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The Whats & The Hows of Synchronization / Sync Licensing

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Synchronization or more commonly known as Sync Licensing refers to the process of syncing music in time relation to a visual element where the said visual element could be a YouTube video, a Movie, a TV-Show, an Ad or even a Video Game. A sync deal usually offers the musician a licensing fee which composes of a one-time lump sum payment along with a claim on performance royalties. For musicians, getting noticed by a sync agent is the holy grail, case in point, Chet Faker, the Australian singer-songwriter whose career absolutely propelled upon getting his cover of the classic Backstreet Boys song ‘No Diggity’ featured in the 2013 Super Bowl Ad. Now to the average Joe, that might sound like something very complex but it’s actually something that we come across on a day to day basis, so, let’s break it down.

What and How?

A sync deal usually comes in place when a creator or the creator’s sync agent/music supervisor contacts a musician to ask for permission to use their music in their work, at which point, the musician or the owner of the publishing rights which is usually a record label negotiates the price.

Licensing Fees

When it comes to Performance and Mechanical Royalties, the prices are usually determined by the Performance Rights Organization (PRO) or the Law respectively. But, in the case of Synchronization, the licensing fee (which usually includes a claim on performance royalties) is entirely negotiable, thus making it a more lucrative deal for the musician.

Factors determining the price

Sync Licensing is a billion-dollar industry and based on certain determinants the licensing fee can range from anything small to a hundred thousand dollars or even more. Here are some of the things that might determine that price –

1. The popularity of the song /artist
2. Exclusive/Non-Exclusive rights to the song
3. The portion of the song used
4. One time use or perpetual use
5. Type of song – Original or Cover

Players Involved

Now, this is where things become a little intricate, a song’s copyrights are usually divided into two parts, the master recording and the composition. If the artist is signed with a label, then they are usually the owner of the master recording and the underlying composition is usually owned by the songwriter or a publisher which includes the lyrics, the notes, and the melodies. But let’s say, you aren’t signed to a label or a publisher, in that case, you own all the rights to your music and you get to negotiate the price yourself.

There’s an emerging trend in the music industry where the artist is asked to give up full ownership of the song in exchange for a massive one-time payment but the downside to this deal is that the artist loses his claim on the performance royalties.

How to get a Sync Deal?

Say you’re a musician who just found about sync licensing and now you want to work towards a sync deal for yourself, well, the first thing that you need to do is get your songs registered with a publisher like CDBaby but if you’re signed to a label, chances are, that has already been taken care of. Next, you need to get noticed by Sync Agents and Music Supervisors. Their job basically involves finding the perfect song match for a certain visual piece. But it necessarily doesn’t have to be sync agents for movies or tv shows, keep an open mind and explore options like video games, one eminent example of a similar sync deal would be when DJ/Producer, Su Real became the first Indian artist to get a song featured on the EA Sports Fifa 2018 soundtrack. Along with all these pointers, also make sure you’re approachable online if a sync agent comes across your music you would want to be contactable. And last but not least, spread the word about your music. These suggestions certainly don’t guarantee any success but definitely increase your chances since a sync deal isn’t something that comes by easily.

Publishing your music

Collecting royalties can sometimes prove to be an exasperating task especially when you’re dealing with international sync deals, so to make the process smoother, it’s best advised to register yourself with a publishing company. In exchange for their services, these companies usually ask for a stake in the royalties and the profit ratio of such deals is again determined by a number of factors. Publishing companies usually have tie-ups with sync agents and production houses and thus even further increase the chances of an artist to get noticed and potentially score a deal. Signing with a publishing company might sound like a favourable option but when dealing with such entities, it’s best to measure twice and cut once, just to make sure you’re getting a fair deal. But let’s say, giving someone a share in your royalties doesn’t really sound like something you would want to do, well, then you can actually publish your own music and in order to do that, you’ll have to create and register your own publishing company. Although in this case, you get to keep all the profits to yourself, it also requires you to incur the incorporation and maintenance cost.

IPRS (Indian Performing Rights Organisation)

Along with publishing companies, one can also register themselves with the Indian Performing Rights Society (ASCAP/SESAC in USA & SOCAN in Canada). Performing Rights Societies basically are responsible for collecting royalties on behalf of copyright holders from parties interested in using copyrighted music at public venues. In India, IPRS which is currently spearheaded by Mr Javed Akhtar is responsible for doing that. The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) is the international regulatory body of such PROs and in 2016, due to certain shortcomings & lack of compliance with the global standards, the Indian Performing Rights Society was temporarily ousted from CISAC. But following that incident, the IPRS went through a total revamp and was successfully re-admitted to CISAC in January 2019 also becoming one of the world’s fastest-growing PROs.

Once an artist gets themselves registered with IPRS, their music is added to the IPRS catalogue and irrespective of whether or not their music was played by any of the license buyers, they are eligible to collect a minimal amount of royalties at the end of the year.

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