Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Synchs (part 2): Ten tips for a successful business

By Emmanuel Legrand

The success to placing music is based on knowledge, opportunism and building a network of music supervisors. A previous instalment looked at the way the synch market works in Hollywood. Here are ten tips on how to better approach this market and maximise your chances to place music, based on discussions and comments from MusExpo's Synch Summit in April 2014.

1 - Do your homework.
In short: Make sure you know who does what and which shows they work on. Key to a successful synch business is about building relationship. But before you approach any music supervisor it is imperative to do some basic works: identify the supervisors, try to understand how they work, what shows they work on, what genre of music they need, how they like it delivered, etc. To meet with supervisors, some events such as MusExpo's Synch Summit or Mark Frieser's travelling Sync Summit (the most recent event was held in Paris and the next one is in June in Los Angeles) can provide valuable access to some key supervisors. At MusExpo's Synch Summit, over 20 supervisors shared views with the audience, but most of all, they explained how they worked, what they expected and the best way to deal with their needs. This is usually the best way to gather info and start in the competitive business of song placement. "Do some research," says brand consultant Lauri Lambert from L3 Entertainment. "We get a lot of music that is inappropriate."

2 – Less is more
Do not flood supervisors with too many tracks! Once you understand who needs what, act wisely by trying to send what you consider are your best tracks. What you send and how you send it in terms of format can vary according to each supervisor. Some like MP3s, other still work with CDs, others will make do with a link to a site where they can download music files and data such as bios. For example, Cybele Pettus, Sr. Music Supervisor at Electronic Arts, does not want CDs and prefers download, and does not want to get more than three tracks from one source. This requires to be selective. "Get me your best stuff," advises one supervisor. "Be selective with what you send," adds L3's Lambert. Some rights holders send regular information to supervisors like Denmark's Iceberg which send a newsletter every three weeks, with no more than three tracks with instrumental versions and lyrics.

3 - Which genres fare best?
In theory, there's no boundaries to what can be placed, it all depends on the context, and the nature of the project, but some music genres will do better than others. Instrumental tracks are always in need, especially for on-air promos, and songs with strong musicality with catchy hooks are in demand. Electronic music is a genre that does cross boundaries and is "very popular," says Benjamin Budde, head of creative at Budde Music & Global Publishing in Berlin. "Classic songs from our catalogue, like 'Big In Japan' also do well with synchs," adds Budde. Former Universal Music Publishing CEO David Renzer, now chairman/CEO of the Spirit Music Group, says synchs can also "continue to breathe life into copyrights" with the use of catalogue material in series and films. Renzer says "heritage" bands such as T-Rex or The Who get good responses from music supervisors. But he states that even an act without a recording deal such as Big Data, signed to Spirit, has already "two or three synch deals in the pipeline." Video games are song-intensive and tend to require upbeat, metal and hip hop tracks, but not only, according to EA's Pettus. Hence the importance to follow point 1.

4 – Clear rights beforehand and do not sell what you don't have.
Make sure you have all the rights cleared from your end (especially for songs using multiple samples). This will help speed up the process, especially if time is an issue (see below), but it will also set the foundation for a good relationship with supervisors. Providing lyrics is also useful so that supervisors know from the outset if the songs can be usable in a mainstream context. The worst case scenario for a film studio or a TV production company is sued by a right owner who had not given clearance for synch rights. This can singlehandedly destroy a long established reputation with music supervisors (and can also put the job of supervisors at risk). Iceberg CEO Manfred Zahringer advises labels and publishers to talk their composers and artists through the process beforehand and obtain their approval for the use of their music in synchs at an early stage in the relationship. "Some people do not want music in ads," he explains. "I would not sign a band that would not want to do ads." Another step is to clear everything, and make sure all the rights holders and in the loop. "We are very careful about clearances,' says Zahringer. "We would never forget [to list] a composer and have not made a single mistake in 14 years. If you forget one, supervisors are in deep shit and you are away from the picture."

