When it comes to the music industry today, sync licensing is where it’s at. Artists, producers, and musicians are able to earn money by making film and tv-friendly music from the comfort of their own homes.
However, the real skill is knowing how to create effective sync music.
In this article, we’re going to go over how you can submit your music to sync licensing companies and pave the path to success as a sync music writer.
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What Are Sync Licensing Companies?
A sync licensing company is a company that helps artists, musicians, and producers synchronize their music with television, film, adverts, video games, trailers, and other visual mediums for money.
Typically, a sync deal is arranged between a client and a music publisher. The client in this situation is usually a film producer or a music supervisor.
A sync licensing company will pitch your songs to a music supervisor or an employee working with the client’s company.
The job of a licensing company is also to grant the music supervisor or film producer a license so that they have the legal rights to use it. They will also use their resources to make sure all the money gets distributed to the right parties (including you!) once the deal goes through.
In essence, a sync company is there to help clients find the best song to fit the visual requirement. Visual media producers have infinite pieces of music to choose from nowadays, so sync licensing companies will help them find music that is a bit more unique and that can be acquired affordably, quickly and legally.
What Are Sync Licensing Companies Looking For?
When writing for sync, you need to approach it a bit differently than traditional writing. There are some very specific things that sync licensing companies look for when it comes to the music they choose to represent.
As a writer, there are three things that you should always keep in mind when writing for sync:
- Use vague lyrics
- Understand common themes
- No explicit material
Use Vague Lyrics
Traditionally, songwriters will use ultra-specific and often poetic lyrics to help their listeners visualize and connect to the song on a deeper level. When it comes to sync licensing, that kind of approach can backfire. Remember, your music is there to reinforce the current scene, supporting it, not distracting from it. The lyrics must be relevant to what is happening in the scene.
A song entitled “Tonight, Tonight!” can be used in millions of scenes. From adverts about an upcoming show to a scene about a bunch of teenagers heading out to a party, the vagueness provides more opportunity. However, while your song “My Dog Scruffy” might hold importance for you, you’d be lucky to find a relevant sync opportunity for it.
Understand Common Themes
In movies, you’ll often find very common themes, including love, celebration, suspense, revenge, and adventure. These pop up almost all the time, which is why you shouldn’t think of sticking with these themes when writing for sync as “cliche.”
For commercials and reality TV, there's a different set of themes. Often things like change, new, colors, and coming together work well for these types of opportunities.
Overcoming adversity is a theme that could work for either style.
But Stay Far From Explicit Material
You might need expletives and explicit material to get your point across in a track and that’s okay. However, when it comes to television and movies, you seriously limit yourself. If you have explicit content that you’ve already written, you may consider creating PG versions when submitting to sync companies.
Besides lyrical themes here are a 5 tips to make songs that sell. And it goes without saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, which is why it's important to have a great intro. Here are 5 tips for attention grabbing song intros.
What Can Do You Do To Impress Sync Licensing Companies?
As you might have expected, it all starts with the music.
If your song isn’t high-quality, nobody will want it. Beyond that, it has to fit the needs of the client. If Gatorade is looking for a high-energy rock track for its next sports advert, your daunting acoustic ballad isn’t going to work, no matter how amazing the song is.
Look into sites like iSpotTV to see what kinds of music advertisers are using in the current market and use those songs as references when you create.
You might also consider creating a sync artist persona.
Many music supervisors are using traditional music libraries less and less these days. Instead, they want music that is unique and was developed by an actual "artist," not someone sitting at a computer and churning out 20 minute-and-a-half tracks in a day.
So create an artist account for Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube and begin uploading your sync music as an artist would. Check out some of the top sync artists in the business for inspiration:
4 Ways to Submit Your Music to Sync Licensing Companies
Now it's time to turn to the nitty gritty. Here are the 4 ways that folks go about submitting their music to music licensing companies:
- Find a sync library explicitly looking for new producers
- Apply to specific pitch requests
- Co-write with someone already working with the library
- Sending unsolicited pitches
Method 1: Find a Sync Licensing Company That Is Explicitly Open To New Producers
One of the best places to start in the world of synch is with a company that explicitly opens its doors to any talented music producer. There are tons of websites like this, including Audiosocket, Music Vine, or Crucial Music.
The beauty of this method is that once you have your music out there, you don’t have to do anything else.
It becomes a waiting game.
