Wednesday, August 12, 2015

LA Sync Mission part 3: 10 more tips from music supervisors

By Emmanuel Legrand

Here are 10 more tips from music supervisords gathered in LA during the 11th Sync Mission (July 13-17) organised by the BPI, the MPA and UKTI taken from the comments made by over 60 music supervisors and sync specialists.

[This story was initially published online by Music Week.]

11 - Build relationships
Newcomers in the sync business should not expect everything at once. Most supervisors work with trusted sources and when they start working with a new supplier, it is a leap of faith. "So much is based on relationship, some going back 20 years in my case," said Cybele Pettus, music supervisor at games specialist Electronic Arts. "I want to get to know people and that is why I don't send pitches, but the catchphrase is that I am always working on something," she added. But for some, building relations with newcomers is just a natural part of the process. "We are always trying to find new things, new bands, new publishers, new labels," said Jason Alexander, president of Hit the Ground Running.
On feature films, there are also editors who have their own views on music, and some rights-owners are tempted to go directly to them, but music supervisors are not always keen: "Music editors do not know about licensing," said Amine Ramer, music supervisor at States of Sound. "Part of my job is to pull what they put in because they can't have it." As a matter of good policy, Ramer suggests it is "better not to bypass music supervisors by going directly to music editors. That's a good way to annoy music supervisors."
12 - Reactivity is key to success
It is crucial to be quick to respond to a request for a sync. Do not let mail sit in your inbox. Respond and respond quickly. You stand more chance of winning a sync if you of the reactive kind. You make friends that way and you also build a reputation as a reliable partner. Sam Diaz, director of music supervision at CBS Television Studios, who has worked on such properties as NCIS, Blue Blood and The Good Wives, was adamant on the need to be reactive. "TV is fast-paced and many times we only have a few hours [to clear music], so our life is easier when we deal with someone who administers master and publishing and can do it with one mail," he said.
13 - Do not discard any genre
You may have a very genre-specific catalogue and think you have little chance of scoring syncs but, on principle, do not think it does not have potential. You never know what a studio might be working on. It is all about context. The forthcoming adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel The Man In The High Castle takes place in a dystopian world where the US territory is shared between the Japanese and the Germans. As a result, the supervisors were looking for pop Japanese songs circa mid-60s, and the trailer comes with a version of German classic Edelweiss sung in Japanese! Meanwhile, Danny Cannon, the British filmmaker and executive producer TV series Gotham, set in New York in the 70s has a soundtrack made almost exclusively of British music from the late 70s. Heritage rock acts have been used a lot (CSI with The Who is a good example), but a lot of supervisors like indie material that is fresh and new.
14 - Non-scripted shows deliver solid performance rights
When it comes to non-scripted shows, from games to reality-TV shows, it is "quality and quantity," according to John Fulford, music supervisor at Entertainment Asset Partners. Joe Brandt, music supervisor at Collins Avenue, who works on TV-reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians for E! Networks, says a show can have up to 120 different music cues over 42 minutes. "Budgets are always an issue, so libraries with a blanket license are often the easy solution," he explained. Music libraries like Source Audio are often used to get music for these shows, but a lot of supervisors are also looking for specific sounds or feels to match the action on the screen. "On a lot of unscripted shows I work on, we hire composers to have a score for the show and then do licenses for songs to supplement that," said Carrie Hughes, music supervisor at Reflection Music: "It is decided early on and depends of budgets." Brandt is a huge fans of stems for non-scripted shows: "It is amazing what you can do with stems, like just having drums and bass."
Due to the high volume of cues on non-scripted shows, license fees tend to be lower than for scripted shows, but on the plus side, noted Carrie Hughes, music supervisor at Reflection Music, "unscripted shows can be aired a lot of times so back-end royalties can be bigger than on scripted shows. Reality TV is underrated in terms of discovering talent and value. The music is played more so you earn more, even if our fees are low. These shows also break new music more [than scripted shows], because we use artists so far before big budget [shows] pay attention to them."
15 - Baby acts and indie bands can do well
If the biggest syncs go to the biggest acts in general, supervisors like hearing about -- and pick -- new acts for two main reasons: They're usually cheaper, and they are fresher. "On films with a budget range of $1m to $3m, we can use a lot of indie artists," said Sarah Webster from Saraswati Music Supervision. For example, in the US series The Royals, filmmaker Mark Schwahn was a fan of indie band Slowclub and he arranged for the band to perform during a scene, during which a news snippet was also produced. "We shot the band and gave them exposure on the internet," explained Rebecca Rienks, music supervisor at E! Networks. "This is ancillary content for us, but for a band it's a huge things. They got paid but they also gave us the piece for the news item."
Baby acts are also very much used in games, not least because of the long timeline, according to Cybele Pettus, music supervisor at Electronic Arts: "Because of the timeline of games, the key to have music as fresh as possible when it comes out. We do make enormous efforts to hear what is coming, we also focus on baby bands. I want to hear the ones that have the most chance to break out."
16 - Fees are down but usage is up
With the multiplication of shows, of channels and with the internet as a new source of distribution, the opportunities to place music have mushroomed. But at the same time, fees have been somewhat eroded. "It's amazing how people think we can spend. Even on Breaking Bad we only started to have budgets by the end of the show. We have to be creative. We rarely have the budgets people think we do," said Thomas Golubic, music supervisor at SuperMusicVision. "Fees are plummeting," confirmed Pamela Lillig, VP for Film & TV at BMG Chrysalis US, who warned of the tendency the some rights owners have to give away music for free in order to get a foot at the door. "If we all give it away, I'm not sure there will be a sync business in a few years from now."
On feature films, the budget - and the fees - will be very different whether it is produced by a studio or by an independent company. Andy Ross, music supervisor at Cutting Edge Group said that independently-produced feature films sometimes come with budgets as low as $15,000 for music. "I worked on two movies with 25 songs in each, and each had a [music] budget of $25,000," he said.
17 - Fees depend on projects and leverage

