Sync Licensing: 5 Important Lessons I’ve Learned (A Case Study)

by | Oct 22, 2020 | Artists to Watch

I’ve been in the sync licensing game since 2018. 

So in the big picture, I’m fairly new. But I’ve learned several lessons already. And I want to share them because maybe they’ll help you.

This is a case study on my experience licensing music.

What Is Sync Licensing?

Sync licensing is when you allow someone to use your song in a TV show, commercial, movie, or video game in exchange for a payment.

They synchronized your music with visual content, hence the term “sync.”

You still retain the song rights. You’re simply charging someone a fee to use your song. 

How much does a sync license cost? In other words, how much will someone pay you to license your song?

It depends on many things, including:

  • The client’s budget
  • The type of project
  • Whether the license is exclusive or non-exclusive
  • How prominent the song will be in the video (more prominent = higher payout)

Honestly, you can get paid anywhere from $10 to $100,000 or more. 

If you’re with a subscription-based sync licensing company (ex. Artlist), you’ll probably get smaller payouts but more frequent licenses.

Why? Because the subscription model means smaller payouts for the musicians. 

For a more in-depth look at sync licensing and how to start making money from it, check out this complete guide on licensing.

Sync Licensing Companies I Work With

I currently work with three sync licensing companies, and that’s a good number for me. Any more and I’d be stretched too thin. 

I’ve found they’re each good for their own thing… 

Music Vine

I joined the Music Vine roster in September of 2019. My contact at MV (my “License & Catalog Specialist”) is super easy to work with, and I’ve had nothing but a good experience with this company.

Before you apply, they make it clear you can’t work with sync licensing companies who have a “one-size-fits-all subscription model.” This is because they’re “advocates of fair payment for musicians and a sustainable licensing industry.”

Their CEO, Lewis Foster, wrote an open letter about this on Medium.

However, MV offers subscription options (as well as one-off licenses). So a lot of my licenses don’t pay much. But they do provide consistent income to fuel my music projects. 

They do ask that 50% of your portfolio be exclusive material, meaning you can’t license those songs anywhere else. But they’re pretty flexible with that rule (less than 50% of my portfolio is exclusive). 

I like how they don’t demand every song to be exclusive. And having some exclusive songs does make you a bit more appealing to their clients.  

Here are the pros and cons of Music Vine…

Pros:

  • Monthly payouts (as long as you’ve reached the payout threshold of $50)
  • Not a huge library, so more chance of getting licensed
  • The MV people are easy to work with

Cons:

  • Payouts are very low (35% for non-exclusive tracks, 60% for exclusive tracks)
  • Anonymous licenses unless the client decides to enter their info

Here are my stats with Music Vine:

  • Length of time with Music Vine: one year
  • Number of songs in library: 10
  • Number of licenses: 58
  • Average amount earned per license: ~$3

Crucial Music

Crucial accepted my first song in July 2018 and have since accepted a total of eight. This feels good because they are known to be very picky about what they accept. 

For example, they’ve also rejected 11 of my songs. 

I believe as long as you’re submitting industry-standard tracks, you have a good shot. 

It seems to mostly depend on the type of music they need but don’t yet have. And you just don’t know what they need, so you have to submit your most professional songs with the most universal themes.

And judging by the projects they’ve pitched my songs to, it seems like the payouts would be higher. Although I haven’t landed a license yet. 

They take a 50% fee, which is standard in the sync licensing world. 

Here are Crucial’s pros and cons…

Pros:

  • See what projects Crucial has pitched your song(s) to 
  • See the status of your song submissions
  • Projects seem to have higher payouts

Cons:

  • Hard to get accepted
  • Can take months to hear back about your submissions

Here are my stats with Crucial:

  • Length of time with Crucial Music: 2 years
  • Number of songs in library: 8
  • Number of songs licensed: 0

You can sign up as an artist here. 

Pond5

Pond5 accepted my first track at the beginning of 2019. Their independent reviewers give your song a pass, fail, or they’ll ask for clarification on something. 

I have 28 songs in their library, and I believe they’ve rejected only one or two. So they’re not as picky as some other libraries (you could view that as either a good thing or a bad thing). 

