Ask the… Music Supervisor/Sync Agent
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For those who are unaware of these posts let me give you a little recap:
I ask a handful of people within a certain area of the music industry the questions that you as artists have always wanted a truthful answer to. They then answer anonymously allowing them to be as brutally honest as possible and therefore it stops them sugarcoating the things, which bands/artists might not want to hear.
So in the past I’ve harped on about ‘9 tips to land a sync’ and all that nonsense, but what do other people think? For all that you know I could have just been lying my Yorkshire arse off all this time. In theory I could be more dishonest than the ‘About Me’ section of Justin Lee Collins’ match.com profile.
So I thought it was only fair to get the thoughts and feelings of others who are responsible for the art of sync. They all work in different fields to give you a nice spectrum of answers:
Person 1 specialises in US TV
Person 2 specialises in movie trailers
Person 3 specialises in UK TV
Person 4 specialises in computer games
Question – There’s just me: I’ve no ‘team’ to speak of; do I really have a chance of landing a sync? If you want an artist to have at least one person on their side to speak to; who would it be? A Lawyer? Manager? Publisher? Label? etc.
- Needle in a haystack of endless haystacks. Your chance of landing a sync on your own without any type of commercial or critical success (where a supervisor might find your music organically) are almost none. It’s not unheard of and if you have the perfect song for the right project and send it to the right person at the exact right time you MIGHT have a chance. Good luck!
- There’s always a chance. Some of our most successful artists came about from a cold submission. But everyone is busy so it does help to have someone on your side who has relationships. I could go months without having time to listen to unsolicited material. The biggest thing is HOW you send unsolicited material. For every 100 emails I get asking “What are you looking for right now?” (which I never reply to if I don’t know that person), I get one email from a dude (or dudette) who actually does some research on our crew and our sound and our projects and our aesthetic – then sends me a link to download a couple pieces of music that they feel I may like. One. And it’s usually a slamming pitch that leads to something. THE BCC GENERIC EMAILS DON’T HELP AND WASTE EVERYONE’S TIME. Try and create a relationship. Come with an informed, curated, personal approach. That’s how you get a sync… Lawyers, managers, publishers, labels, sync agents – there are good ones and bad ones. Find one that fits with what you’re doing as an artist first and foremost. Then look at their track record, client roster, and ask about relationships they have with specific music supervisors or projects you’re interested in.
- Absolutely, there is no reason why you couldn’t land a sync, although you will find it a great deal easier if you have someone who can represent your publishing rights for you. The world of TV is a fast moving one, with lots of tight deadlines. This means Music Supervisors are always looking for the easiest route to source music. If they need to faff around with individual contracts for works which aren’t registered with the relevant collection societies they are unlikely to i) have the time to pursue it and ii) be bothered.
- I would recommend any of the above people on their side to be the point of contact. I have done some great sync work dealing with any of the above. Of course you can sometimes deal with people who seem to throw obstacles in the way, but generally this happens with inexperienced people such as an artist Manager who has been recruited as they are old friends with the artist.
Question – That Pursehouse dude in a previous blog said that people like you would rather talk to someone like him who represent lots of bands rather than speaking to lots of bands individually. How much truth is there in that? Or is he just trying to get me to sign up to Sentric?
- He is trying to get you to sign up, but that’s because he knows what’s good for you. He likes your music and can help you. You need help. No one can do everything on their own. You need to concentrate on writing and producing and honing your craft not fishing in unfamiliar waters. Leave it to the experts.
- There’s truth to that. It does become a management issue at a certain point in dealing with the sheer volume of submissions, and finding someone like Sentric who’s a trusted voice in the community is helpful. But find someone who deeply understands your music and what you’re trying to achieve. There are sync agents or labels or managers who are known for a certain sound – find out if you have a unique place on their roster. Do you want to be another songwriter on a roster that has Willie Mason and Cat Power? It could help. Or would you rather be with someone where you’re a slight but relevant departure from the bands they’re working with? That could be to your benefit as well. If you do the research you’ll find a comfortable fit somewhere. It’ll feel like you’re destined to work together.
