[This post is written by guest contributor Andy Lykens.]
Most musicians know that landing a sync license for a song is a great way to generate immediate income, garner attention from a large audience of viewers, and collect attractive performance royalties over time. But what does the back-end really look like when you get a song placement in a commercial?
What is Sync Music Licensing?
First, if you don’t already know, a music synchronization license is when your song and sound recording get used in a TV show, video game, as music for a commercial, or is attached to any sort of media with moving picture.
Why is Sync Music Licensing Great?
Once your song gets used you get paid an upfront fee. Also, every time it airs on television it generates performance royalties (collected and distributed by a performing rights organization such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC).
Another great benefit is that your music is exposed to a large audience of people who may or may not already know about you. Now that we’ve taken a look at the basics, here’s my story of how a song placement in a commercial drove a huge new audience of listeners.
My job is to pitch songs to be used in commercials. This happens in any number of ways: it can mean simply sending out our new releases to my stable of clients (ad agency creatives, producers, and music producers) or taking people to shows, and it often involves direct communication about specific commercial needs.
In this case, I received a creative brief from the ad agency and was asked to put together some ideas of songs that might work for the spot.
A creative brief can involve storyboards, a rough cut, or simply a script. In this case I was sent the story boards (essentially a PDF file with images attached to a script) revealing two people getting steamy at home. The ad was for a new Trojan product.
The tricky part about responding to briefs is that a good amount of knowledge is needed:
- Being able to translate what they say into musical ideas
- Knowing the song catalog you’re working on
- Having a solid grasp on general musical principles that work well in advertising
The terms that stuck out in my mind were “smoky” and “sensual.” I’m really fortunate because I get to work with a huge catalog of songs – many of which are standards or classic songs. You may think it is fairly simple to get them licensed frequently, but often the songs sound too dated and therefore miss the mark on the creative ask.
For this reason, we often work with labels or use our own in-house production team to create new versions of standard songs. These reworkings can mean a whole new take on a song musically. That new sound can also lend new meanings to lyrics. Lucky for me, we had one such recording delivered of “All Shook Up,” the classic Elvis song.
When I first heard the new rendition of “All Shook Up,” I actually didn’t think it had much of a chance of getting licensed. It was slow and fairly dark which tends to be the opposite of music that works well for commercials. However, when I saw the brief, I knew it would be an excellent fit.
The agency agreed with me and we ended up licensing the song in about a day – which is lightning speed for a creative decision to be made alone, not to mention getting all the necessary approvals and negotiating the licensing terms.
So what were the results of the placement?
Aside from the fee for the song, we also saw an amazing burst in download activity. The spot started airing in April and in a couple of weeks was trending on the iTunes Top 200 singer-songwriter chart. I believe it debuted around no. 157. As the commercial continued to air, it continued to climb the chart, hitting number 42, and eventually peaking at no. 10 (it’s still sitting at number 18 5 months later)!
This was such a pleasant surprise for the master owner of the song. Due to the commercial’s activity on-air it was downloaded over 10,000 times in the first 6 weeks of broadcast. This means a significant amount of income and lots of new fans of the artist from after-the-fact activity. The commercial is slated to air for a full year.
What does this mean for DIY musicians?
1. Just because you didn’t write “All Shook Up” doesn’t mean you can’t see the same type of success from pitching your music for commercials or having someone do it for you. Think about how many times you have seen music on TV or in a commercial. Even if you had 10% of the success of “All Shook Up,” you would still see 1,000 downloads of your song.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of tastefully covering one of your favorite songs. My personal view is that if you have done tons of writing and editing to hone your own sound, there’s no reason not to include a song or two you absolutely love, shaped in your own style, on an upcoming release. Obviously you need permission to use the song, but luckily that’s a mechanical license away (or contact the publisher of the song directly).
If you do create a cover, it may be worth sending your version to the music publisher of the song once it’s complete. I love having well-produced new versions of our songs because as you can see, you never know exactly what a client will need musically!
Have you ever had any covers considered for use in tv, film, a commercial or video game? What would 10,000 iTunes downloads mean for your career in music? What do you think of this version of “All Shook Up“? Let me know in the comments!
Author Bio: Andy Lykens is a music licensing and music placement expert. He is responsible for landing music in commercials for Google, Monster.com, Trojan, and Apple as well as in conjunction with brand projects at Bose, Kohler, and American Airlines. Please visit andylykens.com to read more about music licensing, placement, and branding.
Curious about how royalties work when your songs are licensed for film, TV, or commercials? Download our FREE guide:
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