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Sync Licensing: The Lowdown for Independent Artists

July 17, 2023
3 min read

For many emerging artists, sync licensing deals are an easy way to propel their music into the mainstream. Sync licensing is an umbrella term that refers to music that’s picked to play alongside visual content. It’s regularly used in film and television, as well as commercials. In recent years, there’s been a significant rise in the number of opportunities for sync in the video game sector.

Sync deals are an agreement between music copyright owners and a music user. Once both parties have signed on the dotted line, this agreement grants synchronization rights to the music user. For independent artists, sync placement deals are a simple way to unlock significant revenue streams. Globally, revenues from sync licensing rose to $600 million in 2022.

Looking to capitalize on this rewarding revenue stream? Read on for everything you need to know about sync licensing.

Benefits of Sync Licensing

While many independent artists dream of playing world stages and topping album charts, music sync agreements can be a far more effective way of gaining exposure. A sync deal that involves music being used in the closing credits of a major motion picture will introduce global audiences to an artist’s work.

What’s more, royalties for sync can be very lucrative. Along with streaming, it’s one of the best ways for independent artists to monetize their music. In 2021, sync royalties generated more than $302 million in the United States alone. One-time use agreements can see artists pocket thousands of dollars. However ongoing agreements can produce residual income for many years.

Sync deals also bring the exciting prospect of collaboration. When it comes to music licensing for film and TV, artists can become a key part of the creative process. In the commercial sector, musicians have the chance to partner with globally recognized brands.

The Sync Licensing Process

While sync licensing can prove lucrative, it’s not always a straightforward process. In order to reap the rewards of sync licensing, artists need to understand how the sync licensing chain works.

Demand and Sync Users

First, musicians need to consider demand. There aren’t many sync user markets to consider, with most licensing deals coming from the video game sector, film and TV industries, and radio and TV commercials.

Although some users can afford to invest in expensive licensing deals with established artists, it’s more cost-effective to secure sync rights with developing artists. Often, placeholder music is used as a guideline, with an artist tasked with producing something that captures the essence of the original recording.

What Role Do Music Supervisors Play?

Sync deals are often sought because they’re a cheaper option to licensing deals with more prolific artists. However, they still need to come in on budget. As such, music supervisors play a key role here.

Some music supervisors are part of the production company itself, while others are sourced from independent creative agencies. They effectively serve as intermediaries between production companies and musical artists, delivering on a creative brief and ensuring sync deals are delivered on time and within budget.

In an effort to keep costs low, music supervisors will go out of their way to look for up-and-coming talent that can deliver. While this is good news for emerging artists, most sync license deals are incredibly competitive.

Where Do Licensing Companies Come In?

Clearing sync rights involves a music supervisor securing two copyrights for a single piece of music. Master use license needs to be cleared in order to sync the recording itself. Meanwhile, a synchronization license needs to be obtained directly from a music publisher or songwriter.

Sometimes, brands choose to use cover versions of popular companies to minimize the costs involved with securing master use licenses. While many licensing companies are tied to publishers and labels, it’s a pretty broad industry. Some companies work closely with independent artists, while others focus squarely on sync licensing opportunities.

While signed artists typically depend on internal licensing departments, independent musicians are free to work directly with music licensing companies or agencies. While sync deals can be advantageous, licensing representatives generally charge high fees. Nonetheless, artists may still consider the deal a fruitful one, with high sync licensing costs offset by exposure.

That being said, artists need to consider exclusivity when signing agreements with licensing companies. If an artist’s music is used regularly, it can benefit both parties. However, there’s always a chance that an artist will be neglected, with their music never used for any notable projects.

Understanding Sync Clearance and Rights

When dealing with a sync music licensing agency, you’ll occasionally be asked to agree to pre-clearance of permissions. The same sometimes applies when adding your tracks to a sync catalog.

In essence, you’re allowing an agency the freedom to negotiate deals for you. Provided you’re dealing with a reputable organization, it is definitely something to consider. It can speed up the negotiation process, secure the best possible returns, and quickly establish you with a broad network of creative industry professionals.

