What are the best songs for sync licensing?

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Sync LicensingSync licensing can be a tough gig to break into. Because of the way music is used in TV and film (as a support to the action instead of the main event) you really need to think about the songs you submit for licensing opportunities differently from the songs you’re releasing to your fans.

To help you out, I created a free video lesson going through the easiest way for indie artists to break into the world of licensing. But first, check out these four quick tips that will help you figure out which of your songs are the most licensable.

Keep in mind that this is a general guide. Any song, no matter how weird or out there, can get licensed given the right opportunity. But if you’re looking to license in niche markets, you’re going to have to be ready to do a lot of research to find the people looking for your specific kind of music.

Another thing to keep in mind – you should feel no obligation to change your art to fit licensing situations. But keeping these general tips in mind will help you better choose songs to submit to sync libraries and music supervisors.

1. Use Vague Lyrics

If you’re a songwriter, you know that using specific lyrics can really help the listeners visualize and connect with a song. But in sync licensing, this can sometimes work against you. It’s the music’s job to reinforce the mood of the scene and support the action and the dialog. And that means your lyrics need to be relevant.

Think about it like this. If you write a song about going on vacation with your best friend Jane to Nashville, it could only be used in a scene where the main character goes on vacation to Nashville with their best friend Jane. And that’s really limiting. Sure, one movie may come along with that exact scenario – and your song will be perfect – but that’s once in a blue moon.

Let’s look at it another way. A song about the lonely life of a rock climber can only be used in rock climbing movies and shows. But a song about loneliness can be applied to any number of scenarios. The vagueness can make a song more adaptable, and therefore, more licensable.

2. Focus on Common Themes

Think about all the common themes you see in movies and on TV. You know – love, heartbreak, suspense, break ups, revenge, and triumph over a big struggle. These are all plot lines you see over and over again.

Filmmakers will come back to these themes because they work. And that means there will always be a market for music that supports these themes. Hollywood’s seeming fascination with breakup stories means that there’s probably someone looking for something just like your song “We Broke Up” right now.

3. Avoid Explicit Lyrics and Content

Film and TV have to adhere to pretty strict age ratings. Too much swearing or adult content in your lyrics could restrict you to sync licensing in R-rated movies only.

If you don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of your art but still capture a bigger section of the licensing market, you could create clean versions of your songs to submit for sync opportunities.

Another thing to keep in mind – if you are submitting your music to companies like Disney, it’s a good idea to also submit written-out lyrics. Supervisors working on content for younger audiences have to be sure the music they license is appropriate, and written lyrics are definitely a big help.

4. Use Your Back Catalog

Unlike the music industry, where the newest top 40 music rules the mainstream market, the world of sync licensing knows no time period. Music supervisors aren’t looking for music that is popular, they’re looking for the best song to support the scene, so don’t be afraid to submit your older songs. A great sync placement can also help reinvigorate interest in your back catalog and drive sales and downloads!

If you want to learn more about music licensing, check out this short free video lesson. If you watch the whole lesson, you’ll get a secret free ebook with even more insider information on what music supervisors look for in music they license.

Author bio: Dave Kusek is the founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music book, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.

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  • These are great tips! I especially like the one about using your back catalog. Sometimes music supervisors are looking specifically for recordings that sound like they come from an earlier era (like 70s or 80s), so even much older recordings can be marketable. Also important to note is that the publishing rights should be clear, as licensing a track directly from an indie artist can be a big advantage when compared to licensing a track from a label or other publisher.

  • Absolutely. A few of the recent sync placements we’ve secured for artists were for songs recorded in the 60’s and 70’s.

    @ChrisRobley