Sync Money – What’s The Real Equation?

At this morning’s panel discussion at UnConvention, a lot has been made of ‘sync licensing’ as a revenue stream.

Sync is the process of getting your music onto TV, Film and Adverts, and is often flagged up as a way of making some sensible money. I certainly know a number of musicians whose careers have been massively boosted by song placement. Clearly, when it happens, it’s good.

But, how do the numbers stack up? I’m not sure – this seems to be the stats that are needed:

Not all syncs are equal - how many are paying ‘top rate’ fees, how many are on some kind of flat rate royalty, how many are outside of the remit of negotiated fees and are actually paying out a much lower level? So how many of the sync opportunities that are out there pay at a level that’s worth the effort to get there?

Then, we need to take the number of sensible paying sync opportunities, multiply it by the number of tracks they use per episode and then multiply that by the number of episodes a year…. Now, how many bands are actively chasing those slots, and how many of those slots are they filling via another channel other than ‘free pitching’ – people just submitting songs, either via some ‘pay to submit’ idea like SonicBids, or via a speculative contact with a music supervisor?

These are the stats that would make sense of whether or not these opportunities are a meaningful part of the wider ecosystem, or a fabulous lottery win for the person who gets there, or maybe even an avenue to target for a ‘career songwriter’ who is happy to target a song at the style of the show in question…

Any thoughts?

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  1. Posted October 2, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    In my experience (not actually mine, but people I know), syncs for major movies and TV adverts have paid well (a few thousand maybe). But they have never come through bands sending demos – they have always come at random, either through randomly talking to people at parties in LA, or in one case a BBC advert placing came through a local BBC Introducing team putting a track forward.

    I’ve been offered a sync recently, for a great indie documentary. I won’t get paid or get any royalties or get much exposure. ;)

    Great if you can get them, but unless you’re moving in the film/tv world (ie. parties) i don’t think it’s a sustainable plan. Nice bonus when you can get it.

  2. Posted October 2, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    How does sync licensing fit in with direct-to-fan communication and pay what you will models?

  3. Posted October 2, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Ben – thanks, wise words.

    Kathryn, I don’t think there’s any conflict, in as much as sync is about usage in a specific environment and not reliant on sales. The argument could certainly be made that the exposure you get from free distribution could put you above the parapet for the people who coordinate sync deals to see what you do… :)

  4. Posted October 2, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Sync fees today are TINY compared to what they used to be although alot of musicians still seem to be chasing that rainbow. A 30 second slot, even on a big TV show might net you $1000 per side (ie 1000 for mechanicals and 1000 for masters), and a major movie will be tens of thousands (unless it’s twilight!). The exposure will be worth much more.
    I’m guessing the drop in rates is because the TV and film industry is going the way of the music industry ie people are streaming TV shows for free, and are able to make movies with a small budget so can’t afford a sync fee (as in Ben’s case above). I’d be interested if anyone had a different thought about that though.
    In advertising, most companies will request a number of musicians they think could match their product to put a song forward, and choose ‘the winner’. This has been a very frustrating and devaluing process for musicians that I know who have gone through this.

    In my experience, syncs are a fabulous lottery win, definately not a planned way to make income in 2010.

  5. Nick Fitzsimons
    Posted October 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I think the amount of graft and seeming “lottery” nature of sync puts a lot of people off. Indeed, the process can be enormously frustrating – the process of matching music to moving image is extraordinarily creative, and prone to last minute changes.

    I’ve been lucky (or unlucky) enough to be a part of 100s of sync processes and each one is unique and payment varies widely but has certainly dropped off in recent years – mostly due to simple supply-and-demand – labels and artists looking for new revenue streams and clamouring for any kind of sync, even willing to get nothing up front because they know there is real money in the performance royalties further down the line.

    So much of a successful sync is luck – knowing the right person, the right time, the right song. But I think it’d be foolish to write it off as too much trouble or too random to not have some sort of sync strategy, or better yet have one of your team develop and oversee one.

    Just as an example – a recent sync we (Penny Black) helped secure quite literally changed a bands career – giving them capital to buy a van, hit the road, finish their record.

  6. Posted October 2, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Nick makes some great points. If you have someone on your behalf working on placements and say taking a percentage fee on any income from them, then that sounds like a great plan to me because the artist has got nothing to loose. If you don’t have someone fighting your corner, it’s a lot of work for a tiny chance of a payoff.
    Nick, I’d be interested to know out of to 100′s of sync deals you’ve been involved with, what percentage had the results like the recent one you mentioned. What the average amount from each sync. (ie approx total earnings/number of sync deal, including the ones that didn’t yield anything).
    It wouldn’t give an exhaustive answer but probably the most accurate one here so far.

  7. Posted October 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Nick/Susan – you two should talk anyway, I’ll put you in touch :)

  8. Posted October 2, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Just like everything else in music, competitive pressure drives down the money to be made. So many artists (both unsigned and on major labels) want the exposure from being in TV and in film that they will accept lower payments than in the past, will often do it for free, and will even go so far as to PAY to be included on a soundtrack.

    I talked to someone who had made a business of placing music from unsigned artists in TV/films in return for a percentage of the fees. By the time I talked to her (which was about 7 years ago) she had already stopped taking on new clients because she couldn’t make any money. The major labels were offering their music for such low rates that she couldn’t compete any longer.