Sync Licensing- Hidden Revenue Streams for Your Music

January 9, 2012{ 46 Comments }

What is sync licensing?Nowadays, independent artists are earning money with their music from revenue streams outside of normal sales from an album release (CD and download sales).

Over the past decade, many traditional sync licensing opportunities (film & TV, games, and commercial placements) have opened to indie musicians. Sync licensing is a lucrative and growing business, with over 10,000 music supervisors and more than 250k licensing requests sent to labels each year.

But the future for indie artists isn’t just in traditional sync opportunities; there is also money to be made from social media music licensing. With 2 billion internet users and 4 billion mobile phone users, plenty of people are looking for music to use in conjunction with their video and photo uploads, apps, presentations, and games. That opens BILLIONS of new licensing opportunities for you. 

So, what is synchronization licensing?

In music industry terms, “synchronization” is the process of playing an existing composition and/or audio recording in conjunction with a moving picture of any kind: TV show, commercial, film, video game, corporate presentation, YouTube clip, etc. (Or on radio commercials with voice-over).

In order for someone to “sync” a particular composition (the song, melody, lyrics, etc.) to their new project (the show, commercial, movie, etc.), they must get permission from the publisher/songwriter and acquire what is called a “sync license.”

In return, a synchronization royalty (also called a “sync fee” or “licensing fee”) is paid to the publishers and songwriters. This process grants the new content creator the right to use the music and lyrics from an existing song in their work, but NOT the existing audio recording.

For THAT, a person wishing to sync an existing recording to their new content must acquire a “master use” license from the owner of the sound recording (usually the label). In the major label world, the publisher, the songwriter, and the owner of the master recording could all be different entities. If you’re in the independent music world, it’s likely that YOU are all three people in one.

 How to earn money from licensing your music

For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you ARE all three entities in one, and that with one breath you could grant someone permission to use both your song AND your recording in their next project; what do you do next?

Well, you’ve got to find some folks that want to pay you for sync rights, right? And there are several ways to do that:

1) Begin building direct relationships with music directors for TV and film. – This method takes a lot of hustle and networking, since you’re essentially going to have to be a salesperson for your own music.

2) Join a service or list-serv (like Taxi) that posts frequent sync opportunities. – While this approach is simpler on the networking side, it generally requires that you have the ability to quickly compose and record new songs in hopes that they will be the closest fit the music director can find.

For instance, on Monday morning you see a notice that Danny Director wants a 45 second song that sounds like Johnny Cash mixed with NIN. Got that in you somewhere? If so, you could make some decent dough.

3) Find a music manager, label, agent, angel, CEO, or dictator of a small island nation who can muscle their way into the lucrative sync opportunities FOR you.

4) Or,… combine these methods AND let CD Baby do some of the work. Through our new partnership with Rumblefish, (which we’ll be officially announcing tomorrow) we’ll be able to include your music in the database of a great digital music licensing company, making it available for use in film, TV, commercials, video games, etc.

Best of all, this new partnership will ensure that you’re paid for your music’s use on YouTube, which is quickly becoming the world’s most popular place for music discovery.

I hope this overview of sync licensing helps. More details about CD Baby’s Sync Licensing program coming soon!

-Chris R. at CD Baby

CD Baby: offering digital and physical distribution, sync licensing, cover song clearance, disc duplication, web hosting for artists, and just about everything else you need as a DIY musician.


  • I was with you, till you mentioned TAXI

    Lost all credibility on this one

    • Haha. Well, I can't vouch for TAXI on their entire offering of services as I've never personally used them. But I have talked to several people who I respect in the music world that subscribed to TAXI's sync-opportunities list. And they'd used it pretty effectively and made decent money at it. Of course, they also had nice home studios and could quickly run downstairs to whip up whatever was being asked for.

