This guest post was created by Notetracks.
You’ve always dreamed of having your song used in a TV show or commercial. You feel like your melodies and lyrics are strong and are ready to compete in the world of sync.
If you’re like most indie artists though, you’re probably not sure where to get started or who to send your music to for those types of opportunities.
Below, we break down everything you need to know about getting your music ready for prime time. By the end of this article, you’ll have the tools you need to go out and try to place your first song.
Make Sure Your Music is Ready
Lots of artists want to hear their songs on television shows and in films. Unfortunately, not every song is syncable.
That doesn’t mean your music is bad or isn’t deserving of Spotify streams. But in the world of sync, certain songs do a better job of telling the story of what’s on screen.
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For commercials, that could be helping viewers feel like they’re part of the action while they’re watching an ad. For television, the song could inform how you’re supposed to feel about the characters or plot.
Additionally, you need to ensure your recordings sound professional. Are your songs the same quality as the music you’re hearing on screen? Are your recordings mixed and mastered at the same level as your favorite artists?
Be honest with where you are in your career and if you need more time to hone in on your sound.
Feedback is an integral part to doing well with synchronization opportunities. Being adaptable with your submissions and songwriting approach will help you go far.
Sometimes a music supervisor may want you to make the ending of a song bigger to fit the finale of a show. They may want you to mute some adlibs for clearer dialogue in certain sections. You may even hear that lyrics need to change to better fit with the theme of a show.
As you’re writing songs for sync, keep feedback top of mind. Find ways to share your work and share it often. This could be with people in the sync space already or other industry peers. Ask for notes on your songwriting and production techniques. Are there areas you could improve to increase your chances of placement?
Tools like Notetracks can help you share your works in progress and get feedback directly on the timeline. This can help you fine-tune productions before you ever hit send on your pitch!
Have Alternative Versions
Don’t miss out on a sync opportunity because you don’t have all the versions of your song that you need!
This includes a:
- Full version of your song
- Clean version if applicable
- Instrumental version to use as background music
- TV Mix with the lead vocals muted in case the on-screen character wants to sing along to your music in the scene.
How Does it Work?
There are dozens of ways songs make their way into commercials and television shows. Often though, productions follow a similar path to get the music they need to fit a scene.
For smaller productions and digital content, they often turn to music libraries. These sites aggregate thousands of songs across many genres that could do well for placements.
Content creators then pay a small monthly membership or licensing fee to access the music.
Music libraries are popular because they make it easy to hear lots of options fast. It's easy to download different takes and versions with a few clicks and see if it matches a scene.
Unfortunately, music libraries can be tough to navigate because of how much music they have stored away. They also come with limited curation. This can make it harder to find exactly the sound that’s right for the job.
These libraries are increasingly popular and are often the first place artists turn for their first placements. It may take a few weeks or months after approval into one of these libraries to get placed.
But because of how many content creators there are looking for new and exciting music, libraries are a great way to get your foot in the door.
For scripted series on television or commercials, a music supervisor steps in. A music supervisor is a dedicated employee whose job is to both find and clear music for use in a show. They work directly with the production team to figure out the mood and direction of a scene.
They put together an outline of the music needs and come up with a plan to find songs that fit those requirements. This often means sending out requests to both music publishers and music sync agencies to see what they can find that fits. Publishers and sync agencies then look through their own catalogs and submit music they think would work.
Finally, the music supervisor sits with the director to try out different music cues and decide what makes the final cut.
Why Do it This Way?
You have to remember that brands and creators want their shows to be cool. They need exciting, new music to associate with their project.
Not only does music help drive the story. It can also help viewers feel like they’re part of something bigger by discovering a new artist on a show they like.
Music supervisors are tastemakers. Working with sync agencies or publishers ensures they get music from artists on the rise. Music libraries may help them fill out a scene with some extra background music. But it's rarely the first place a supervisor will check.