These companies will get all of the necessary information from you to categorize your song so that when music a supervisor or film producer comes looking for tracks, they can find yours through an easy selection process.
Of course, one of the major downsides to this method is the easy barrier of entry. Almost anyone that makes decent music can submit their music to these companies and many companies try to extend their reach by creating the largest libraries possible. As a sync music producer, it is very easy to get lost in the mix.
With that said, it still isn’t a bad idea to submit to these companies and allow your music to sit there. Especially when you're starting out with sync licensing, you might not have the skills to try the other methods, but that doesn't mean your music should just sit on your hard drive!
Who knows, someone might come along and discover your needle in the haystack. Just make sure that you don’t sign an exclusive deal with one of these companies, as you’ll lose the ability to shop your music around to another company that might provide you with a better opportunity.
Pros and Cons of Working With Open Libraries
So what are the pros and cons of work with these sorts of "open" libraries?
- Open to anyone
- Typically non-exclusive
- Easy to submit
- Oversaturated market
Method 2 - Find Sync Licensing Company Posts For Specific Opportunities
Another method to pitch your songs is to find sync licensing companies that are making specific posts for specific opportunities. For example, a sync licensing company might open an opportunity for producers to create a song for a new Disney XD show trailer, or a Nike advert.
Typically, these opportunities will come with specific instructions as to what the client wants.
For the Disney XD trailer, a client might say that they’re looking for something childlike, imaginative, and adventurous with a mid-tempo feel, orchestral instruments, etc. Some of these opportunities may even come with timestamps depending on whether the advert, trailer, or scene has already been made.
The great thing about this method is that you get a clear-cut template to follow when writing and producing a song. There’s no guesswork involved or pitching random songs into the ether. If you are well-rounded as a producer, you can find these sites and knock out tracks one-by-one at lightning speed, checking off the boxes as you go.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of producers out there who can do the same thing, and are looking at the same prompt or template. And if your song doesn't make the cut, there's a chance it may be too specific to have a chance to sell to other clients.
The competition becomes a bit more difficult in that sense, as the track you create won’t necessarily have the unique competitive edge that it may have in an open sync licensing company.
However, these opportunities are definitely worth going after, especially if you feel comfortable working in the particular genre or theme. If you’re a killer acoustic guitar player and a sync licensing company posts an opportunity for a 30-second instrumental acoustic advert with Subaru, you could potentially crank out 4-5 tracks to send them, giving yourself more of an advantage over all the non-guitarist producers.
Pros and Cons of Pitching Specific Opportunities
Here are the pros and cons of pitching to specific opportunities.
- More exclusive opportunities than open libraries
- Very specific templates and prompts to follow
- Easier to create something in the vein of what the music supervisor wants
- Higher caliber competition
- Your song might not be easily placed for other opportunities
Method 3 - Co-Write With Someone Who Already Works With The Library
Just because you’re not sending your own individual tracks into a sync licensing company does not mean that you can’t still benefit from a track being in there. If someone already has an “in” with a sync licensing company, you might consider hopping on a co-writing session with them.
Of course, you’ll want to have something to bring to the table, whether it’s your mad production skills, your topline savviness, or your deep well of poppin’ chord progressions.
Otherwise, it might not be beneficial to the other writer to work with you. Decide what your most valuable skills are and approach someone that way.
It can also be helpful if your chosen co-writer has skills you don’t have. If your singing voice breaks glass and instills fear in the hearts of the weak, working with a co-writer that can riff it out and lay down gorgeous harmonies on the fly will be extremely beneficial.
It is also important that you draft up the necessary agreements in the form of a contract. Make sure that you have a split-sheet written out prior to submitting to the sync library. Typically, sync libraries will ask for splits up-front anyway.
You will also likely sign a document that allows that person who works for the sync library to authorize any placements and act on your behalf, as it will allow for more efficiency when placements start coming around.
Pros and Cons of Co-Writes
There are some major pros and cons of co-writes for sync. Here are a few.
- Less work pitching to sync companies
- Get your foot in the door of a successful company
- Less competition
- 50% or more of your earning will go to the other writer if you land a deal
Method 4 - Sending Unsolicited Email With Links To An Available Album
If you’re looking to go guerilla style, you might consider sending unsolicited links to an available album or song that you have online. Before doing this, however, you want to make sure that the person or company you are sending your music to accepts unsolicited links. If not, they will typically throw your strong straight in the digital trash bin, never to be heard from again.
