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Sync Deals – how to use your music in film, TV, games and more!

  • 14 February 2014, Friday
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If you want to use music in visual media like films, TV series/shows, documentaries, video games, websites or advertising, you won’t get very far without a synchronisation licence. However, the process of getting one can be complicated and tedious for clients, as you need to obtain a licence from both the publisher and the owner of the recording rights.

So-called ‘sync deals’ can make a lot of money for rights holders. So how do you actually get one?  


Sync deals in a nutshell

 As we explained in our blog on Music Publishing, the term ‘synchronisation’ simply refers to the combination of moving images and sound. This can be used in films and advertising, in computer games, or on YouTube. A publisher will usually negotiate the fee with each respective client (such as a film producer) in the author’s name, and grant a licence accordingly, based upon the negotiated shares received by each party - also known as pay offs. However, this licence only refers to the composition itself. If the user also wants access to a specific recording, they have to make a separate licencing agreement with the owner of that recording (usually a record label). This means that you usually need to secure two separate licences – one for the composition, and one for the recording - before a song can be used for an advert, for example. If agencies wants to save money, they usually just obtain one licence for the composition, and make their own recording (a cover version) of a song, in order to evade the ‘master licence’.

Here is a short list to remind you of the formats in which ‘synchronisation’ can be applied:

  • TV programmes, documentaries, or series.
  • Films and trailers
  • YouTube clips
  • Business Presentations
  • Advertisting (TV, cinema, internet)
  • Video games (computer games)
  • etc.

    In order for a licence to be approved, agreement from the following parties is required:

  • Publisher [sync licence]
  • Composer (ususally represented by the publisher) [sync licence]

Remuneration (the ‘sync fee’) is negotiated and then paid to the publishers/composers.

  • Recording rights holder (usually labels) [master use]

Another licencing fee is negotiated and paid to the rights holder for the recording used. 

 Crucial info: successful sync deals can make you much more money than physical and digital music sales, and continue to do so over time! Modern DIY musicians should try to get involved with this lucrative way of achieving wealth and success – but how do you go about it?

 Who organises a sync deal?

Up until a few years ago, the active procurement and administration of sync deals was mainly left to music publishers and record labels. Some employees were specifically trained to pitch compositions and recordings, or launch new premium products in connection with major brands. That’s why most record labels still run their own music publishing companies, both on the major and the indie level. However, the internet has opened up lots of new opportunities for modern musicians over the last few years, and new service providers are popping up everywhere. It’s become possible for the smaller players to get a foot in the door with sync deals. Success stories are constantly emerging, although there is also an issue with ‘overcrowding’, due to the growing number of musicians who are offering up their work.

The following parties are involved in sync deals:

  • Publishers (often in collaboration with labels or managers)
  • Managers and agents
  • Digital distributors and aggregators
  • Specialised online brokers like MusicXrayTaxi or
  • You!

Conclusion: flying solo, or finding the right partner? 

 The DIY option

market research

Before you start pitching your tracks, you should make sure you’ve tried to fulfil certain requirements, and considered what sort of product your music would fit with. That’s just the basics – it goes without saying that a care product company wont want a death metal track for their advertising! You also have to be able to offer a high quality product. Every time you make a pitch, whether to a record label or a radio station, you’re competing with the best - and you have to make the grade. Concerning your style, however, remember that indie artists are just as likely to succeed as major acts. TV series are particularly fond of using underground songs, as they often fit perfectly with a show’s aesthetic. There are many styles of music used in this area (just try comparing the music for ‘True Blood’ with ‘Homeland’ or ‘Game of Thrones!’)

Seizing opportunities and networking

It’s always worth actively keeping an eye out for future work. There are still directors out there searching for suitable music for their projects, mainly for indie films. The budget may be small, but your chances are high. As usual, the crucial thing is: networking! If you want to find out more, we suggest that you take a look at our blog: ‘Contacts and Networking in the music industry.’

The producer Joe Solo has recommended the following sites in an extremely interesting video on the topic:


This is when you either get in touch with the relevant contact by email, introduce yourself in person at trade fairs such as MIDEM, or write a letter, in order to actively pitch your music!

We wish you the best of luck! Remember, there are music supervisors in Europe, Asia, and all over the world – so don’t just concentrate on the USA! 


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Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.