      • I'll vouch for Taxi. The first year felt like Taxi was a big rip off until I realized that my recordings and songwriting really were not at the level required. I took a year off from Taxi to focus on improving my recording and songwriting and then rejoined Taxi. Within the first month of re-joining I had songs being forwarded to music supervisors and producers. And yes, I've met with these music supervisors and producers, they are real people. I do have my own studio built in my back yard but if you are an artist only looking to license your own niche of pre-recorded songs, you're opportunities are going to be very limited. In order to really work in the film/tv market you have to be able to write and record and/or be able to make changes to those recordings very quickly (ie- instrumental versions, 30 second versions, etc). Taxi is not perfect, they are humans just like us who have educated but still biased opinions about what music is "good" for a certain listing. But I believe that they have the best intentions and are always putting themselves out there to answer questions criticisms from the public.

  • Taxi is one of the worst services I've used on the internet. They have a system set up by where they have no accountability. It's truly a shameful site.

  • Linn Brown

    I heard this from Rumblefish last week…I am so happy! Thanks, CD BABY!

  • Tom Dudley

    I don't see any mention of what the license fees are. I realize this may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, but some licensing sites allow the artist to set the license price, or at least see what it will be. This post seems to be assuming that any artist will be happy with any license, regardless of how much they get paid.

    • There are so many licensing opportunities out there, that it's impossible to state up front what they might pay out. If you're someone who has to know upfront, then the micro sync option might be your best option. Then you'll make money from usage on YouTube and won't affect your ability to get placements on Film and TV yourself. More details will be in our FAQ very soon.

  • Anonymous

    There's a great service for composers/music content owners called LicenseQuote. I have an example here, though my web site is in development I have an example of something that was licensed here:… though the upper links are not active yet. See the video on the latter page.

  • Rip

    So, whats wrong with taxi? I have never heard of it

  • That's why I said it takes a lot of networking know-how. Probably not a good option for most folks, though I have had friends that got big placements on their own this way.

  • Yep. There is a kind of "sonic fingerprinting" that occurs and you get paid whenever your music is used on YouTube.

    • Macymalone

      I've been with BMI for 10 years now, had 10s of thousands of plays of my music played on YouTube and have not seen one penny from them. Their "fingerprinting" system is flawed.

  • Paulhuberman

    Fair play CDbaby, great effort and yet another layer of service without asking for something in return. Proud to be in business with you folks.

  • So how does this thing with youtube works ? How do bands gets payed ?We mare a band from Greece and so far , youtube does not allow a youtube partnership for Greek accounts … Is this going to be a problem?

  • GarronT

    Hi JLM,

    You wouldn't reach out to Spielberg, just like you wouldn't reach out to Springsteen to produce your record. There are LOTS of indie folks out there making lots of indie movies. That would be the tree to bark up.

  • Skybearis

    Taxi's expensive. Just like every other way in. Go make more money doing something else. Ooh here's an idea-play music professionally. Oh that's right, you have to be good…sorry….anyone? Exactly. Kids today suck or I wouldn't still be workin at 50. Sure would be nice to find some decent kids that I didn't teach that can handle a gig. Practise! And practise some more, ya entitled little drunk punks. Seriously.



  • Looking forward to learning more. I've been quite happy with everything CDBaby has come up with, so many thanks.

  • You know, I think that's what I love MOST about CD Baby. You guys are always trying to find the next best way to help us indies. Thanks for that – looking forward to hearing about Rumblefish.

  • Starts very soon. Payment will be from CD Baby, added to your normal accounting dashboard.

  • Through a content ID process, YouTube identifies your song as being in the CD Baby catalog. YouTube automatically collects the revenue on your behalf and you will be paid through your CD Baby account. So you don't need to manage any licensing aspect of this. Since your payment is based on ad revenue, the people uploading videos with your music will not be charged by YouTube, so this is a great opportunity to encourage your fans to use your music in their videos. The more videos out there with your music, the more money you'll make!

    • Anonymous

      I dig! Thank you, CDBaby!

  • We will not be making cover songs available for licensing. So go ahead and opt the whole album in, and we'll remove the cover songs for you.

  • No worries there. The payments are based on ad revenue, so the actual person uploading your music will not be charged a fee. In fact, you should encourage more folks to use your music. The more videos with your tunes, the more money you make!

  • But of course.