Projects like Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, Guardians of the Galaxy, and more all had dedicated music supervisors who helped curate the soundtrack. These shows and movies are all known for their iconic tunes.
That’s harder to achieve by licensing stock music from a music library.
Why Don’t Music Supervisors License Music Directly from Artists?
TV shows operate on tight deadlines. Sometimes, music choices are still being made mere hours before the show goes to air. This means that if a music supervisor is able to find something they like, they need to act fast.
Like the rest of us, music supervisors also spend their time listening to new music. They hear new stuff on Spotify, Soundcloud, and anywhere else with a broadcast speaker.
But just because they hear something catchy doesn’t mean they’re going to try and use it.
Bands and artists are notoriously slow when dealing with the business side of their music. A music supervisor can’t afford to wait 24-48 hours for you to check with your drummer if it’s OK to use your band’s song in an upcoming episode.
Instead, by working with an agency or library, the music selections are pre-cleared. This means that if a supervisor hears something they like, all they have to do is download the file and finalize the show. There’s no back-and-forth with an artist over Instagram DMs.
Decisions can be made to keep the show moving forward on schedule.
Ways To Get Your Music Placed
Getting Into Music Libraries
Music libraries are the catch-all music resource for both lower-budget productions and to find last-minute music to fill in the gaps. This includes quickly made reality shows, YouTube videos, and even commercials.
Music libraries negotiate with artists to represent their catalog. They then include their songs in a vast database of other music. Libraries take the time to tag and title your music so it’s easily searchable by clients.
Music supervisors or producers will scour music libraries to try and find clips they can use.
Music libraries tend to pay the least out of all placement opportunities because the placements are typically small. Licensors pay a nominal fee either monthly or each time they buy a song to obtain the rights.
There are hundreds of music libraries out there, all with their own royalty splits and terms. Websites like Music Library Report offer a vast collection of reviews and feedback from musicians who’ve worked with each library before.
You can find libraries to submit to through this database or by watching the credits of TV shows. If a library was used, their contact information usually appears in the final moments of the show.
Finding a Sync Agent
Sync agents are people who represent your catalog and pitch your songs for opportunities. Unlike a publisher, they may not own or control specific rights to your songs. Instead, they represent your catalog for a limited time in exchange for a percentage of the money they make when your song gets placed.
Sync agents often work directly with music supervisors to help clear and pitch songs for the right show.
Check out the artists' websites of the music you hear in shows and commercials as you’re doing research. Most independent artists working with a sync agent will list their agency and contact information on their website.
A publishing deal is the most typical way for artists to find their songs on the big screen. Because publishers have a vested interest in earning money from your catalog, they can spend the time pitching your music for placements. They get paid when you get paid.
Going into the complicated world of music publishing would need a full article itself! For now, know that publishers control the “publishing” rights of your song. They earn a percentage of the songwriting royalties the same way you do.
Publishers also have the advantage of often being affiliated with a record label or production company. These relationships help clear the way for bigger placements for their artists.
Signing a publishing deal before your first placement is unlikely, but it’s not unheard of! Some publishers specialize in pitching songs for TV and film. Others focus more on songwriting and pitching songs to other artists.
Do You Own All the Rights?
You can’t license your music for use unless you own all the rights or have permission from other rights holders.
This means you have to control both the master recording and the publishing rights of the song. If you wrote the song with other songwriters, you’ll need their permission before you pitch it.
You’ll earn a bad reputation if it turns out the songs you’re pitching aren’t cleared for commercial use.
Owning the rights is important because networks and content creators can get in trouble if they broadcast music they don’t have permission to use. Is one of your fellow collaborators not cool with their lyrics being used to sell mayonnaise? You can’t license the song!
Before you start reaching out to libraries, agents, or music supervisors, make sure you have your song rights sorted out!
This includes registering your song with performing rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP or BMI in the US, or a PRO in your own country.
