Your song on a soundtrack… This specific strategic move could bring about the most impactful moment in your music career. Once achieved, the ripples of benefits will leave you dizzy. What few musicians know, however, is that you don’t necessarily need a music publisher to achieve this. Independent musicians have just as good a chance at getting featured, provided that the music is right and efforts are great.
It’s called Sync, here’s how it works
Sync or ‘synchronization’ is when music is combined with moving pictures. The process of getting ‘synced’ will involve arranging a sync deal with a music supervisor or with a filmmaker. A music supervisor’s job is to source the music that the filmmaker requires. In smaller productions, the filmmaker will take care of this task.
Your job is to find the film you possibly want to sync with, find the music supervisor you see as a good match, pitch your music, and close a sync deal. Some parts that make up this process might be tedious, but it will all be worth your while when you see the benefits.
What are the benefits of getting synced?
The global film market is worth billions and grew by 6% from 2022 to 2023. It is expected to grow to $344.84 billion by 2027 (The Business Research Company). This is the very reason why pitching your music to be used in a film is a genius idea; it can have serious lucrative benefits while introducing your music to a massive number of people that would otherwise never have discovered you.
And here’s the ripple effect…
You’ll have a foot in the door of the film industry, meaning more opportunities might be on the horizon, as it was for the band Son Lux: their song called ‘Lost it to trying’ was featured in the film Paper Towns - a few years later they were hired to produce the full score for the film Everything Everywhere All at Once.
The publicity you’ll get will lead people back to streaming and buying your music: it’s easy for a viewer to find your song on a streaming platform through a simple Shazam or by typing a small section of lyrics into Spotify for a lyric match…or they can, provided they have the patience, wait for the credits at the end of the film to see your name and song title listed there.
New fans, more streams, bigger concerts…The list of benefits goes on.
Why decide to take the indie approach?
I will not evade the harsh reality here - deciding to embark on this journey without a music publisher might be harder, take longer and demand more energy, but, once you get that deal as an indie musician, it will be immensely rewarding on multiple levels.
Firstly, where you would usually have to give 50% of your proceeds to publishers, all the proceeds now belong to you! Secondly, you are the one behind the wheel; you get to choose which projects you want to sync with and which you would rather not. This is important as the type of film you sync with will influence your image and reputation as a musician. Finally, the more you work with supervisors and filmmakers yourself, the better the chance of strong personal connections forming, opening you up for more opportunities in the future, because, the simple fact is that people like working with people they like.
It starts with the music and the musician
You can market all you want, but if the product is rubbish, it won’t sell. The same counts for your music - it needs to shine with quality and professionalism if you’re going to pitch for a sync deal.
- Tracks that are your own original creations
- Tracks that are professionally recorded, mixed and mastered
- Various versions of your songs - original and instrumental
- Availability in a lossless file format like WAV
- All of the metadata included
Your representation online is another big factor. Your digital profile needs to be impressive. All of your platforms should be in perfect order and optimized to attract and amaze. Your music should be easily accessible and your touchpoints should tell an interesting and consistent story about you.
- A stunning music website
- Buzzing social media channels
- Your songs on EVERY streaming service
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Finding music supervisors and filmmakers to target
Research and approach music supervisors as you would any target audience. Google is your oyster. You can start by having a look at music supervisor directories such as the Guild of Music Supervisors or Songwriters Universe. When going through such lists, you will realize that music supervisors are brands within themselves with specific repertoires of work.
Having a look at past work and music selections made, you will start to identify their preferences. Delving into the preferences of various music supervisors is one way of identifying the ones to get in contact with. You want to target those who have previously selected songs similar to your own, perhaps in the genre, perhaps in structure, or perhaps in theme.
You can also research film projects in the making, and find genres and concepts that appeal to you. Sites such as Movie Insider can be helpful here. Also, go look at the sites of independent film houses to see what they have brewing, such as Film NC - then find out which music supervisor they have on board that you can get in touch with.
Writing the big email pitch
The people you are targeting get hundreds if not thousands of emails similar to the one you are about to send, so, you need to do something different. “Hey, listen to my song” won’t cut it. There are a few things to consider.
Music supervisors aren’t just looking for a good song, they are also looking for the right song! You see, they have been tasked to find a natural and authentic fit - they need sound that will add to the story and elevate the emotion. Therefore, since they are picky, you should be too. You are to only identify the songs that will fit. Once selected, you are ready to plan your pitch around it.
First, you’ll want to describe your music in a language that the film industry will understand. Introduce your sonic style through means of figures of speech to make it visual and conceptual. Tell the story of your music in a colorful way.
Secondly, tell them why you think your specific selection will fit well with their brand or project. Make a good argument for why they might benefit from your specific sound. Finally, include a link to your song selection (do not send attachments, ever) and specify the multiple ways that they can get in touch with you: Phone, email, and website address.
If they do click and they like what they hear, they will want to see who you are - and this is where your professional digital profile comes in. If all your touchpoints are in perfect order, it will be easy for any supervisor to quickly learn who you are, what you’ve done, and why they should consider you.
If you do not hear back from them, a follow-up email is acceptable, but only one… please don’t make your favorite filmmaker report you as spam or block you! If you hear nothing at all, just carry on searching and pitching. Never burn a bridge.
Build a network in the background
While you're proactively pitching, you’d also want to create a stir behind the scenes. You’d want to slowly work your way closer to the industry's inner circles. Start networking, online and offline, to build strategic relationships. This can be done by connecting with influential people on social media, joining their online communities and groups, and engaging with all of their touchpoints from LinkedIn to TikTok. To make your face recognizable, go to industry events like conferences, seminars, festivals, and awards ceremonies, and be sure to stay for the after-parties!
Willpower is required
No one said it was going to be easy, but everyone will tell you it was worth it. Therefore, I encourage you to approach sync opportunities with true vigor. Last year, Kate Bush licensed her song ‘Running up that Hill’ for use in the series Stranger things. Every kid on the block was singing her song and the sync deal earned her $2.3 million in royalties! Is your song going to be the next big sync success story? Looking forward to it.
Carla Malrowe is an avid alternative songwriter and vocalist from South Africa, currently residing in The Netherlands. Check out her electro-industrial project, Psycoco's single “Stay Awake.” Malrowe’s music is a haunting juxtaposition of electronic and analogue sounds with lyrics that explore a post-apocalyptic conflict between love and loss. Her solo EP, 'The petals and sand' is set to be released later this year.
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