Sync Licensing Basics: Part 2
Music is a key element of any piece of media, but is usually the last piece of a television show, movie, advertisement, or video game to fall into place. Time constraints and budget concerns make the process tricky to navigate. However, music can make or break a project; it sets the mood and tone of scenes in our movies and shows. It heightens the anticipation of tense moments, evokes an emotional response in tender scenes, and can influence our perception of media in ways no script, production team, or lighting designer can. Music speaks to us on a profound level, so it’s important to match the right music to the content. A properly structured music licensing deal is an important piece of the production puzzle.
The Two Main Clearances
The two types of licensing we’ll focus on today are sync rights and master rights. Sync rights are the rights to a particular composition — think the sheet music to a song. Sync rights are granted by the songwriter and publisher and give the rights to a particular composition. Master rights, on the other hand, are the rights to a particular mastered recording, or specific version of a song. The sync rights are composed of a songwriter’s and publisher’s share of a song, while the master rights are usually owned by the record label that represents the recording artist.
Getting the Right Clearance for Your Project
Determining what type, or types, of clearance you will need for your project is crucial. “Recall, Sync rights are paid when a song is synchronized with another visual medium like TV, film, the Internet, or video games. The biggest buyers of Sync rights are ad agencies, video production studios, and video game developers. To use a track, the user needs two licenses: a ‘synchronization license’ from the composition owner (usually a music label that represents a writer) and a ‘master use license’ (from a label that represents the recording artist). Because there are two licenses — one for Music Publishing and one for Recorded Music — Sync rights span the two businesses within the music industry.”
In order to determine what kind of clearance is right for your purposes, you need to know some specifics about your project. What type of media is it? Is this a radio commercial, or a YouTube ad? Will it be streaming online? Will the media be paid or unpaid? Will there be any trade show or industrial usage of the work? Will it be broadcast? Also, how many spots or videos will there be? For indie films in particular, film festival rights can be an affordable option.
Term and territory are also important considerations when deciding what type of license to obtain. How long will the work be played? In what territories will it be available? Reducing the term of a license can be an effective way to cut fees. 13 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, and perpetuity are common terms for licensing, but other term lengths can often be negotiated. Many advertisements are often limited by region, or broken down into Designated Market Areas, or DMAs, so it’s important to consider where the work will be available.
How many times and for how long will the music be played in the work? How long is the overall work? It is important to consider this when negotiating fees and royalties. Another thing to weigh is whether or not exclusivity is important to you; do you need exclusive rights to this music? If so, expect to pay more since this means the licensor will be missing out on potential income from other licensees, and will expect you to make up the difference. Category exclusivity allows a licensee to be the only business in its product category associated with the sponsored property, and generally extends for six months in the US.
There are also other options that can be negotiated into your licensing agreement, such as the right to add other territories, add additional terms, or create different versions of the work. For indie films, step payments are a common option that guarantee payment if the film revenue reaches a certain threshold.
Fees and Royalties
Fees and royalties are important considerations when reaching a licensing agreement. Upfront fees are determined by a number of factors, some outside of your control. Sometimes the budget is healthy, while other times things are leaner and the client needs a favor. While it’s true that royalty-free music library tracks are cheap, they often have a sound that matches their price point. On the other hand, using classic, well-known songs can be very expensive.
One option is cover songs, whose sync rights can be purchased from the publisher (which can be costly). The song can then be re-recorded in a way that matches the project for less than the original master rights. Another option can be searching the public domain; many classical pieces are available via the public domain and therefore don’t require sync rights, though full master rights for the particular recording are still necessary. However, public domain pieces can be difficult to verify and proof of public domain is up to you to furnish.
Often times, a master rights owner will insert a clause that stipulates that they make the same amount as the sync rights holder. This is referred to as a Most Favored Nation, or MFN clause (it sounds so heavy and official because the concept originated in international trade and carried over into the music licensing and other industries).
It is important to note that broadcasts can generate royalties for years when aired on television. Over time, these royalties can far exceed the initial fees paid, so you should consider your long-term goals for a work when reaching a licensing agreement.
When Rights Go Wrong: Avoiding Music Clearance Mistakes
The process for obtaining appropriate music licensing is complex and full of potential pitfalls. Sampling a song that is uncleared can get you into trouble, especially if it is a well-known piece of music. It is also important to consider that some pop songs may have as many as five songwriters, all of whom have to approve of the licensing agreement. Additionally, all samples must be cleared, including getting both the sync and master rights.
Working with experienced music licensing companies can be an advantage, as they can offer you options that suit both your project needs and budget. Avoid common music licensing mistakes by making sure to clear both master and sync rights, paying your invoices on time, avoiding improper usage, and being sure to get all your options in order when negotiating an agreement. It can also be helpful to re-record a song that you have obtained the sync rights to, as this can be a more affordable option than getting the master rights.