Sunday, September 7, 2014

More on synchs – 10 tips from music placement experts

by Emmanuel Legrand

How does the music get into the advert?” This was the simple question (and a few others) that Sat Bisla, founder of A&R Worldwide and organiser of Los Angeles trade show MusExpo, put to a panel of synchronisation experts from both sides of the Atlantic, during the recent c/o pop convention, that took place in Cologne August 20-22. His panel included Natasha Baldwin, London-based Group President for Creative and Marketing at music publishing indie Imagem Music Group, Hans Brouwer, CEO of Dutch music agency MassiveMusic, Kyle Hopkins, Head of Music Supervision at Microsoft & Xbox in San Francisco, and Nadin Lefkeli, Music & Business Director of German music agency White Horse Music. Below is a compilation of the different points that they raised during the session at c/o pop.

The panel of experts (l-r): MassiveMusic's Hans Brouwer, 
White Horse Music's Nadin Lefkeli, Imagem Music Group's Natasha Baldwin, 
Microsoft's Kyle Hopkins and moderator Sat Bisla. 
(Picture: A&R Worldwide) 

1 - The future is mobile

Duh! Sounds obvious, but so far little attention has been put in the mobile space when it comes to syncs, said Microsoft's Hopkins who believes that the explosion of wearable devices "means that we will see more and more activity in that space, because it is the most rapidly changing in the technology space at the moment." He added, "The mobile space is of huge interest because it is exploding. We will have an ability to do more in the music space on mobile device and it is evolving very quickly. And the great thing is that there are no set precedents or rules."

2 - Artists are on board...

The time when bands were turning their back on synchs sees to be a thing of the past. Aside from a couple of acts (Tom Waits, among a few others) who would not lend their music to synchs, most acts are now open to opportunities in that area. Some will draw the line on the type of projects, especially when it comes to advertising, but many bands, according to Imagem's Baldwin enjoy the idea of having their music in TV shows or movies. Baldwin took the example of a US rock band that was totally opposed to music placements a few years ago but eventually changed its views (could it be that the selling of their recordings stalled?). "I have seen of a lot of bands, some of them very high profile, changing their attitudes [towards synchs],” said Baldwin. “The perception has shifted a lot.”

3 - ...and they think strategically

Most of the bands are extremely strategic in their approach to music placements, said Imagem's Baldwin. A good case in point is Daft Punk, who are quite business savvy and who are careful in their decision-making process. “We worked extremely closely with Columbia [Daft Punk label in the US],” said Baldwin, whose company administers Daft Punk's publishing catalogue. “We refused all synchs while album was out, and when sales started to go down, we started taking synch requests. For small bands it is a different situation. They want to be able to build their profile. There is a strategic process around all bands.”

4 - Synchs never come too early in a career

Don't think that because you don't have a recording deal you can't get placements. Brouwer's MassiveMusic, told the story of how he spotted on MySpace (remember?) a young Danish artist named Agnes Obel, who had a few hundred followers and a couple of songs on display. Brouwer liked a song he heard, eventually contacted the artist and one of her songs ended up in a T-Mobile ad, even though the artist was yet to record her first album.
Similarly, Imagem's Baldwin noted an increasing interest from brands and agencies for artists at a very early stage of their development. “In UK,” she said, “we see acts that get B-listed on [BBC] Radio 1 and we get phone calls from agencies who say they want to work with these bands. The same happens in the Middle East. There are a lot of British expats and what happens in the UK charts has an impact there.”

5 - It is hard to tailor hits for brands

Clients – ad agencies and brands – sometimes entertain high expectations about the kind of music that they would like to use. To a point that some clients do ask for hits, but not existing hits, they want tailored tracks that will eventually become hits by being associated with brands. And that's not realistic, says MassiveMusic's Brouwer. “Brands come to us and say can you write a hit,” said, “but if we could write hits wouldn't we actually be doing it for someone else than a brand?”

6 - Expect direct and honest discussions on rates

The panel agreed that the attitude of music supervisors and brands has changed with regards to budgets and are now more open and direct about the budgets that they have. Knowing exactly what pot is available can save a lot of time for each party involved. “Honest conversation dialogue with all parties is fundamental in the process,” said Imagem's Baldwin. “What you want to hear is 'I have X amount of dollars, and I want this band, so how can we find a middle ground'.” Based on these premises, deals are easier and quicker to be sealed. But as White Horse's Lefkeli noted, there will always be people who will play with their cards close to their chests as part of the negotiating process. “It depends on who you have in front of you,” she explained. “Some people like negotiating as a game.”

7 - Rates are not increasing...

“There's been a shift towards worldwide buy-outs but fees are no longer as big as they used to be,” explained MassiveMusic's Brouwer. Big brands can still pay big fees, especially for worldwide campaigns, but in most cases prices are eroded, not least because there tends to be more placements per projects for more or less the same budgets. “Fees are not the same any more,” said White Horse Music's Lefkeli. “Yes, there are more fees, but these are lower fees. But it depends on the copyright. If have a big copyright, [clients] will pay the big fee.”

8 - ...but there are more synchs opportunities

But on the other hand, the number of projects is growing, in particular thanks to an explosion of online channels that require a lot of synchs. “Our clients need more rights than before,” said White Horse Music's Lefkeli. “We try to license upfront a bigger packaging [of rights] so that there is more flexibility for the clients.”
Microsoft's Hopkins also noted that in the video game sphere, there's even more synchs now in games than before. “I am doing five time as many synchs as I was five years ago,” he revealed. “So my partners [in the music business] know that if I have a small budget for a campaign and it is not going to them, there will be another one very soon. And nothing is off limit with regards to the projects I am working on. Music can be from indie publishers, major publishers, unsigned bands, etc.”

9 - Always deliver quality...

Key rule to keep your clients happy: don't mess up with quality, be it quality of the song, quality of the recording, quality of the digital files. MassiveMusic's Brouwer commented: “You always have to deliver quality. If you don't, as a company, you are gone. If they call you, you should deliver on time.” And don't overload music supervisors with too much material. “Give 4 or five killer songs. Not 30 or 40!” advised Imagem's Baldwin.

10 - ...and respect deadlines, or else!

Again, what matters is to deliver and deliver on time, and that means doing it at all levels of the process, from the commissioning or pitching to the agreements and the signing of contracts to the final delivery of the digital files. Microsoft's Hopkins put it very bluntly: "Video developers have deadlines that they have to meet and are not interested in the situations [linked to negotiating syncs], but I also need to keep the publishers happy." Bottom line for Hopkins: "[People] need answers and it needs to be done on time."

[Typed while listening to Danish collective Den Sorte Skole, whose performance at c/o pop was simply exceptional. Their music – which has not been commercially released due to clearance issues – can be downloaded there for free.]

[This is my 100th post since I started this blog a few years ago. It's been a great experience -- what a thrill when you notice that you have readers as far as Mongolia or Chile! -- and I am looking forward to the next 100. Thanks to all the readers.]