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Sync or Swim: The Growth of Production Music and Sync Libraries

While the traditional rewards for musical success have dwindled in the 21st century, musicians and songwriters have discovered that signing up with sync agencies can provide a more stable path to monetising their music. In this feature we’ll take a closer look at the legal structure of sync rights, speak to those working every day on securing placements and illuminate the best ways to increase the chance of getting chosen.

Earlier this summer, Kate Bush’s 1985 epic Running Up That Hill became an unlikely chart-topper, thanks in no small part to its centrality in the latest season of Netflix’s uber-hit Stranger Things. While the sudden re-awakening of a track that many assumed had long passed its time in the sun was gobsmackingly great for most Bush fans, it highlighted the point that getting songs featured on a successful television (or film) project has become the modern musician’s holy grail.

No surprise then, that sync licensing – providing music to another party to be considered for use backing film, television, trailers, adverts, games and more – has been growing year-on-year across the last decade.  Platforms such as Music Gateway, MusicBed, Epidemic Sound and Soundstripe offer artists the means to upload their tracks to be pitched to Music Supervisors; the people responsible for selecting tracks to fit the right mood for their projects. Or be part of a royalty-free repository for creatives.

While some of these companies require the artist to sign over the exclusivity rights to the sync platform itself (so their dedicated teams can cherry-pick from an ever-growing library of what is labelled ‘production music’) others are more guidance-based, and help with pointing artists towards the right people to personally negotiate the use of their songs.


Sync on Netflix
Getting your tracks heard on the next big event TV series, could shape your future. (image from Pixabay)



With this in mind, it’s hugely important that prior to signing up with a sync agency, artists clearly know the rights situation behind the song (s) they want to upload. Are they the only performer on the recording? Is there a co-writer lurking in the wings who’ll want a cut? Artists need to be sure on who owns both the *master* recording rights and the *composition* rights.

The former pertains to the ownership of the specific recording of a song, while the latter regards the rights to the actual song itself – and its constituent musical elements. If you’re signed to a label, you’ll want to remind yourself of who currently owns what. If you’re unsigned, and a self-publishing artist, then the rights are yours.

Beyond these two essential copyrights, a publishing administrator is the title given to the person or company allocated the role of looking after the interests of the track. While they don’t own any rights per se, they will take a percentage cut of any income that the track generates as commission. This role is given to whichever library/company an artist signs to manage their sync affairs.

Exclusivity is another big area that can result in confusion for many. If an artist agrees to exclusively grant a sync company the rights to their track, only they can then license its use in other media. That means, if someone approaches the artist directly and enquires about using a song for their movie, the artist would then need to direct them on to the company they’ve elected to represent their music. While this might seem like a drawback, Exclusivity allows sync companies to fight for the best possible deal, as they’re the only ones who can be negotiated with.


It stands to reason that when thinking about creating music with sync purposes in mind, a change in mindset will likely be needed. While you may compose in a style that is wholly unique, with madcap saxophone, adventurous vocals and intermittent kazoo solos, when amassing a hearty stable of sync-able tracks, watering down anything too zany will definitely increase your chances of getting placed.

While it breaks our artistic hearts to say it, it’s best advised that you thematically aim for much more broader concepts (love, regret, grief, heartbreak, summer beach time etc). Keep in mind that what you’re doing here is making music with a commercial objective. Despite this tendency towards more songwriting generality, another aspect that allegedly improves the sync-potential is individuality. This might sound diametrically opposed to the first point, but going too far into ‘bland’ territory is just as alienating as being musically off-road. Striking a balance between the two is what’s really needed.

While it goes without saying that your track should be mixed, mastered and ready for the ears of a discerning 21st century audience, It’s also advised that you retain stems and not to lose your DAW project files. Often, you’ll be asked to provide shorter versions, re-mixed and re-arranged versions (particularly when your track has been synced for advertising) or expanded, instrumentally augmented versions. At this stage, it’s best to not be too precious, and be flexible with how you can make your music fit the project.


Founded in 2009, royalty free music service Epidemic Sound was established with its sights set firmly on alleviating the pain points of the creator economy. Offering royalty-free music, sound effects and more. Lars Torsensson at Epidemic Sound explains that in his view, production music platforms such as Epidemic are increasingly the way forward for musicians looking to earn from their work. “We anticipate that sync will become more and more meaningful for music creators in the future, both when it comes to monetising their music as well as reaching new audiences.” Lars explains. “At Epidemic Sound we remunerate our roster of music creators via both a fixed up-front payment when the track is finished, combined with a variable upside via 50% split of streaming revenues and participation in our soundtrack bonus pool which is set at 2 MUSD for 2022 (which is distributed based on popularity among our users).”


Epidemic Sound provide a subscription model for those looking for production music.


Epidemic Sound also maintains a firm grip on the types of media that their song stable ends up being synced with “We work closely with hundreds of music creators that provide high quality music for our catalogue in line with our users’ needs. Users with a subscription can download as many tracks as they wish and include in their productions without any extra administration, but they do need to adhere to our terms and conditions which limits usage of our music within certain types of content that Epidemic Sound or our music creators may find problematic, e.g. pornographic content or promoting political parties.”


Lucas Friedmann is the Creative Director of London Sync, and spoke to us about how his company has taken a more curated approach to the sync world “London Sync first launched in December 2018. I am a music producer and a composer but I have also spent the last 25 years as a broadcast editor for television, and so London Sync has been able to draw on my first-hand experience of what music is being used in TV production. From advertising/promos and sensitive documentaries, right through to Saturday night entertainment shows, like The Masked Singer, we have been able to produce albums for the industry which we knew would be helpful to our clients, with very little guess work.”

Unlike Epidemic, London Sync work one-on-one with music supervisors and creatives, and use their expertise to cherry-pick the best songs for the project. Lucas explains how their relationship typically works with the wider media world “Generally speaking our clients will send us a brief with what they are working on and what music they are looking for. We then look through our catalogue and select the tracks we feel are best suited to their project.” Friedmann explains. “We like to make our music available to any one that needs it, and wants to use it, so there isn’t really any scope to be selective about which projects we work on. We target productions from all ends of the spectrum, across multiple genres, so our music has a wide level of exposure. If a client uses your music then they will purchase a licence for the track/tracks. If the programme is for a major broadcaster (like BBC/ITV), then our music is covered under the annual blanket agreements that the broadcasters have with PRS. We use a digital detection service to detect our placements in TV programmes, and we receive live updates when our music is used.”


London Sync
London Sync work with the industry to negotiate for the best placement deals


We ask Lucas whether he feels that monetising music via sync is one of the most lucrative routes for musicians to pursue; “When you are writing for a production music library, as long as you receive strong guidance from the library as to what genres are worth pursuing, then there are lots of opportunities to make money, from a number of different sources.” Friedmann confirms, “Production music is easy to licence for clients and they know they won’t have any issue with rights further down the line, which paves the way for multiple placements of your tracks. In the sync world, not only are there opportunities to make money out of Television, Film, Advertising and various Social Media platforms, but we can also stream your music on Spotify, and YouTube, like any other piece of commercial music.”

Re-focusing your music on sync isn’t a route for everyone, admittedly, but if you navigate it effectively, it’s one of the few remaining cast-iron routes to financial gain via music. ”The lines between production music and commercial music are becoming increasingly blurred” Lucas tells us, “So there’s never been a better time to experiment with where your music is licensed, and how.”