- He is 100% right about that. You would not believe the amount of e-mails I receive on a daily basis & I very often don’t have the time or inclination to listen through hundreds of individual tracks in the vague hope that one may be useful to me. As a Music Supervisor I have a selection of key sources that are my ‘go to’ for finding music. These are trusted suppliers, who I know are familiar with my demands in terms of quality and style of music and who are not going to cause me any headaches further down the line with clearance issues.
- There is truth in this – there’s not enough time in the day so dealing with one person that represents a number of bands can save time. The important consideration is that the person who represents you is working your material, and that you are not lost amongst 1,000’s of other bands/copyrights.
Question – What’s the most annoying thing bands do when they contact you?
- Ask me what I do and how I can help. You contacted me. Do your research!!!!! Also don’t bullshit me; talk straight and keep it simple. Let your music do the talking and then listen to what I have to say.
- TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND BCC ME ON A GENERIC EMAIL TELLING ME THEY GOT PLACEMENTS ON SOME SHITTY MTV SHOW AND GREY’S ANATOMY AND ASK ME WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AND THAT THEY HAVE A CATALOG THAT SPANS FROM BLUEGRASS TO “CUTTING EDGE HIP HOP”.
- On the rare occasion that I have actually responded to a direct e-mail from a band because they have a track I’m interested in using, the absolutely most annoying thing is to keep hounding me about whether I’ve subsequently used said track. In all honesty, it’s fairly lucky that I’ve contacted you at all & continually pestering me isn’t go to improve your chances of me using the track, in fact if anything it’s likely to rub me up the wrong way and actually reduce your chances. If I’ve said I’ll try and use it, that genuinely means I will, but it can sometimes take a while to find the right use. If I wasn’t interested in the track I wouldn’t have got in touch in the first place!!!! I don’t mean never contact me again, it’s fine to send the odd follow up but it’s a fine line, which must be tread carefully. Also, please, please, please don’t blag that you’ve got all the relevant registrations in place when I ask you whether you are PRS & PPL registered. If you don’t know what I’m talking about don’t be afraid to tell me. The world of sync copyright is a complex one & I won’t judge you for not knowing all the in’s & out’s. I will however, pretty much write you off if you’ve lied to me that you have everything in place for me to use your track & I find out you haven’t.
- It’s not so much bands but generally any contact where they are pitching material for media that we only do a little work on with no mention of our core business. It screams of “I have your contact details, but did not take the time to research what you do” and come across as a standard mail that is sent out to everyone.
Question – How should I be sending music to you? I’m guessing CD’s are pretty much pointless now?
- SoundCloud or similar. If I want a file or CD I will request it.
- I like SoundCloud links (or similar) to start. To offer music to be streamed before its downloaded is a nice touch, and it can also allow the artist to track if its been clicked/listened to or not. For downloads – please no MP3 attachments. A single link to download a zip folder containing a small folder (8-12) of tracks is perfect. I usually ask for the highest bit rate MP3 possible (320kbps) as a happy medium of decent audio quality and file size. If we want to mix something we’ll reach out for a WAV or AIFF – no need to send that big a file as a submission, but know that a 128kbps MP3 sounds shite on pretty much any system. I do still enjoy artwork and checking out production credits on vinyl or CDs, but its probably most efficient to stick with digital for an initial pitch… A small but important note: Metatagging your shit properly is not difficult, but it is art. I download dozens of folders a day and they all either say MY name or company or project in the file name. If I download and don’t have the time to listen for a few hours (or days or weeks), pretty soon I have a desktop graveyard of folders that all have my name on them. I will have zero idea where each came from. Please label your folders with your name on them. And have the metadata within the MP3 file clear as well – no missing artist or title info…. Also important. On an initial submission – don’t send a folder of ideas that best demonstrates how versatile you are. No one cares if you cover every genre. Send your best shit. If that’s all German minimal techno – fine. Next I’m looking for German minimal techno, I’ll remember who to call. I won’t ever ask myself “hmm who could I email right now that dabbles in a little bit of everything?” No one cares.
- The reality is that CD’s are more likely to sit around on my desk for a while waiting for the rare moment where I think it’s about time I tidied my desk & then realise I’ve got loads of CD’s to listen through. An e-mail with a link to a stream of your tracks is by far the best thing for me. That way I can quickly check whether it’s something I’m interested in & then follow up with a request for the tracks if it’s something I think I can use.
