How to score sync (and make more money from your music)

What do we want? Sync! When do we want it? Well, NOW of course!

With one of the hottest topics of the day being ‘How the Hell Do You Make Money From Your Music in the Modern Streaming Soundscape’, ‘sync’ or music synchronisation can be a significant source of income for artists. So, just who, when, where, why and how do you score yourself a sync placement?

As the punters at Australian Music Week’s powerful ‘Sync or Swim’ session discovered, having your music synchronised or played with visual media in the form of advertising, film, television and gaming is more important than ever for musicians building a financially sustainable career.

With the panelists reporting from a carton of beer to six figure payments PER placement, synchronisation must surely become one of your key music income stream strategies.

“Artists should consider synch from the first moment they write a song that connects with an audience,” said Source Music CEO, Rob Scott.

“If a song has that response from fans then it will also likely have a similar response from music supervisors and creators/directors looking to use music in their productions.”

While some musicians build their whole career writing explicitly for sync, most performing and recording artists will secure synchronisation placements through a sync agent, an exclusive publishing deal or occasionally, directly with an independent creator.

This raises the question: How do you get a sync agent, publisher or creator to notice your music? One fundamental takeaway across the board was that sync is about so much more than the song. It is about you, as an artist, having not only great songs, but a clear commitment to long-term career development, top-notch organisation and a thriving fanbase.

Probably not the answer you want to hear, but to quote Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.” While you are doing that, here are some things to keep in mind.

How to Score a Placement Through a Sync Agent

A sync agent essentially works for the advertising agencies, music supervisors and directors to find the right song to suit a very specific brief, as well as often representing a catalogue of individual songs.

For Brisbane sync agent, Tyler McLoughlan, there is one key thing her company The Sound Pound is looking for, “Does [the song] fit the brief/the production?” she said.

“There’s no such thing as a song that is perfect for an “insert-brand-here” ad unless the creative is in front of you with an actual ad they’re making and they’re telling you it’s the perfect song for their ad.”

How then, do you get your music considered by a sync agent?

“First and foremost,” Tyler said,

Just do you! Great songs that connect with people attract sync placements – they also get playlisted, written about, and sell tickets and merch too.

When looking for songs to suit her client’s needs, Tyler said for her it isn’t always about current hype and buzz, “I’m often using songs that are many years old, and even songs from artists who are no longer active though still have music floating around my playlists or online in places like Bandcamp.”

Like all things in media, if you are going to pitch to agents like Tyler, “Do your homework in understanding what a sync agent does and the type of productions they tend to work on, and send only appropriate music.”

Be organised before you do that though, “Have instrumental files and download links that can be sent on-the-go ready, be clear on copyright ownership, check emails daily, return calls, have an ABN and a proper invoice system.”

For this reason, Bruce Tweedie, director of advertising specialists Music Mill, is adamant they only source music via agencies and publishers who already have these ducks in a row, “It’s about commercial flexibility – you need to be able to do the deal, make it happen,” he said.

And as for being strategic for sync with your songwriting, Bruce said, “There isn’t much evidence to suggest that you can write specifically for sync. Write from the heart, but write happy songs. Advertisers don’t want songs that make you want to slit your wrists.”

Likewise, when Tyler McLoughlan has advertising in mind, she will “squirrel away tracks with universal/positive chorus lyrics, catchy melodies, distinctive voices, interesting rhythms, grooves, tones and overall vibe.”

Of course, this is just sync for advertising. There are many types of visual media looking for different kinds of music like surfing movies, video games, web series and films from drama to horror, romance and action. The key message here is to understand where your music fits and pitch accordingly.

How to Score Sync Through A Publishing Deal

Where a sync agent tends to operate on a track by track basis, a publisher teams up with an artist to represent a defined body of work over a period of time.

“A publisher should be part of your ‘team’ who helps advise in all aspects of an artist’s career,” explained Rob Scott, “A publisher is more than just trying to secure sync deals.”

With a share of copyright and ownership, publishers have a vested interest in the long-term success of an artist usually signing exclusively over a number of years and will create multiple income stream opportunities from sync to airplay, co-writing, label releases, licensing and so on.

To this end, Rob said, “Publishers and artists should work hard to share information and to build a plan of attack to help an artist achieve their career goals.”

Specialising in performing and recording artists, Rob looks to sign those that have, “great music that can attract fans; determination to continue writing great music; and a realistic understanding of how the business works.”

How to Score a Placement Directly with an Independent Creator

Thanks to the internet, there now exists an incredible array of independent creators, from podcasts to web series, as well as indie filmmakers, all looking to place music in their productions with the big challenge of little to no budget (although not always).

Because of this, syncing music to their work largely becomes a case of ‘who you know’, as the offer tends to be the “carton of beer” variety and opportunity for an artist to be exposed to a bigger audience.

Australian singer/songwriter, Ant Beard recently lent his tune to an independent filmmaker, “At the end of the day, if you have friends who are doing inspiring projects, it’s much better to work with them as opposed to cold calling someone!”

“There is no doubt that I’d recommend it,” he says, “The main thing to keep in mind is that if you haven’t spent a lot of money making and promoting the music or managed to snag an epic deal with an agent, you have to be realistic on what you expect in return.”

For Ant in this case, “The deal was that I trusted him and his taste and let him do what he wanted. That extent of trust then meant he credited the hell out of it and really looked after me.”

Tyler McLoughlan does heed caution, however, to seek advice and pay particular attention to the parameters of your agreement so that the short term benefits don’t exclude you from more profitable placements in the future.

“Nearly every sync I’ve seen where it’s directly from a brand or agency to the artist will not have the correct terms and language included, and it is often ambiguous or for a broader use than the fee should allow.”

So, how do you find these creators? Google. Networking. Research. Discover the kinds of productions your music and brand aligns with, then find the someone who knows someone and pitch accordingly. Or, as Ant recommends, seek to support friends doing awesome creative projects.

In a nutshell, scoring sync isn’t as simple as writing a great song. But then again, nothing is these days, amiright? In order to add this increasingly valuable income stream to your music suite, you must continue to build a sustainable music business founded on brilliant music, a strong work ethic, clear goals and vision, a thriving, engaged audience and the kind of branding that will lead to shared audiences and mutually beneficial partnerships. Because that is what publishers, sync agents and creators are largely looking for in securing sync placements. And, fortunately, that’s what you’re already in the business of creating.

Thank you to Australian Music Week and the ‘Sync or Swim’ panelists included musician Cass Eager, Bruce Tweedie from Music Mill, Source Music CEO Rob Scott, Jane English of Music Sales and independent film director, Jamie Holt. And a big thank you to Tyler McLoughlin of The Sound Pound for your time and expertise and Ant Beard for insight into your personal experience syncing directly with a director.

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