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How to Get Your Music on TV and Film: Sync rights

  • 26 July 2016, Tuesday
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Film roll with popcorn

How do you get your music on TV, film and games? In this series with RipCue Music who specialises in music for the motion picture industry, founder Patrick Niesler talks about:

  • What are syncs and where do they exist?
  • What is the contractual framework?
  • How is the sync right price set/calculated?
  • What should your first sync steps be?
  • What you need to sell a sync license
  • Why a partnership with a music publisher is worthwhile
My name is Patrick and I am the founder of the music publisher and label RipCue Music. We specialize in music for the motion picture industry. Our music is used in television, movies, commercials, corporate films and everywhere creative people want to tell a story in pictures and music.

The area I’m active in is very interesting to independent artists who are focused mainly on selling albums, having a sold-out tour and being commercially successful. Part of this work and the associated use of music are generally referred to as "sync", "synchronization" or "sync right".

I will also give you some tips based on my own experience on what to look for in your sync deals, how to market your music and how to get a deal. In the first part of this series, I would like to give you a closer view of the basics and an understanding of the "sync" area.

What is actually a sync?

Sync comes from synchronization. In Germany it’s also referred to as production right, but the term „sync right” is more common internationally. A sync right gives you legal permission to combine music and audio-visual work.

Two rights are then touched upon when a sync license is issued  - musical copyright and master right / sound recording right. The musical copyright is either granted by the artist himself or by the publisher, and the sound recording right – granted by the artist himself or by the record label.

If you are a 100% independent artist and have no contract with a label, then you have every right to sign sync deals on your own.

If you work with a publisher, only he can sign sync deals because he holds the rights to the composition. The publisher should then market your music for various productions accordingly. He will also negotiate the price and the contractual framework on your behalf.

Where are sync rights used?

Before we move on to the contract terms, it would be a good idea to first clarify where syncs actually happen and where you can find potential sync deals as an artist. Usually this is anywhere music is used. As mentioned in the introduction, this is literally everywhere. Traditionally, the following areas bringing together music and audiovisual production spring to mind:
  • TV productions
  • Film and cinema productions
  • Commercials
  • Corporate films
  • Internet videos
  • Games

Contract terms of a sync deal

If you work with a publisher, he negotiates the sync deal on your behalf. Production music publishers such as RipCue Music usually operate with pricelists. Commercial music publishers and their sync units differentiate license prices not only based on the terms of use, but also on how famous the artist and tracks are. For example, a Robbie Williams track would be more expensive than a track by an indie rock band from Wuppertal, who is "only" regionally known. The terms of use are typical contract terms that determine the price, which usually are:
  • Type of productionWill the music be used for a movie, commercial, corporate film, etc?
  • LocationWhere will the final production or product be used? Only in Germany, in other European countries too, throughout Europe or worldwide?
  • Time
How long will the production or product be used? Is there a fixed term or is it unlimited?
  • Media
Which channels will served? Will the commercial be broadcast not only on TV, but also in the cinema or online? Will the film or cinema production using the music be available on DVD? If it is featured in a company film, will the film be broadcast only on company premises or at expos and on the company website?
  • Format
Will the final production be distributed on a physical carrier, such as DVD or Blu-Ray?

These terms ultimately determine the price of the sync rights, be it based on a fixed price list or not. The music reaches a wider audience in these different ways, and the price increases correspondingly. In addition, of course, a time-unlimited right to use a product is worth more than a temporary one.

Revenue from other rights by means of a sync deal

Apart from the actual license, you can attain additional revenue with a sync deal directly and indirectly. Please keep in mind that the sync right is only the right to combine the music with an audiovisual production. This affects neither the performance right nor the mechanical right. Both rights can generate additional revenue for you through your collecting society. If a commercial is broadcast on television, then you will receive additional revenue. HOWEVER, this only applies if you are a member of a collecting society (such as PRS, GEMA, and BMI). If you are not, then you're letting this extra money just slip through your fingers. Large-scale campaigns can even generate five-digit amounts. Of course, the royalty payouts vary depending on the collecting society.

Exemptions, special rules and traps

To conclude this introductory article about sync, I would like to discuss certain exceptions and special rules that are very important to note and understand, especially if you are solely responsible for your sync rights and have no publisher at your side.

Membership in a collecting society

Your membership in a collecting society (like PRS, GEMA, or BMI) influences the way you deal with sync to a great extent. For example, the Swiss collecting society SUISA regulates the entire synchronization field directly. The same goes for the English PRS. Potential clients contact the societies directly if they want to license a title, and they determine the price of this license based on a price list.

Collecting society framework contracts

Collecting societies often have blanket deals with TV broadcasters that cover all synchronisation rights and render additional licensing unnecessary where traditional TV programs go. However, these framework contracts also entitle you to a royalty payout from other areas, such as performance and mechanical rights.

Custom production vs. synch deal

A synch deal is generally requested for pre-existing material. On the contrary a custom production includes all the rights and therefore no extra costs for sync rights have to be paid.

Sync deal and awarding publishing rights?

I have to mention this point, because anything can happen. A production company or advertising agency might offer you a sync deal, but also ask for part of the publishing rights, especially if you still don't have a publisher. You must give this offer some serious thought. The fact is, your income from the potential collecting societies will be reduced, and your new publisher will control the title sync right too, which will make it rather difficult to license another partner. Definitely a clever way to secure exclusivity.

Why is it a lucrative field?

As an artist or rights holder, you should always take all possible appraisals, terms and conditions of the use of the music into consideration. Although the sync market is very competitive, there are still many ways to get your tracks recognized. Syncs give you a direct source of income independent of your album sales and your bookings. Syncs can also make unknown artists famous overnight, getting an obscure song into the TOP 10. In addition to this, the mix of direct license revenue and royalties from the collecting society is an interesting business aspect.

In the next part, I will show you how to get sync deals, who the right contact people are and why it can be useful to work with a publisher.

Stay Tuned

Patrick Nielser of RipCue music continues his series with parts 2 in the coming weeks.

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