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How Can I Get My Music Into TV/Movies? Sync & Publishing Explained

Why It’s Important

Making money from your music is all about diversifying your income streams. While this may sound like a word reserved for Wall Street and New York executives, it’s equally important to musicians of any status. Diversity means you make money in more than one place. While musicians used to make the bulk of their money on record sales, today’s artists need to make a little here, a little there, and try to get all these different things to add up to something livable. These different income streams include streaming services, live shows, merchandise, licensing, and today’s topic, publishing. The most valuable aspect of publishing is getting placement in movies and TV shows.

Sync Licenses

In terms of music law, there are some uses for your music that you have to allow, no matter what. For instance, anyone can do a cover version of your song without your permission (if they pay a mechanical license), and retail stores and radio stations can play your music publicly (assuming they pay the performance rights organizations). Sync licenses are not automatic, you need to grant permission for every use.

Sync is short for “synchronization”, or the alignment of music and video. Basically, a sync license is required for any use of music in video. Music here refers to both the composition or the recording. In the YouTube age, this law is often misunderstood and frequently broken, but it is the law. Any time you want to put music in a video, you need permission. It doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial, home vacation video, live footage of you playing a cover song, you always need permission.

Since these licenses are not mandatory, they need to be sought after and negotiated individually. And if you or your band plays original music, this can be a real moneymaker for you for years to come.

What Does a Publisher Do?

A publisher is someone who takes your musical compositions (not sound recordings) and markets them for use commercially. This includes television shows, advertisements, movies, and many other uses. For this, you agree to license the copyright to them, and they take a percentage of your royalties, which is usually around 50%. We’ll cover publishers a little deeper in a future article, but it’s worth looking into if you have music you think would do well in this space. You don’t need a publisher to negotiate these licenses, but they actively pitch your music and connect you with people who want it, which can be a big help.

Getting Placement for Your Music

Even if you don’t have a publisher, you can reach out to people directly to try to secure sync licenses. First, consider who would want this music. Primarily, you’re looking for music supervisors. These are people who manage the music for film and television. Check IMDB or other blogs and magazines to find out which shows and movies are in production, and get the name of the music supervisor. They often have a website or email address where you can send music submissions. Another alternative is to sell your songs to a music library. These are like publishers, but they only accept music to be used for sync, and the deals are very different. Usually they are not exclusive, and will often pay smaller one time fees, as opposed to an ongoing royalty.

When submitting your music to a music supervisor, the key to getting attention is to make your communication personal. If you’ve chosen a project you think your music would do well with, mention the project specifically in an email, tell the music supervisor that you have seen it and understand the feeling and style. Send one or two songs that fit, not your entire catalog. Keep your mail short and to the point. Links to streamed music are usually better than attached mp3s or other files. If your music is selected, you will need to send separate high quality files anyway, so don’t bother trying to send a file in initial communication.

YouTube Placement

While not as lucrative as signing a deal with a publisher, you can actually make some money from plays on YouTube, even if the upload was not your own. If you have a YouTube account with original music on it, you can set up your account to monetize videos, and search for other videos that feature the same music. Some bands encourage fans to use their music in home videos and other content, then collect royalties from the plays online. Again, a much smaller amount than signing a deal, but much easier to set up.

Final Thoughts

Making higher-level deals with your music is a long process. It can take dozens of submissions to different publishers or supervisors before someone notices you. Don’t be discouraged! If you can make these deals work, they can set up serious income for an extended period of time. It’s well worth the effort.

Have you ever had a song featured in a video? How did you get it there? Share your story in a comment below!