You might be surprised to learn that the mood setting songs and background music featured on your favorite TV shows, movies, commercials, sports and video games are highly sought after paid placements for artists to gain exposure and generate income. No longer considered ‘selling out’, it seems that placements (or sync) are becoming a prominent discovery, marketing and monetization tool for musicians. One of the most notable synchronization collaborations was with Moby’s 1999 album Play, which was the first ever to have all of its tracks linked to a synchronization license.
Whenever music is “synchronized” to a moving image, artists are paid a sync licensing fee. The licensing fee is determined by factors including the production’s budget; how the song will be used; how much of the song will be played; and how important the song is to the project. It is not just about music being used for marketing. It also helps to market the music. For both Indie artists and already established musicians, getting a sync license can be crucial to reaching a new fan base, and even extending the sales run of an album that’s already run its course. For a new artist, the audience of a movie soundtrack or trailer featuring their music can catapult them to stardom virtually overnight.
One of the recent articles on Music Business Worldwide showcased how indie singer/songwriter Barns Courtney has clocked up more than 50 placements and generated more than $1M from sync. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s that Nike “Revolution” commercial. This is the level of production that only Nike could afford to make. No indie bands involved here—just the fab five also known as The Beatles. Classic bands looking to make a comeback are similarly benefiting from the evolution in the way songs are used in film and TV ads.
Undoubtedly, sync is one of the most lucrative income streams for the artists in the digital era as well as one of the top tools in music discovery that the modern publishers have up their sleeves. The way I see it, it doesn’t matter whether an artist is signed with an indie or a major publisher – in the end, it boils down to the quality of the final product which is solely a music supervisor’s burden. This year’s Super Bowl ads were vivid examples of some of the priciest placements. For instance, Fleetwood Mac‘s “The Chain” was the soundtrack powering the commercial for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Both writers Lindsey and Stephanie are signed with Kobalt, and we can only imagine the sync royalties from the slots that hit a record high this year, reaching an average of $5M a pop. With an astonishing $166K per second for Super Bowl commercial time, and way over 100M viewers, we see a quantum leap from $40K per slot in 1967, so hurray to that.
The Super Bowl has become the pinnacle for music discovery, placement, and distribution. However, there are other methods for artists to gain the attention of decision makers. Companies like MusicXray.com, Sonicbids.com, and Taxi.com charge a fee to submit compositions to relevant stakeholders, but as one of my favorite artist-bloggers points out, it is unclear whether these services are worthy of investment. Instead, new software programs using artificial intelligence (AI) technology or music bots designed to automate the complicated process are proving to be invaluable tools for music supervisors. In turn, it is essential for musicians to speak at least a bit of tech, like embedding metadata to identify, organize and tag their tracks.
Of course, visual media placement is not the only game-changing music discovery trend. Millions of music lovers all over the world use Spotify, Apple, and other streaming services to discover new artists and songs. For many musicians, the playlist has become the holy grail to racking up more streams. Like social media, playlists are viral in nature. The songs on a playlist are curated to appeal to a like-minded audience — and that means more listens, more shares, more revenue and maybe even discovery by a prominent music supervisor that can lead to some great sync licenses for a new artist. And with the equipment and production capacities out there today, music can be recorded by anyone with access to a computer and a microphone, somewhat leveling the playing field for unsigned talent. So we say, don’t be afraid to try your luck at the magic of streaming and sync!