5 - One-stop-shop works better
Try to bundle recording and publishing rights so that you end up offering tracks that can be cleared through one single deal. The wrong scenario is when a publisher approaches supervisors with a view to propose track without either clearing recording right, or without having checked with the artist if they are OK with the process. Imagine if a supervisor likes your music, but then discovers that the recording rights are not available because the artist does not want to license music for ads, or TV shows (Tom Waits, for example). Yasmine Gallus, manager song marketing at Budde Music in Berlin, explains: "Sometimes it is hard to clear the masters and by the time you manage to do it, the deal might be gone. When we don't have the recording rights, we consult with the owners of the masters beforehand."

6 – Time is of the essence: Be reactive and act quickly
In an ideal world, supervisors would like to have enough time to secure music and close deals. In reality, due to the amount of projects they are in charge of, most of the deals are made under the gun. So those who can react fast enough tend to get the best deals. "We win [deals] because we are quick to react," explains Budde's Gallus. Zahringer is adamant that "you should never let mails unanswered," even it it means working in the middle of the night to close a deal.

7 - Think metadata
The Fox synch team at MusExpo
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Worldwide)
Memo to rights holders: Metadata needs to be accurate, or you could lose a lot. It is usually not on top of people's priorities but metadata is a key component in the synch mix. During a panel at MusExpo, a Fox music supervisor stated that too often tracks were sent to them without accurate or complete metadata and urged rights holders to ensure that correct metadata was embedded with each tracks. It facilitates the identification of the songs and also helps guaranteeing payment, especially if tracks travel around the world with TV shows or films and can generate performing rights.

8 - Understand budget constraints, be flexible during negotiations
Budde Music's Benjamin Budde
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Worldwide)
Not everything gets licensed and not everything deserves six figure cheques. Each project has its own budget, and a song placement on a TV show that uses dozens of songs will not pay the same as a song in the opening credits of a feature film. On-air synchs can trade for a few hundred dollars, while TV shows can pay few thousands dollars for a song, and songs on blockbusters can fetch go for six figures. With advertising, superstars can claim several hundred thousands if not over a million dollars for the use of a hit song, especially if this is a global campaign. However, many experts point out that rates tend to be under pressure, if not going down, but the amount of music licensed is growing steadily. "Budgets are going down and if sometimes you can succeed with one big sync, it is much better to make sure that you have synchs on a rolling basis," says Budde. Spirit's Renzer suggests to look at "the newer non traditional synchs" such as online shows created strictly for online purposes, or micro synchs for online usage. "Making your copyrights available to be licensed at a lower cost is important," he explains. "You have to pursue al these new opportunities. For example, YouTube and Vevo involve synch licensing so that's a new area."

9 – Be patient – it takes time to build trustworthy relationships
Anyone who has been in the business of synchs tells the same story: It does not happen overnight. There is a learning curve to understand the business, then time is needed to build a network of contacts, and more time to make deals. But if you have to have the right repertoire and the right approach it should pay dividends. "They [music supervisors] have to believe in you as a trustworthy person and it does not happen after just one meeting," says Zahringer, who admits it took his two to three years to start navigating with some confidence in the sector -- and he is learning all the time.

10 – Be persistent – do not give up, and try harder
Patience is one thing but persistence in reaching out to music supervisors is key to building a business, with the proviso that you have to be careful not to "harass" them. "I sometimes waited four to six years to get my first meeting [with some supervisors]," says Zahringer. "It can take a while." For Spirit's Renzer, the best advice to rights holders looking for synchs is “persistence.” He elaborates, “It's a crowded business, there are lots of people chasing that same opportunity so you have to be persistent, have good judgement and sometimes be flexible on deal-making. Make sure you also have the right tools – online database, pitching tools – so that the process is made easy for the end-user.” For Budde's Gallus success in this field is all about building "strong relationships," but with an attitude. She explains, "Focus on your artists and be passionate about your artists. Supervisors know we are passionate about music, and that we help build the profile of our artists. So make sure you are behind the bands."

10bis – Be lucky!

[Typed while listening to Todd Terje's "It's Album Time" (Olsen Records) and Irina Bjorklund's "La vie est une fete"]


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