Costs, Fees, and Negotiations in Sync Licensing

Many emerging artists jump at the opportunity of a sync licensing deal. However, you need to step back and consider potential earnings and the promotional opportunities a sync deal will bring.

Total earnings can be broken down into categories. First, they’ll be a single fee paid out, with public performance royalties coming later. In many cases, artists choose to agree to relatively low fees. Why? The promotional potential of a sync deal is often far more valuable than a one-time fee or residual income from royalties.

In many ways, the legalese of a sync licensing deal is more important. Artists need to be clear on the duration of a sync deal agreement. What’s more, an agreement should outline which markets the license will apply to. Finally, scope of use should underline how the music will be synced. The broader the scope, the more clout an artist is when it comes to negotiating. The more bargaining power an artist has, the higher the license fee will generally be.

Sync Licensing Opportunities

There are many opportunities for sync licensing deals. In many ways, it’s rich pickings for unsigned artists, with many emerging musicians in a strong position when it comes to negotiating. Below are some of the key sync opportunities emerging artists can think about pursuing:

Film and Television

This is one of the most sought-after avenues for sync licensing opportunities. Your music could be used in the opening credits of a major show on a streaming platform or in the end credits of a blockbuster cinematic release.


Commercials are another major source of sync licensing revenues. Most brands like to use recognizable tracks, but many prefer to use covers of existing ones. A typical commercial receives significant airplay, making a commercials sync licensing agreement a career-enhancing opportunity.

Video Games

Nowadays, video games are considered an art form. As such, the best developers are looking for high-quality tracks to incorporate into their releases. Video game sync licensing deals can be incredibly profitable for artists. In some instances, the investment outweighs album costs.

Sync Licensing Platforms

For an easier time, sync licensing platforms and music libraries are the way to go. Platforms like Songtradr, Artlist, and MusicBed make it simple for artists to promote and monetize their music, with relatively low fees. If you’ve yet to network within the industry, let alone explore sync licensing opportunities, sync music libraries can help broaden your horizons.

Tips for Success in Sync Licensing

To increase the odds of landing a sync deal, consider your back catalog. You’re not going to make waves by dumping second-rate content with poor production values on sync licensing platforms and music platforms. Invest in production and think about producing content that can be readily used across multiple media. Think about playing around with formats, track lengths, and genres.

Your music also needs to be discoverable. This means ensuring your metadata is in place. If your track titles and artist names aren’t included, a music supervisor is more likely to look elsewhere than attempt to search you out.

Just like recording and performance opportunities, you need to be an advocate of your material to reap the benefits of sync licensing. Networking is incredibly important. Make full use of sync agencies and reach out to music supervisors so you’re on everybody’s radar.

You also need to be keeping up to date with trends. What genres are currently dominating the sync space? In the US, genres like R&B and Hip-Hop continue to thrive. Meanwhile, electronic music is slowly falling out of favor. However, you’ll face stiff competition if you are producing music in an oversaturated genre.

Start Monetizing Your Content With Sync Licensing Today

Sync licensing opportunities represent an untapped goldmine for independent musicians. It’s one of the fastest-growing revenue streams for artists, while less established artists can enjoy a significant upswing in their fortunes thanks to increased exposure. What’s more, you don’t need to be an award-winning recording artist to negotiate a sync licensing deal. This is one market where undiscovered talent has a surprising amount of leverage. 

However, in order to secure the best deal, you’ll need to understand the changing landscape. Nowadays, songs are no longer there to bolster a soundtrack. Many major productions use them to enrich the narrative. Covers of popular songs continue to be the go-to for big brands in the commercial space. For brands, they’re a cheaper alternative, but an effective cover version can catch fire, catapulting an unsigned artist into the mainstream.

Looking for help navigating the world of sync licensing deals? In March 2023, IndieFlow launched an artist development program, providing emerging musicians with the support they need to build their brand, pitch their playlists, and perfect a winning release strategy. What’s more, this program introduces artists to all the monetization opportunities available to them, including sync licensing deals.

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