When trying to think of who to send your music to, ask yourself.
Do you know anyone who is a filmmaker?
Do you know someone who works in advertisements?
Do you know music supervisors or sync licensing agents?
Is your brother’s best friend’s half-sister still working over at Concord?
If so, start with these people!
There are some do’s and don’ts when sending your music out this way that you should follow for the best results.
For starters, please never attach MP3s!!!
Music supervisors want quality recordings. That over-compressed, digitally-mangled MP3 version of your track will never be able to give them the whole spectrum of your track and honestly, they’ll probably see that .mp3 at the end of the file and think, “wow, this person doesn’t even care enough to send me a WAV file.”
Secondly, attachments can often trigger spam firewalls. Many email systems, especially for larger companies, won’t accept attachments, meaning your music might not ever make it to the person’s inbox.
Instead, include links to your music using sites like SoundCloud or Dropbox. Have a folder or playlist on these sites with 1-3 relevant tracks. Your recipient doesn’t want to sift through your thousand-song back catalog. Find your best songs and upload both full and instrumental versions of those tracks.
You may even choose to include something in the subject line that gives them an idea of what they are about to open up, such as “Sound Like Black Keys.”
Pros and Cons of Sending Unsolicited Pitches
Unsolicited pitches have some serious pitfalls, but if you're music is good enough, you just might get lucky!
- Easy to pitch to multiple individuals or companies using an email template
- More personal approach to help you stand out
- Allows you to approach those you already have a rapport with
- Not many companies or individuals accept unsolicited emails
Additional Tips for Submitting Your Music to Sync Licensing Companies
Here are a few other tips for improving the chances of getting your songs into music libraries - and getting placements from them!
Networking with People in the Music Industry
If you aren’t already networking in the sync business, then you’re missing out on tons of great opportunities. The best way to pave a road to success is by developing relationships with the right people. For example, Taxi, arguably one of the world’s largest sync licensing companies, has an annual free member convention.
At this convention, you’ll find industry speakers and plenty of unique networking opportunities with people that are working in the industry. These kinds of events can be incredibly useful, not to mention tons of fun, if you approach them correctly.
Beyond that, you should consider networking with those in your immediate circle. Find singers, instrumentalists, and producers to work with. Combine different specialities to come up with high-caliber music that you can pitch to companies.
Being professional is the only way to go if you want to be successful in the industry. One of the biggest parts of professionalism in the world of music is timeliness. Deals go down in the blink of an eye. There have been times where I’ve received a prompt for a track that the company needed by midnight that day to secure a sync deal the next morning.
Being timely also means being on top of your communication. If you take three days to email someone back, they’ve likely already moved on to another candidate. Show people that you care and you are eager to work and people will reciprocate that feeling.
Own All The Rights And Clear The Samples
For starters, it is a bad idea to use other people’s samples in sync music at all. Trying to get permission to do so, as well as clearing those samples for a very specific project, can be an absolute nightmare. If a company needs a song for a project by the next day, they might avoid a song with samples altogether for the sheer fact that it is too much to deal with.
For your own, original music, make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Sign up with a PRO like BMI or ASCAP if you haven’t already. Have your writer and publisher splits ready to roll when the company asks for it and keep everything organized.
The sync music licensing market can be a difficult one to enter, though it can also be incredibly lucrative if you approach it the right way. There are many artists out there that make their sole income from licensing songs.
The largest hurdle in this industry is getting your foot in the door. You’ll likely have to rely on cold emails to start with if you don’t know anyone who is a music supervisor or licensing agent. However, it is most important that you start writing music and create a catalog for yourself to pitch your music.
Check out music licensing websites, research current artists who are making sync music, and start getting your music out there. The reality is, you’ll have to go through a lot of no’s to find success in this industry. The beauty is, the first time you land something, it will likely make up for the time and energy you put in.
From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!
My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.
While I still have a full-time day job, I have created systems that have allowed me to produce dozens of songs a year in my spare time.
My songs have been on Netflix, TV shows like the 90 Day Fiance, an award-winning indie film, and NPR’s “All Thing Considered.” They've also been streamed millions of times.
In addition to being a music producer, I am passionate about teaching people how they can make professional-sounding music and earn money licensing it, all in their spare time.
Thousands of musicians, like yourself, have trusted me to guide their musical journey. My YouTube videos have been watched nearly a million times. And my story has been in Forbes, Side Hustle Nation, and the Side Hustle School.