Wednesday, 26 March 2014 10:31

Post-SXSW Panel Roundup: Sync To Success

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With festival season well under-way, we’re closing out our SX coverage with a roundup of highlights from all the great sync panels we attended. Then we’ve got Coachella, and Tribeca Film Festival coming up, as well as the film industry’s usual Summer blockbuster run that’s already starting to trickle into theaters with Divergent, the Muppets, Noah, etc.etc. We’ll keep you updated with all of your sync news!

Getting music synced is (as we’ve discussed) one of the most lucrative ancillary revenue streams available for songwriters in the current music industry. The process however is unnecessarily convoluted, and supervisors are some of the most illusive agents in the business. So we’ve divided this summary into sections by topic.

The panels included music supervisors Christopher Mollere, Lori Feldman, Paul Greco, Joe Rudge and Michael Paoletta, as well as Pulse Film’s CEO Thomas Benski, Kobalt’s VP of Sync & New Media Chris Lakey, and Sony Music’s Director of Music for Advertising Jessica Shaw.

Getting Heard

The first obstacle to getting your music synced is, of course, getting it heard by music supervisors or music coordinators who’ll pitch it to creatives.

Mollere simply said, “The trick to sync is information and exposure, get your stuff out there and heard,” but you likely already know that’s only a small part of the battle. So the panelists at “Sync To Success” (Greco, Rudge, Lakey) offered some steps for newcomers:

  1. Decide what you want to do with sync.
    1. Figure out if you want to join a publishing company with co-pub deals, or admin deals (where you retain publishing), or
    2. Join sync organizations -- like The SongHunters -- who are trusted by supervisors/producers and will pitch your music (keep reading for notes on exclusivity).
  2. Take your pitches seriously, because as we’ve also learned, once an artist is passed up it’s unlikely they’ll be reconsidered.
    1. Things to include with great pitches:
      1. Always include metadata: composer name, contact info, song attributes,
      2. Quality recordings: “Refine what you send before you send it,”  ("Know that this is a VERY competitive market, and know what you’re up against. If you send something lo-fi, great, but realize you’re up against multi-million dollar productions."
      3. A .zip file with all the tracks & metadata: don’t send large files,
      4. Instrumental/vocal only versions,
      5. Note that instrumental stems are also available.

However, these supervisors stressed their preference for sync agencies as “dealing with the influx of individual artists is really difficult.” Greco added that artists should “Go to places that music supervisors use, not to music supervisors.”

These comments were echoed by colleagues at “Syncing up...What’s it Worth?”(Paoletta, Shaw), who said, “Cold emails don’t always work, it helps music supervisors to have a filter in the form of an agent or representative because otherwise you just get too much music a day. It’s impossible to listen to it. Find some form of representation, or find someone with authority who can get it to them.”

According to the Paoletta, “It helps to have a vetting process to get stuff to you, but every once in a while you’ll find something that came from a cold call or email -- that you may not always have time to respond to or read -- but when you do you’re like ‘oh.’ Because you get so much great stuff, and usually we try to get to everything we receive but it just takes time.”

Paoletta also noted that, “Agents are more likely to listen to unfamiliar publishers/labels than unknown artists, simply because it seems like a little vetting was done, [like] a little TLC was put in.” However, “sometimes a band just likes a project, or is a friend of the film team,” and will have an in that way, as there’s no right or wrong way to get heard.

We’ve also heard from supervisors in the past that the keys to getting heard are visibility and accessibility. Your music should be available on as many platforms as possible, and you should be touring and engaging with your fans, which allows you to be open to any opportunity. Paoletta said, “You can’t expect to go to a showcase and show up and play and immediately get a placement, but you want to get yourself in a position that you’re the first call when that producer needs something.”

That said, it’s also worth it to consider how agents discover music, again the “What’s it Worth” panelists offered valuable insight. Agents, they said, “are always searching for ‘the new,’ the ears are always open.” Mollere offers the additional thought that, “What’s nice now is that the process isn’t so protected by labels who used to dominate and feed studios stuff, now there are music supervisors that really comb through what they want, they get stuff fed to them but they also look for it.”

“What’s it Worth” panelists continued on to note that, “Not every genre is syncable.” Agents “listen to [syncable] genres [and] have two hats; a music aficionado hat for what they listen to in free time, and have a hat for work listening, but [they’re] able to wear both at the same time, so they can recognize both.” Agents also usually “have sync reference tracks in mind, syncs that they love and [then] look for [material] in that range that they can work with.”

Although, artists should also have their ears constantly open, because, as Greco and Rudge pointed out, “they get so much that sounds like everything else. It’s about being innovative, do things that are creative. Become interesting and different.” However, it’s not just about writing great music and getting heard, its “so important now,” according to “What’s it Worth” panelists, “that music absolutely fits the brief and fits the budget.”

Budgets + Non-Monetary Value

Jessica Shaw and Michael Paoletta encourage artists to manage their expectations when considering sync, as songwriters often misconceive the breadth of music budgets; “You can throw out a big brand name like American Express or Coke and people think ‘money’ but that’s not always the case.”

