions from SXSW, Pt. 2)

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Sync Placements for Indie ArtistsSync placements for independent musicians

HELPFULAW FOR THE INDIE ARTIST is a legal advice column on matters pertaining to the music industry.  If you have a suggestion for a future article that you would like to submit to our columnist, entertainment attorney and indie artist Christiane Cargill Kinney, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below or send them to her at Christiane.Kinney@leclairryan.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @musicalredhead for more helpful indie-artist tips.

To read part 1 in this series (“How Do I Get an Endorsement Deal?”), click HERE.

Exploring Sync Opportunities

Several people asked me how they should go about pursuing sync opportunities.  Obviously, the ability to get sync placements starts and ends with great music that fits with the pacing and visuals of the ad/TV/film/video game spot and doesn’t compete with the dialogue.

Assuming you have the right music, there are a number of ways to explore sync opportunities. You can outsource your submission work to any multitude of companies that have pre-existing relationships with music supervisors and will try to get you sync opportunities for a cut of the action (such as CD Baby’s partner Rumblefish).  You can also write for (or sell/license your music to) music libraries, who carry music catalogues and can generally offer blanket licenses for compositions and recordings based on a high volume business, with rates set based on medium, type of program, broadcast day and time, etc.  If you want to do it on your own though, you need to meet music supervisors who work on shows that fit your musical style, and do your homework ahead of time so you are submitting your music to the right supervisors for the right shows.

At SXSW, there were three workshop sessions with big music supervisors who would listen to a verse and a chorus from approximately 10 different artists per session, then give them feedback on their music.  I was surprised how few musicians took advantage of this opportunity at the festival.  If you have the opportunity to meet music supervisors, particularly when they are willing to give specific feedback on using your music for sync placements, take those opportunities, like a Kardashian takes a moment to stop and vamp on the red carpet.  Supervisors (and their assistants) don’t love cold calls, but an e-mail follow up with “I met you at the blah-blah thing-a-ma-jig” may help get your foot in the door.

Legal Issues Related to Sync Deals

Say you got interest in your song for use in an audio-visual work.  Now what?  At this point, you need to negotiate the terms of a synchronization license for performance of the song, and a master use license as well if they are going to use your recording of the song.  As an aside, master use rights from major labels can quickly exceed a thrifty producer’s budget, which is why you hear so many unknown artists covering a popular song, with sync rights secured from the publisher.  If you own both master and publishing rights, you’re as golden as Liberace’s piano.

The biggest pitfall I see in these deals is someone not understanding the value of their song for a particular medium. When my husband was working at one of the major film studios, he was able to negotiate one of the most popular songs by one of the largest bands in history for $3,500 for use in an A-list film.  When negotiating for music placement in his own indie feature film, one unknown artist expected to get $12,000 for background usage, and missed out on the opportunity to get his song placed as a result.  Worse yet, his unreasonable negotiations burned bridges with people who went on to work for multiple major studios.  If you are negotiating your own deals, you should become familiar with the industry standards to help ground you in reality, or you may end up like a tone-deaf singer without their auto-tune.

All-use licenses for film tend to be the most lucrative for an artist, as they involve multiple rights, from theatrical, TV broadcast, cable/satellite transmission, blu-ray/DVD release, and soundtrack rights. The fees commonly paid for a sync license will vary depending on the type of usage (e.g., film, primetime TV, cable, advertisement, etc.) and how the song is used (e.g., if the song is the focus of a major motion picture, the placement can secure in excess of $100,000, where a piece being used for only a few seconds as background may only be worth a couple hundred dollars).

Many indie artists are approached by indie filmmakers with little to no money upfront for the music budget.  If you want to be a part of a project offering little to no funds, you can limit their use to “festival rights” and lock-in a higher rate if the project receives wider distribution, allowing a win-win for the parties.  As with anything, the best legal agreements clearly define terms.  For example, most people understand “festival rights” to mean screenings at film festivals only, though it’s generally understood that filmmakers can also have special screenings for potential distributors to allow the film to get picked up.  If that is the intention, spell it out in the agreement.  Remember, these are your indie brothers in arms, and part of our greater #indierevolution; revolutions are always more fun to fight with other revolutionaries.

So, here’s the quick recap:

Sync deals can be a lucrative way of licensing your music and expanding your fan base.  One of the major pitfalls in sync licensing is an artist being delusional about how much a song is worth.  A good entertainment attorney will know the value of your song in a variety of mediums.  Become familiar with the industry standards if you are negotiating your own sync licenses, so you don’t miss out on opportunities or burn bridges.

Here’s the quick quick recap:

Be educated about current rates for songs in sync with video.

Here’s the quick quick quick recap (yep, this is called beating a dead horse):

Clear contract, be smart, and get sound advice.

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Wow; when you sum it all up, that’s my exact same advice for hiring circus performers.

And now, here’s some not so quick fine print.

© 2013 Christiane Cargill Kinney.  All rights reserved.  This Blog contains information of a general nature that is not intended to be legal advice and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice.  Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters involving information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced entertainment attorney.  This Blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader of this Blog. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained herein is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. Do you need a quick quick quick quick recap?  Oops, ran out of room, so sorry.  Christiane Cargill Kinney is a Partner and Chair of the Entertainment Industry Team of LeClairRyan, LLP.

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  • Great article! Here at Audio Network we have a program called "Undiscovered" that is a great initiative showcasing new artists. We are currently accepting submissions for an opportunity to be featured on our next Undiscovered album. You can read more about it and how to submit a demo here! – http://us.audionetwork.com/content/whats-new/undi

  • Pingback: Music Publishing Deals for Independent Artists DIY Musician Blog()

  • Hi! I am offered a movie role where I would do live singing on the scene. It’s a low budget feature film and now I am researching to see how much $ can I expect. Any further guidance would be appreciated, thanks in advance!

  • I’m not sure I understand your question. Are you wondering if a licensing agency would want assurances that you own the master/composition before they start seeking sync opportunities for your songs? If so, I think that sounds pretty reasonable to protect themselves.

    @ChrisRobley