You should also have signed split sheets if you wrote the song with someone else. Master-use agreements may also be used to get permission from other rights holders if you want to be in charge of placing the track.
Lyrics Are Important
The words you use in your song matter. Not just for connecting with listeners. But also because music supervisors listen to the lyrics of the songs they’re using before they place them.
Your song could have the perfect instrumental vibe. But if the song is about finding love and the characters in the show just divorced, your song won’t work.
A music supervisor’s job is to be picky about the music that gets used. They have to make sure the song works both instrumentally and lyrically.
For sync, love songs tend to underperform compared to songs about more general themes. That’s because there are fewer places to use love songs than there are more general topics. Not every show is about finding romance!
If you decide to write songs specifically for sync potential, pay attention to the words you use. Find themes that can apply to lots of different scenarios.
Watch Lots of TV
If there’s one tip worth shouting from the rooftops, it’s this one. Watch lots of television!
It’s amazing how often artists and producers want to get into sync without ever watching the shows they’re trying to be a part of.
Watching TV does two things.
First, it lets you understand what types of music are being used in shows. Listen to the energy of a song and the lyrics that are playing behind a scene. If the song is instrumental, try to understand what the energy is trying to convey.
Secondly, watching TV also gives you key details about who you need to contact for your first sync placement!
Watch the credits and learn who the production company is that made the program. Often, you’ll find the name of the music supervisor or music library that was used to find the sound for the show.
Create a database of these contacts. See if you can find ways to submit your own songs on their respective websites. Most libraries and agencies will have explicit submission instructions if they’re open to hearing new music.
Submitting Directly to Music Supervisors
Music supervisors are the gatekeepers to the sounds of our favorite shows. But that doesn’t mean they want music spammed to their inbox.
Unsolicited submissions in the music industry are considered a no-no. This is because it carries potential legal problems.
Copyright law is sometimes vague and music supervisors don’t want to get caught in the crossfires of a potential lawsuit. By only accepting music from approved sources like their trusted friends and colleagues, they avoid future headaches.
That’s not to say music supervisors don’t like direct submissions. Just make sure before you find their email address that they’re OK with receiving songs. It’s on you to check their Twitter, website, and social media profiles to see if they want to hear your pop ballad in their Instagram DMs.
You’ve got your music. You have the versions. You’ve watched some shows you want your music on. You’re ready to submit to some music libraries and sync agents you’ve found. What do you say in the email?
Be nice, direct, and tell them how you think your song can make their productions even better.
My name is ARTIST NAME and I’m a pop artist based in Los Angeles. I make songs about my personal experiences and having fun. I found your catalog by hearing your artist, BAND NAME, on a recent episode of SERIES.
I recently finished a 6-song EP and wanted to reach out to see if you’re interested in representing the project. I think the songs “Here Again” and “Happiness” could fit well into future episodes!
I currently own my own publishing and masters and am gearing up to play SXSW next spring.
Let me know what you think!”
Keep your email short and to the point. Let them know why you think your songs would fit well in their catalog.
Mention that you currently have all your publishing and master recording rights. This shows that you’re serious and are ready to get to work!
Landing Your First Sync Placement
Getting your first song on television takes time. It may take months or years for you to connect with the right people to hear your stuff.
But the demand has never been higher for music to sync with videos, TV shows, and films.
Start by looking for libraries or agencies who could represent your catalog. Make sure your music is of the same caliber as the songs you hear getting placed. Watch TV and make notes about the artists and agencies working with those shows. Reach out when the time is right and nail the pitch!
Keep honing your craft and finding ways to improve your songs to make them more syncable. Ask for feedback from peers or even other industry professionals. Find ways to integrate your sound into the types of music getting placements.
Above all, keep pushing forward! If your songs help propel a story, they’re perfect for the silver screen.
The Notetracks team is a passionate group of creatives empowering others to create their best work by sharing tools, insights, and expertise.
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