  • Nope. This deal is non-exclusive too! License away.

  • Sorry. No. If you you have separate instrumental versions, you'd need to sign them up with CD Baby as a separate submission.

  • KC

    Hi Chris, This looks great and would like to read/learn more, but the link you posted here (…), only takes me to the homepage for CD Baby, even when I'm signed in…? Can you re-post the link?

  • Mark

    Really? In the US, "practice" is both. "Practise" is the British spelling. FYI.

  • Cover songs on YouTube is a really grey area. I think the technical answer is NO, but then what accounts for the success of Justin Bieber singing all those cover songs at the start of his career. Personally, I've uploaded several videos of my band performing cover songs and no one has removed them or complained, so… (while this isn't legal advice), you're probably ok.

  • I'll look into writing something, or posting a link to a good article on the topic.

  • Misty Dawn

    Wow! Great move CDBaby! Thank you 🙂

  • Very cool service CD Baby! Just a quick question. I understand you take 50% of any monies generated. As far as any placement outside of YouTube, in TV/Film etc… does CD Baby only take 50% of sync/master fees and the publishing/songwriting will all go to respective parties. Just curious if you are re-titling anything??

    My band is a registered publisher [ASCAP] and have 2 main writers in the band [ASCAP, BMI]. We are also registered with SoundExchange and a few other services too.

    ~ Jarod from AR

    • The 50% is only from the sync/master fee, correct. We don't take anything from performance royalties, which should go directly to the publisher/writer. And we do not retitle anything.

  • Pingback: Make Money on YouTube, Film, TV and more with CD Baby Sync Licensing | DIY Musician()

  • It will create problems for YouTube if multiple agencies are managing your catalog for micro-sync opportunities & YouTube ad-revenue sharing, BUT… the deal is non-exclusive in terms of allowing more than one entity to manage the licensing of your music.

  • Pingback: CD Baby Launches Sync Licensing Service for Indie Artists :: Performer Magazine()

  • Thanks! You'll be paid a share of ad revenue per click for any video, uploaded by anyone, anywhere on YouTube that includes any of the songs you've signed up for CD Baby's sync licensing program.

  • All of that is still very gray in terms of YouTube's policies. But, as far as I understand it, to be totally in the clear from a legal perspective, you need to get a sync license from the publisher, who can charge any amount they wish. No standards have been set. I don't imagine CD Baby will get into this directly, because it requires individual negotiations for every single song (and sometimes songs have multiple publishers). But if another organization like Rightsflow or Rumblefish were to get into that game, we'd definitely partner with them so our artists had an easy solution. As for your suggested solution, paying a lump fee that bundled sync and mechanical, again– you'd have to do that case by case with the publisher. Here's hoping some standards are set soon.

  • Hi Maura,

    Maybe this is obvious, but many of those details depend upon the particular agreement. CD Baby’s sync deal is non-exclusive, so you CAN license the same tracks through a different agency (or try to find placements yourself). The only aspect that IS exclusive is the YouTube monetization stuff. Like, you can have two different companies collecting your ad-revenue for you for music used on YouTube. But in terms of signing an exclusive licensing deal through someone else, I’m not sure what freedom you have in working other recordings/mixes/versions of the same songs. Depends on the contract and whether it approaches more of a publishing deal. As for CD Baby Pro, that wouldn’t interfere with any sync opportunities. Pro simply helps you collect all the royalties you’re owed for performances, streams, international downloads, etc.


  • There’s no single standard for sync deals. If the firm you’re thinking of working with re-titles songs for their placements, then I can understand the 50/50 split (100% of writers share to you/100% of publisher’s share to them). But if they’re NOT re-titling songs, then you do NOT want to sign away 100% of your publisher’s share. 50/50 splits are still pretty common (and often worth it if you get results and placements). But again, I’d be reluctant to sign away your publishing unless the agency re-titles the song for their particular placements.


  • I make a pretty decent living off my music library and I do not use Taxi. None of the agencies or services I use charge a submission fee for an “opportunity”. I wouldn’t recommend any service that asks you for money upfront but hey if it works for you then good for you.