Music sync is now the real deal, helping many new and established artists create a bigger awareness of their music by simply being attached to a product, a TV series or a film. Most media needs music, but pricing is an enduringly controversial area. Producers, agencies, music supervisors and the sync departments of music companies discuss this and other newer challenges.
Pricing is controversial
According to Rupert Hollier, creative director, at music agency Redfive Creative, pressure to accept lower rates is a constant issue and has been for a long while: “The infamous ‘exposure’ argument versus the reality of the market and the power of a placement does have an effect on a license, and while budgets are recovering after a slump, especially in indie films, price is still key and sadly a lower one will generally win out if the track is near enough to the creative.”
But Chris Clark, director of music at Leo Burnett Group, does not agree. “Personally I don’t see that, but it’s a delicate issue. I think it’s the responsibility of the agency music expert to get the client a great deal for great music, while also respecting the marketplace and fairness to the artist and/or rights owners. Fortunately, I have the privilege of working on such a high volume of agency projects that I’m very confident in my marketplace knowledge and can initially attempt to strike a fair deal. I’d only push downward if the deal is at risk of falling apart,” he said.
All genres are now syncable
Sue Crawshaw, music supervisor at LA-based sync agency Pick & Mix, agreed that volume is the key here: “There’s pressure on sync fees due to general budgets and the volume of content that’s being produced. There’s been a gradual decline over the past decade and I think artists, labels and publishers are more willing to work with the music supervisors’ budgets and make those situations work rather than pass up on an opportunity.” And opportunities are growing due to more openness towards multiple genres: “Right now there’s a lot of urban music being used across all platforms and that seems to be crossing over into branding and advertising as well,” she added.
Clark agreed: “It’s great to hear some marketers including more rap and hip-hop since it’s officially become the most listened-to genre. Brassy electronic pop continues to be desirable while trap is (finally) fading a little bit. Big, confident anthems with messages of either swagger or hope-and-community are always popular,” he said.
Clement Souchier, music supervisor at Creaminal also sees more opportunity than ever. “So many styles and moods are now syncable,” he said. “Of course, there’s usually a track that everyone would like to synchronise — especially in advertising campaigns, which generates a fleeting trend. Feel It Still by Portugal The Man is a good example of exactly that kind of phenomenon.”
Tips to achieve music sync sucess
Given that most artists these days would love to have their music featured in films, or TV and advertising, what advice would our experts give? Should artists hire a specialist representative? “I don’t think it’s essential but I think it helps the artist to have a sync agent, they have the relationships with the music supervisors, they’re on the frontline,” Crawshaw said. “If you’re serious about getting sync it can be a full-time job keeping relationships going, and keeping up with trends and pitching. A specialist can circumvent that and they have the relationship within the community.” Redfive’s Hollier agreed: “For sure it’s important to try to build and maintain a relationship — if you have a release, or decent distribution then you are out there and on the radar — then your publishers/labels and management will take up the fight. If you’re not in that position yet, then building relationships with supervisors is absolutely important, as is striking the balance between being firmly on their radar but also not appearing too scattergun in your approach.”
For Creaminal’s Souchier, “a good indie sync broker or indie publisher can make the difference for two main reasons. You must have enough material to pitch to be considered by clients, agencies, and music supervisors, and you need to have a precise knowledge of this industry to negotiate the right fee and conditions.”
Music must not be undervalued
Janesta Boudreau, music supervisor and sync director at Rocking Horse Road/Coversion in Canada, said knowing the true value of music is crucial. “I don’t think it’s so much the desirability of sync placements with artists as much as some music commissioners not realising the value of music, running out of budget, not assigning enough budget or not being given enough budget for their music needs,” she said, adding: “Artists: do not fall for the ‘It will give you exposure!’ line. If there is no music budget and you can’t even talk someone in to paying $50 or something for the minimal use of your song, walk away. Music has value so if there is no budget, there is likely very little exposure opportunity there either. As a member of the Guild of Music Supervisors, I am hoping we can get music commissioners to realise that both supervisors and artists should always, without exception, be paid fairly for their work and not be an afterthought.”
Boudreau points to cover versions as a popular area: “As owner of a cover songs sync catalogue I think I’m obliged to say covers. But hip hop, hybrids and kickass female empowerment song briefs come in frequently. And then there’s the ever-present ‘should sound like White Stripes’ or Kanye’s BLKKK SKKKN HEAD.” But, putting genre aside, it’s mainly about relationships, he added: “As owner of a sync agency, myself and my staff work every day building relationships, networking, getting briefs in, pitching, and looking for partners and for opportunities to place your music. We represent our artists to get the best fees for the proposed use, we protect them from unfair practices and we get to be their champion. I strongly believe in the value of sync teams for these reasons.”
Streaming & live shows increase visibility
Ilana Goldstoff, music supervisor at music agency Sizzer, in Amsterdam, said that visibility on streaming platforms and at live shows is as important as being represented: “I receive about 50% of the music that I place from representatives (publishers, labels, sync reps, managements). The other 50% I discover on Spotify, but also at live shows, music blogs and even in magazines, so it’s very important that you are visible and that you will get my attention somehow.” She added: “Representatives are like quality filters. There’s so much music out there, but there isn’t time to listen to it all. The chance is much bigger that I’ll open an email from a publisher that I know on a personal basis and take the time to listen to the music that he or she sends me, because I know it’s not a waste of time,” she said. “We work for so many types of brands and campaigns, each one has their own story to tell in a different way with different music, so we’re looking for the good stuff in every genre, otherwise my job would be quite monotone.”
And she added that there’s always big demand for hits and covers. “Let’s be fair, what brand manager doesn’t like to show off at a birthday party with the fact that they used that new, or nostalgic, big hit in their campaign?! On the other hand there are a lot of exciting creative campaigns where there’s room for unknown music in all sorts of genres. People like to be surprised and that can be done in many ways.”
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