- Links by e-mail are good. Being an old vinyl junkie, I still like Cds and vinyl so like to receive these formats too. No e-mail attachments please!!! With me being out of the office at meetings the worst thing that can happen is a large file clogging up my e-mail on my phone.
Question – What genres are a nightmare to sync?
- 75% of all sync is instrumental. Have good instrumentals – any genre with curse words and no clean versions or the previously mentioned instrumental. Also, screamo metal.
- For me, country & western and jazz, unfortunately. Anything where there are uncleared samples. Indie, hip hop and rap in trailers is a challenge because everyone wants Jay & Kanye these days, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept. Everything else is pretty much fair game…. I work on a lot of non-trailer projects as well. Composers pitch underscore a lot, which doesn’t do a whole lot for a film/TV music supervisor who already has a composer on their projects. Obviously for trailers, I love hearing score.
- This is obviously dependent on the project you are working on but as a general rule songs with swearing in are a no-no. Music with a lot of distortion in can also be difficult to place as it sometimes just doesn’t sit well on TV. Very heavy metal for example can be difficult to use. Rap is also sometimes tricky to use, but again it really does depend on the project.
- Hip-Hop and R&B can be a nightmare with the number of writers and often shares owned by the writers direct. I was clearing a track a year ago where I had to find a writer – I ended up finding a twitter account for his new label and stalked him for a week. I managed to get it cleared in the end, but it was a treasure hunt.
Question – I’ve been approached by two different companies now who have offered me a deal where if they get my track synced then they want me to sign over both my master & publishing rights for the track. It seems odd to me, but is that something you’d recommend?
- If it sounds like a weird deal, it is one. You carry all the risk in this instance. That company does not.
- I wouldn’t recommend any deal that makes you feel uncomfortable. There are a lot of new and sometimes innovative models out there that are fair and incentive based. There are also some crap deals out there. Giving up ownership of masters or publishing is always a sensitive thing, but if you’re being fairly compensated for it (either via an advance or a healthy sync fee) – it could be the right deal for you. I think it comes back to the relationship. If there is a trust there, and a proven track record – go with what feels right. That may or may not involve ownership. But don’t give anything away for free, or based on promises.
- My guess is that this is to make life easier at their end to get all the paperwork for that placement through. I would offer a word of caution however depending of the terms of the agreement. Do they want you to sign your rights away forever? If so, be sure it’s a track you are happy to give up, it would need to be a damn good sync for that. If however, they are offering a contract with a get out clause (such as Sentric’s, which allows you to leave with a period of notice & retain your rights in the future) it is probably well worth thinking about.
- Sounds dodgy to me given the choice that bands have these days. If you’re going to sign away rights you should be sure that the company is truly going to work your material or is giving you some kind of advance. Otherwise there are plenty of companies who will rep your material and only take a commission once they have placed your music.
Question – When I put my track forward for any type of sync, how much competition is there? Is it really as high as what I’ve read before? It almost seems like a lottery.
- Tons of competition. But if your music is with a good company with a good track record its reasonable to expect your music will be heard.
- In the world of theatrical film trailers – it pretty much is like winning the lottery. 90% of all recorded music doesn’t work for trailers because it doesn’t have the right arrangement. The other 10% are competing against literally thousands of other pieces of music for that same spot. I try and encourage artists not to think about the competition. All you can control is what you are creating. Make it sound brilliant and the uses will come. I know of a lot of artists who invest more time and energy in networking than creating music. It doesn’t work that way. It’s all about how special that one piece of music is. Trust me when I say that an incredible piece of music from an unknown can almost instantly create serious buzz in the trailer community.
- I’m not going to lie, there is a huge amount of competition & to some degree it is a bit of a lottery. There are however some things you can do to improve your chances. Probably the most important one is to make sure you are targeting the right people. If you are sending music through for inclusion on a TV show, make sure you have watched a few episodes of that show & that you are confident your music would fit it with their style. You would not believe the amount of tracks I get sent which are completely unsuitable for the show I am working on. It’s disheartening for you & a waste of time for me. This is where sync agencies can be a really useful tool as they have usually spent years getting to know their clients & understanding when is the right time to put particular tracks forward. Also, provide instrumentals. This is stating the obvious but it will honestly double your chances of getting a placement.
