Musicians' Handy Guide to Sync Licensing

When Maryland-based singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers’ 2016 song “Alaska” was featured on the popular Netflix show Heartstopper in 2022, it bumped up the track’s streaming numbers to a whopping 2.4 million. 

According to the year-end report put out by the Recording Industry Association of America, the estimated value of sync licensing deals in the US totaled $382.5 million in 2022, a nearly 25% increase from the previous year.  

The value of a music sync licensing deal or sync placement varies widely, from as little as a few hundred dollars for placement in a low-budget, independent production to six-figure sums for music placed in a blockbuster show or major producer-backed movie.

If you’ve been wondering, “How can I land a sync licensing deal?,” congratulations, you’re asking smart questions. Sync licensing has huge potential, not only for generating income, but for opening up other opportunities for artists.

In this guide, I’ll break down everything you need to know about music sync licensing, including what it is, how it works and the best ways that you can maximize your chances of securing sync placements for your music.

Let’s get started!

Sync Licensing: What It Is and Why It Matters

Audiovisual media have become an essential component of almost every aspect of modern life, from education to entertainment. Sync licensing, short for ‘synchronization licensing’ is the legal process of ensuring that music creators and rights-holders are compensated for the use of their work in visual media.

The highest volume of music sync licensing occurs in the domain of TV and online shows, with advertisements coming a close second. The demand for music in games and apps is also growing.

Potential sync licensing opportunities for musicians include:

  • TV shows & online series (such as on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu)
  • advertisements
  • video games/ computer games
  • computer programs/ apps
  • movies
  • documentaries, biopics and short films

Sync licensing requires clearance from the owners of two distinct aspects of music copyrights – (i) composition (song lyrics and music) and (ii) masters (song audio recording), both of whom typically receive a one-time, up-front licensing fee.

In other words, only music copyright owners are eligible to receive sync licensing fees. Copyright holders may or may not be the original creators of the music.

Sync licensing thus provides musicians with multiple benefits, of which the three most important include:

Greater visibility and reach

Artists often gain far greater exposure for their music through a sync placement than they could otherwise hope to get through conventional music marketing methods. Sync licensing thus represents a great opportunity for growing an artist’s fanbase.

Augmented income

Even a modest sync licensing fee can add to an artist’s income by a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. 

Additionally, musicians who have built a track record of successful sync licensing can typically find placements more easily and also command higher rates for their music. As such, sync licensing has the potential to add substantially to music income.

Long-term career growth

As sync placements attract recognition for an artist’s work, they can build a strong industry network, thereby gaining more opportunities for collaboration as well as better and bigger sync licensing deals.  

How Much Does Sync Licensing Cost?

There is no fixed scale for determining the cost of a sync licensing deal, that is, the value of a sync placement. 

In late 2023, the average total value of a sync licensing deal for song placement in shows ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, including both composition and masters rights clearances. Self-published musicians who release their own music are entitled to receive both fees.  

Given below are some rules of thumb for factors that drive the value of a sync licensing deal:

  • Song length – In general, the longer the song or piece of music being licensed, the higher the price it can be expected to fetch.
  • Previous/ current popularity – Songs that have already earned several thousand streams are predictably valued higher in a sync licensing deal. In the earlier example, Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska” had already enjoyed a bout of popularity in 2017 after a video clip featuring renowned songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams’ admiration for the track went viral.
  • Target media – Licensing fees also vary by industry segment, with fees increasing from ads to TV shows to movies. However, there is a lot of variability within each segment, with hit productions typically offering more attractive terms.
  • Term of use – Sync licensing deals must specify the intended term of use, or duration for which the song is to be aired in sync with the visual media. Ads typically form part of marketing campaigns with a finite duration, whereas movie and game sync placements are for an indefinite period.
  • Territory of use – The geographical region targeted by the media output significantly affects sync licensing value, with greater outreach and international usage commanding higher fees as compared to local reach.

Aside from these aspects, the fee for a sync licensing deal is also influenced by indirect factors, such as an artist’s visibility as well as negotiating skills.

Sync Licensing Your Music: How to Increase the Odds

Clearly, landing a sync licensing deal is a worthwhile goal for musicians at any stage of their careers. Here, we summarize insights shared by the hundreds of artists we have worked with into a list of dos and don’ts that can help you drastically improve your chances of securing sync placements for your music.

What to do to land a sync licensing deal

Ensure that your music is ‘sync ready’

This includes making sure that the production quality meets industry standards, as well as having multiple variants of a song available, including an instrumental track, an a cappella version and even remixes where possible. 

A crucial element of sync ready music is its digital formatting, including file size and specs, and very importantly, correct and complete meta-descriptions. 

Get help – sync placements are not a solo effort!

Turn to industry contacts, including fellow musicians, music reps, sync licensing agents, music journalists to help get the word out about your music. Over half of all sync placement opportunities come through word of mouth.  

Craft a pitch specific to the show or ad you’re targeting

When pitching to a music supervisor, describe what makes your music suitable for inclusion in their ad, show, game or other media. Use a brief but compelling description highlighting relevant characteristics of your music—theme, emotionality, period/ era or local flavor, that can enhance the target production.

Include well-known artists as referees whenever possible

As stated earlier, word of mouth plays a crucial role in sync placements. Including references of well-known artists who can vouch for your music (including production standards, work ethic and professionalism) can tilt the scales in your favor, especially if you can cite artists who have previously worked with the target production house or music supervisor.  

Use professional services to navigate negotiations and legalities

Getting a fair deal is ideal, but may seem practically challenging at times. You may lack the negotiation skills, or be concerned about preserving the good rapport you have built up with a given music supervisor. A sync licensing agent is typically more experienced at negotiating and may also have a more nuanced understanding of the terms of the deal, allowing them to secure a better deal on your behalf.

Likewise, ensuring that a lawyer with music industry experience vets all documents before signing a sync licensing deal can save you money, time and trouble in the long run.  

What to avoid when aiming for music sync placements

If you want to secure a sync placement, you would do well to steer clear of the following potential pitfalls:

“Tailoring” music for sync placements

According to industry experts, a pet peeve of music supervisors is being flooded with music that has been “tailored” to a particular show or series. All too often, the song mimics the style of one or more songs already featured on the series and is likely to be summarily rejected.

Sampling copyrighted music

Unless you can be 100% sure that you have obtained all possible clearances for the use of someone else’s music, avoid the use of sampled music in any of the songs you pitch for sync placement. You run the risk of a double-whammy – being sued by the original rights-holders, as well as being liable to the producers of the ad or show that licenses your music.

Strategies for indie artists: Sync licensing companies and libraries

For independent musicians, the challenges of securing a sync placement are multiplied manifold. Limited insider networks, low production budgets and zero industry clout mean that indie artists’ music often does not get a fair hearing from music supervisors.

As an alternative to direct pitching, therefore, a growing number of musicians are turning to sync licensing companies to represent them. A good sync licensing company (such as ThatPitch) looks for the best-suited placement opportunities for an artist’s music, in addition to helping the artist negotiate a good licensing deal.

Yet another option open to musicians nowadays is to upload their music to a sync licensing library for a fee, so that interested searchers can discover their music. Reputed libraries include ALIBI Music, APM and SoundVault.    

Next Steps

Armed with the above knowledge, you can now begin planning your campaign for pitching and landing your next sync placement. If you would like to explore how our team at DeNovo Agency can help you optimize your pitching skills, music marketing or SEO to 10x (or more!) your chances of securing a sync licensing deal, shoot us a quick message and we’ll get back to you.

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