Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Synchs (part 1): Understanding the Hollywood market

By Emmanuel Legrand

The market for music placement in TV shows, films, video games or advertising spots has been booming in the past ten years. In the first of this two-part series, we look at the Hollywood synch market. Part 2 will provide 10 tips on how to successfully place music. [This story was originally written for German trade magazine Musikmarkt.]


Martin Scorcese's movies, TV shows 'CSI' or 'Revenge', video games series 'FIFA' all share an extensive use of music. Behind these soundtracks and playlists there is now a significant business – the market for synchronisation and music placement is one of the rare segment of the music industry that has been showing growth in recent years.

"With the decline of mechanicals, synch have become a meaningful source of income," says Los Angeles-based David Renzer, chairman/CEO of the Spirit Music Group and formerly global head of Universal Music Publishing Group. With a catalogue that contains works from T-Rex and Pete Townshend as well as by new songwriters, Spirit derives more than 40% of its income from synchs, way above the industry's rate.

"We are very aggressive in this area," says Renzer. "We have a strategic approach on synchs. For example, we have signed an act that is currently without a record deal [electronic band Big Data] and we already have two or three synch deals in the pipeline. It is a good way to raise the profile of an act and have revenues."

Since Hollywood is the centre of the film and TV industry, it is also the most sought after place for rights holders hoping to license their music in films, TV shows, advertising, video games, trailers, or on-air promos. There are now several events that are dedicated to the synch sector, among them music conference MusExpo in Los Angeles, which includes a much-attended Global Synch & Consumer BrandsSummit (April 6-9). The event gathers some of the most powerful and influential music supervisors in the city, including executives working for ad agencies and specialising in brand placement.

Best practices

"Synchs have become so important because they give exposure to huge audiences, which can be priceless. In addition, a great synch can also be an untapped new revenue source, especially for aspiring artists or writers, and from a marketing perspective, it helps you tell a story, if you have a good synch deal," says Sat Bisla, who organises each year MusExpo.
MusExpo's Sat Bisla
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Wordwide)

Based in Los Angeles, Bisla took notice that making a dent in the synch market was difficult, and decided to focus on helping rights holders to connect with decision-makers from films studios, TV production houses, brands marketers, or video game producers. He explains, "It's about exchanging information on best practices and, by then, embrace the great opportunities that supervisors can provide them. It is fundamental to have a general understanding as to ho each platform works and understanding where these businesses are heading."

Competitive business

The business of synchronisation is becoming ever more competitive, with an increasing number of rights holders pushing to find placements for their products, from major labels and publishers to indies from all around the world. Once such independent player is Manfred Zahringer, founder and CEO Iceberg Music Group in Denmark. "Thirteen years ago, I could see that record sales were going down and I decided to go more into synch," recalls Zahringer, a German-native who has lived in Denmark for over 40 years. "I had to learn a hell of a lot, so I decided to go to the US. The first year I did nothing in terms of business. I felt lost but I was learning and making contacts."

Zahringer now goes to the US once or twice a year, and his network of contacts has grown significantly. "I prefer to go for face time. For me, it is more important than 200 mails," he says. "I try to never take more then 20 minutes of their time." And he constantly makes efforts to widen his network of supervisors, to include people working for trailers studios, trailers for houses games, or films supervisors.

A band like The Blue Van has had so far 65 placements of their music, with revenues in excess of a million dollars, according to Zahringer. "I've had big ones and small ones, up to $150,000," reveals Zahringer, who adds, "It is tougher to get into this business. There were not that many people ten years ago. Now every single content owner trying to sell synchs."

Compared to Europe, where the business of on-air promos, is covered by the blanket license under which broadcasters operate, in the US, broadcasters have to license music for promos, which creates a wide market for synchs, explains Berlin-based Benjamin Budde, head of creative at Budde Music. "The synch market offers much more opportunities in US than in Europe," he says. “Synchs have become the most important growing part of our business.” With a catalogue dominated by electronic music as well as classics such as 'Big In Japan', Budde Music has experienced synch successes with acts such as Apparat/Moderat, Swedish band The Majority Says, Zombie Nation or Canada's Richie Hawtin.