- There is a lot of competition, but great music and passion rises to the top so have belief in your music and make sure you network with Music Supervisors and get them excited about what you are doing.
Question – How important is mastering? If I have my album mastered, but not the instrumental versions (because I’m skint), will the latter not get used?
- Important. Listening to the song by itself makes no difference, but when someone is cruising through hundreds of options for a potential sync your music needs to ‘stand up’ against all the others.
- Mastering can make things sound better, but it won’t fix a poorly mixed piece of music. It also won’t hide an arrangement that could be improved, or a topline that doesn’t feel confident. In my opinion, mastering is never the final say on whether a piece of music gets placed or not. I will say that if you get your track mastered, it’s a good idea to get your instrumental done as well. In trailers as well as a lot of other media, there can be extensive editing between a full mix and an instrumental, so if there’s a big disparity in audio quality it won’t work. I’ve even had artists’ master stems when an editor’s requested them, but generally you don’t need to go that far.
- Mastering is vital. TV sound is a tightly regimented world & if you’re track is not mastered it’s not going to be used. The quality of the sound is as important as the content of the track.
- It is important but if the song fits the use, I have seen clients pay to master the instrumental version. I have received unmastered material early so I can hear it. If it grabs my attention for a sync I know we can get it mastered.
Question – How long does it take to get paid?
- Sometimes forever. It’s just how it works. Sorry, it’s painful, but production companies and agencies are slow to process. It comes with the territory unfortunately.
- A while. Be patient. Focus more on your next piece of music than on when you’ll see your check. Every studio and client is different. I’ve waited over a year in some cases, and in others it’s a few weeks. Ask your point person for a loose timeframe and don’t max out your credit card on all that rare analog outboard gear till your check arrives.
- Ages! PRSformusic is a behemoth of a company and only send out payments on a quarterly basis. Again the beauty of going through an agency such as Sentric is that it is in their interests to make sure they are getting revenue through from PRS as quickly as possible, so they will keep on the case for you. Alternatively, you may have licensed your music directly to a TV company, in which case payment should come through a bit more quickly. They will generally turn invoices around on a 28-30 day basis. As a representative of a TV company however, I must confess that invoices can sometimes get lost in the system so you may need to do a bit of chasing.
- It all depends on who is repping your music, but ultimately comes down to the music user and the way they process payment. The best thing to do is be up front with a payment schedule (making sure it is reasonable and fits in with general business practice). At worst, I have seen people being paid a year after use.
Question – I’ve heard that ‘pre-clearing’ my music increases my chances of getting a sync, but I don’t want it to be used on something I’m not a fan of – is there a compromise?
- Really Jay Z? Prince? Dude from Vampire Weekend? That’s how you feel? Oh wait. You are none of those people and nobody is buying your music anyway. How the fuck are you going to make any money in a sea of emerging artists? Hold on too tight to your art and nobody will hear it. Set it free you might have a chance. Next year you will write something new and care about it more anyway.
- I am against pre-clearing music on a philosophical level – unless you’re a music library. Pre-clearing somehow degrades the value of music to me. We’re not selling USB flash drives here, people. You are spending time, money, and worry writing and recording music with a melody and lyric. You’re creating something that moves people emotionally. Somehow a rate card of $750 all-in cheapens that experience of finding that perfect piece of music.
- Not really. The only way to protect what your music is used on is to exempt yourself from blanket agreements by not signing up to them in the first place. This will however massively hamper your chances of landing a sync deal on British TV. It is worth bearing in mind that blanket agreements do have built in clauses which prevent your music being used in a derogatory way so there is an element of protection. You could always ask your publisher not to put you forward for particular programmes/projects, which would diminish the chances of your track being selected. However strictly speaking, if a programme still wanted to use your track & you were a member of the collection societies that are covered by the blanket agreements, you couldn’t actually stop your music being used.
- We have a pre-cleared music library and where artists need to carve out certain uses for example syncs featuring violence and sex, they have ‘carved‘ these out. In these cases, we don’t pitch particular songs for projects that feature anything that has been flagged up for ‘a carve’ out.
And there you go! Feel free to add comments via the usual methods and all that jazz.
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