Budgets are the pinnacle of music synchronization, every panel (including those beyond our summary) stressed the importance of budgeting in an industry scrambling for lucrative revenue streams beyond recorded music. Music supervisor Chris Mollere discussed the issue noting that “Budgets are difficult because while it’s more fun to find great stuff cheaper (it’s like a puzzle), it’s nice to have a large budget so you can play with it to invest money for some syncs and not so much on others, but to have that freedom. It’s difficult because you have to be creative because artists want more money and producers are giving smaller budgets.”

However, with music synchronization, sync deals and fees can be constructed in countless creative ways that provide valuable benefits to everyone involved. “What’s it Worth” panelists revealed that “Music is usually just a line item among many others in a much larger production budget.”

Continuing on to point out that “There are creative ways around though, if the budget isn’t there you can also get title cards. Artists also need to think about the residuals, and the other benefits, if the budget isn’t initially there, think about the promo you’ll get in an ad that runs over and over and over--it might be worth that exposure alone, there’s a lot of value in that.”

The panel’s moderator, producer Theresa Notartomaso, was quick to interject that yes, “There is a lot of value beyond the money. Especially in exposure; however, you can’t expect to break a band in a commercial, so there should be compensation, and there should be a sync fee that the artists get.”

Notartomaso encouraged artists to “fight for those fees” and “don’t put your music on just anything, but put your stuff on things you like, and then there’s value in that too.” Adding “You have to think about what a sync is worth to you. Think about your morals, if you’re vegan and Wendy’s wants your song--is the fee worth going against that? Consider what is the brand, and do you want to be associated with them? Because that’s the point, they want to be associated with you because they think you’re music is cool and they want their product to be cool by association. Also [syncs] live on forever, so believe in every sync.”

EVP of brand partnerships and creative synch licensing at Warner Brothers Records Lori Feldman contributed to the “benefits” topic by adding that “Licensing can be really core to your development as a band. People know about the Black Keys because of their press, but also because of their syncs that have been all over the place. Because their stuff is so frequently licensed, its become part and parcel to who they are.” Closing with the idea that “We’re all in this together to find ways to get people to check out new and older music, and sync is certainly a part of each artists success.”

Deals + New Markets

Once you and your team have decided to pursue sync (why not?) you’re going to need to think about the best ways to leverage your brand or image as an artist through your licensing deals. Furthermore, as the role of music supervision has changed over the past several years, “Music supervisors are not just supervisors [anymore], they’re also marketing strategists,” which according to Joe Rudge “Makes the job much more exciting.”

Feldman talked about using media licenses in non-traditional ways citing Warner Brothers’ use of music tagging service Shazam as a distribution platform for Linkin Park. With the recognition of temporary and restrictive licensing (versus permanent ownership), licensing has become a invaluable and indefinite revenue source for musicians, but understanding the scope and terms of a deal can make or break a career.

Chris Mollere said that “Studios want everything wrapped up in one neat package, all-media, in perpetuity etc.,” they also usually want a certain amount of exclusivity, “but decreasing budget sizes don’t allow that, so people are having to exercise options.”

When designing your deals, the first step, according to “Sync To Success” panelists, “From the publishing perspective you really assess what the band wants out of a sync, how badly do they want a placement. For some bands it’s not a priority and then it comes down to just money.”

We also learned that a deal can be as basic or as complicated as you want, but also that anything can be made into an option, which opens up infinite possibilities for value creation beyond the initial sync fee.

“For films” says Rudge, “you can take out the ‘making ofs’ and bonus features and make those options, and you can try and take stuff out but sometimes producers just need what they need, where you have to just say ‘it is what it is, do we accept or decline?’”

One of the most important terms of a sync deal is, naturally, the scope of a license. Basically, the scope tells the licensor how far they can throw your work, again these can be incredibly specific, or broad, what you want depends on your sync goals (morals vs. money etc.). Rudge and Greco fleshed out this topic saying “Films need all media rights, all world, in perpetuity, sometimes you can try for shorter periods, but usually film deals need to be in perpetuity. You can also do step deals for milestones like 3 mil, 5mil, 10mil--its contingent upon a film doing well, and the upfront smaller fee is like insurance for payment later off.”

“For ads, the time frame is usually one year for broadcast national TV. Video games is a 5-10 year term, sometimes perpetuity if there’s backend. Festival licenses are usually just limited for the festival and it’s usually a step deal, so if the film gets picked up then it’ll be in perpetuity for all media -- that’s trailer, film, etc. Television is usually a 5 year deal with options to expand.”

Whether a deal is exclusive or non-exclusive, notes Rudge, “Depends on your relationship with your team, and their relationships with supervisors, editors, producers, etc.etc. Non-exclusive is good because more people are [able to] work on your stuff. Exclusive is generally the deal if you’re signed with a publishing company.”

Licensing has not only become incredibly popular, but is also imperative to an artist’s career. In an environment that is over saturated with music for supervisors it can be difficult to compete and get your music heard, but the keys to breaking in are visibility and openness. Although, too much openness can dilute artistic integrity and compromise a brand, so make every sync significant, be easy to work with, be visible, and create great music.

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