Like Music Vine, I get smaller but more frequent licenses from Pond5. The nice thing about this site is you set your own price for each song.

Pond5 will take 65% of each license. So to make more, you just raise your prices. 

Here are the pros and cons of Pond5…

Pros:

  • Set your own price
  • Payout threshold of $25
  • Not as picky as most libraries

Cons:

  • Anonymous licenses
  • Very competitive because it’s a big library

Here are my stats:

  • Length of time with Pond5: 2 years
  • Number of songs in library: 28
  • Number of licenses: 18
  • Average amount earned per license: ~$11

You can sign up for free here.

5 Things I’ve Learned From Sync Licensing

In the grand scheme of things, I’m fairly new to sync licensing. I’ve been intentional about it for only two years. 

But I’ve already learned some valuable lessons that are helping me plan out my career…

Sync licensing is being Spotify’d

You know how Spotify doesn’t pay its artists very well? Yeah, that seems to be happening in the music licensing world. 

Foster, Music Vine’s CEO, wrote about this idea in his open letter.

“…If you sell something valuable but at a rock-bottom price, it’s going to sell a lot and fast, which will add up to something that appears reasonable,” he said. “However, it’s crucial to realize that the air blast doesn’t last long.”

This is ironic to me because MV now offers subscriptions to its clients — almost exactly what Foster bashes in his Medium post.

MV does limit how licensors can use the songs they pay for, but people can still get complete access to the entire library for roughly $200 a year. 

Whatever the case, it’s important to value your music. Charge what you’re worth.

Do I want to keep submitting my songs to Music Vine just to earn $3 a pop? I’m seriously thinking about finding another solution.

But am I okay not earning anything with Crucial Music for a while with the hopes of one day landing a big payout? Yeah, but I’d also like to make money from music in the meantime.

These are questions you’ve got to ask yourself. 

The point is to realize your music is valuable. 

Keep submitting

Crucial has rejected more of my songs than they’ve accepted. 

But that means their standards are high. And that means the payouts will be higher and the projects may offer more exposure. 

So if a library you respect rejects you, keep making music and keep submitting. 

Make music you love, not what’s in demand

I’ve seen people in the sync licensing world say you should copy the music you hear in commercials. 

They don’t mean plagiarize. They mean imitate. 

So, they say, listen to the music in that Kay Jewelers commercial. Then make a song that sounds like that.

But there’s a big problem with that.

What if you don’t make that kind of music? What if you find it cheesy? 

They say it doesn’t matter — make it anyway.

This is a terrible idea. Your music has a place in the licensing industry, whether it’s orchestral or EDM or heavy metal. 

Plus, music supervisors are often looking for unique music they haven’t heard before. Supes are music lovers, and music lovers find it rewarding to discover new, honest music. 

Don’t compromise your creative freedom just to make money.

Sync licensing is automated income

I don’t make a full-time income from music licensing, but it is consistent. Every month, I get a little money deposited into my PayPal account without doing any extra work, other than creating and submitting the music. 

This is the definition of automated income (AKA passive income). 

You do the work once and make an unlimited amount of money from it, all while doing little to no additional work.

Every musician needs at least one source of automated income. Sync licensing is a great option.

You need a plan

I created a long-term plan for my career in mid-2018, making sync licensing the central aspect in early 2019. 

Then…

Crucial Music accepted my first song submission in July 2018.

I got my first ever license in April 2019 (through Pond5). 

Music Vine added me to their roster in September 2019. 

It’s clear to me this plan changed everything. I now know what I want from my music career, I have a plan to get there, and I figured out what I need to do today.

I 100% believe in making a plan because it’s working for me.

Every musician needs a plan. That’s why I give away the plan-making tool I use: the One-Thing-A-Day worksheet

Main Takeaways

Here are the most important parts of this case study on sync licensing:

  • Find 1-3 good sync licensing companies to work with
  • Remember your music is valuable
  • Keep submitting music to libraries/supervisors
  • Make music that resonates with you
  • Sync licensing is a great source of automated income
  • Create a plan for your career

Happy syncing, folks.

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