Pitching supervisors

This frenzy to get deals has turned music supervisors into extremely courted people who receive hundreds of new tracks and requests each day. As a result, the pitching process can be frustrating with unanswered mails and no communication with supervisors. Some of them use some form of prioritisation. "There are some people [in the business] I pay attention to and there are times when I have too many submissions and can't deal with them all," explains Dave Curtin, head of music production at Yessian.

Microsoft's Kyle Hopkins
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Wordwide)
It is important to know what the music supervisor is working on, but also establish contact one way or another. And then, each supervisor has its own needs. Some, like Kyle Hopkins, head of music supervision at Microsoft Media Acquisitions, says he cannot promise to respond to all requests but he tries to be as thorough as possible, on the grounds that he has such a vast need of music for video games that it can come from many different sources, from majors to unsigned artists. "Kyle is one of the best guys in the business, he listens to people, he understands the issues, and he uses a lot of music for his games," says Jonas Holst, head of film & TV/creative at Universal Music Publishing Sweden.

Veteran Lauri Lambert from L3entertainment has been 25 years in the music business and now serves as a matchmaker between brands and rights holders. She invites rights holders to do some due diligence when pitching for a brand. "We get a lot of music that is inappropriate so be selective with what you send," she says. "Do some research and check what the brands are doing. Find what media their use, what music they use."

Video games are also very attractive for rights holders as a game can carry several dozen tracks. Cybele Pettus, senior music supervisor at Electronic Arts, one of the leading video game studio, says she looks for all kinds of music genres, not just hip hop of metal. "I tend to look for new stuff," she explains. "It's like a radio station, I want something new that will be relevant by the time of the release of the game. And it does not matter to me if you are indie or major, or unsigned."

Quick reaction

Winning a synch deal owes a lot to a quick capacity of reaction from rights holders. With that regards, those who can supply a one-stop-shop with tracks for which both the rights to publishing and to the masters are cleared has an edge. “I always try to provide publishing and recording rights,” says Zahringer. “And we are very reactive.” Yasmine Gallus, manager song marketing at Budde, confirms, “Sometimes it is hard to clear the masters and by the time it's done, the deal might be gone. So it's better if you have cleared both beforehand.”

Iceberg's Manfred Zahringer
All the music experts in Hollywood agree that competition is harder, which puts pressure on rates, but, at the same time, many new avenues are now open for synchs, especially online and overall, the pot of revenues has been growing. But if the synch business is lucrative, it is not easy to know what are the rates paid by the licensees.

A group of five music supervisors working for Fox, involved in music for films, TV shows, sports programmes or on-air music, said during their MusExpo panel that rates depend on the budget, the number of tracks to license, and also on the nature of the project. Obviously, the music budget of a cable channel will not be the same than the one from a national broadcaster. A major Hollywood film will have a significant music budget, up to $600,000, while a film produced by an independent studio will spend 10% or less of that amount.

Zahringer says that music on a promo for a TV shows can generate $2-3,000 per week. Advertising placement can go in the millions for superstar material, but indie rights holders can also place music at decent rates. "I once earned $150,000 for a synch, but opportunities like that do not come often," says Zahringer. Renzer talks of a placement of a track on an Xbox ad that single handedly helped recoup the advance made to a new writer.

"The biggest dollars in synch will come from ads, like car commercials, especially if the campaign is global," says Renzer. "These deals can generate significant fees. That's were the big opportunities are. A theme song to a TV show that goes on prime time and then on syndication worldwide can also be very meaningful. 'CSI' has been a huge opportunity for the Who's repertoire. It is a franchise that delivers."


[Typed while listening to Metronomy's "Love Letters" (Because) and Thievery Corporation's "Saudade" (ESI)]

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