Fees are dependent on the media genre (film, TV, advertising, games, trailers, etc), the type of show, the budget, the clout of the act and the desire from filmmakers and producers to have the song. Don't expect a tonne of six figure cheques (yes, they still pay with cheques, very 20th Century!).

How can rights-owners negotiate a good fee? "It is all about leverage and figuring out what leverage you have," said Pamela Lillig, VP for film & TV at BMG Chrysalis US. "You have to seize the moment and make the best money. You have to hope the songs are the one that creatively work best for them. It often is a big lottery draw." Leverage can help get a clause of the "most favourite nation" which means that "nobody is going to get a higher fee than you", but for Ann Kline, an independent music supervisor, "if you are an indie artist, you will not get it. It depends on your leverage." If you are Metallica (who own their publishing) or The Beatles (administered through Sony/ATV), you have leverage. It also depends how much the filmmaker or the producers want the track. Mara Schwartz, founder of Superior Music Publishing, explained that if the deal is about a track that will be used as background music in a bar, it is something that you have the least leverage on "but if it is Bye Bye Blackbird [for a movie] with Johnny Depp where the phrase is used by the actor, then you have more leverage."
18 - Understand the contracts
Most studios have standards contracts, but it is always recommended, in the beginning, to have a pair of lawyers' eyes looking over the fine print. Contracts vary substantially according to usage. For the licensing of a track for films and TV shows, the terms are usually that the license is for the world and in perpetuity. In adversing, the use of the music is limited within a specific time frame, and very often by geographic boundaries. "For most clearances these days, it is in perpetuity for all media, at least for film and TV," said Pamela Lillig, VP for film and TV at BMG Chrysalis US. "With [a show for] Netflix, we want to clear everything for the world and perpetuity," confirmed Thomas Golubic, music supervisor at SuperMusicVision. In the case of some usages deemed "for internet only" Lillig suggested to pay special attention to the terms, especially if it is music for advertising. "If somebody says it is just for internet, you have to know more," explained Lillig.
19 - $$$
You will be paid, but be patient! Big studios or networks like NBCUniversal clear hundreds of songs per week and it does create a backlog of invoices in the accounting department, so it can take some time. You may even be paid by... cheque, this piece of paper that has almost disappeared from accounting tools in Europe. And there's not much you can do about it.
20 - Patience and persistence...
Be patient and persistent and things will happen. It takes time to build relationships, and you have to take a long term view about building a syncs business. After all, as British filmmaker/producer Danny Cannon said, "Any project that is made anywhere should be called a miracle." So try to make miracles happen! And hear one last word of advice from John Anderson from Hunnypot: "Forget what you all learned and focus on your writers and get great songs. If you have great songs, it will be easy to place your music."

More about the British Sync Mission 2015:
Part 1: Understanding the US sync market
Part 2: 10 tips from music supervisors


  1. Hi Emmanuel very interesting read on this year's remarkable #SyncMission in LA. I have bookmarked it as a "go to reminder for Mayvid" on useful tips. Well done! See you soon in the US maybe at MUSEXPO. SoulRock You!

  2. The comments are terrific and I too am going to bookmark. The declining fees are troubling especially to the newcomers who do not bring any brand leverage to the table. Thanks again

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  5. Great Great article and comments!!!!
    Thank you.


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