Ep. 05 – Music Sync Licensing For Film, TV & Video

With Patrick Cloherty of Sentric Music Publishing

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A music synchronisation license is a music license granted by the owner or composer of a particular piece of work. The license allows the licensee the right to use the music in a visual piece, such as a film, video game or advert. This license is divided into two parts; the Master Copyright and Publishing Copyright with multiple persons often holding a certain percentage of the license.

Owing to the complicated nature of music sync licensing, specialist agencies are often employed to make sure that a company is legally entitled to use a specific track. The numbers involved are extensive with revenue increasing year on year, in 2015 2.1 billion dollars was generated through the use of recorded music by broadcasters and public venues. These ever-increasing figures cast further importance on the need for clear and controlled sync licensing. 

In this episode we discuss music sync licensing – which is behind all of those cool new tracks you often hear in movies and on TV. We take a look at how to be ahead of the curve when licensing fresh music, and why it can be like herding cats when trying to clear the rights to some music – not forgetting that time when a missing guy living in his mother’s basement almost stopped a $1m Kanye West sync deal happening…. more on that later.

Patrick Cloherty of Sentric Music

Sentric Music, formed in 2006, is an independent music publisher and home to over 80,000 songwriters. Sentric represents hundreds of thousands of songs worldwide on behalf of artists and writers, aiming to reduce the complication and confusion that surrounds music publishing.

I caught up with Patrick Cloherty at Sentric’s Liverpool office, and in his role as Senior Synchronisation Catalogue Manager – Patrick is perfectly placed to explain the contractual and administrative elements of the world of sync licensing.

SCOTT LEDBURY: Thanks for joining me today Patrick, for the uninitiated can you give us an overview of what music sync licensing actually is?

PATRICK CLOHERTY: Music sync licensing is the art of licensing musical property or copyright to a visual product through an online video, an advertisement, movie or video game. Anything that uses music to add value to something that is being advertised or produced. Licensing and clearing those copyrights for the usage to take place.

SL: From a video producers point of view what are the benefits of placing fresh music by independent artists as opposed to using established artists, such as Beyonce.

PC: Benefits are that it’s more wide-ranging. It would be very difficult to license a Beyonce song, if at all, unless you have a big budget or product. One of the factors is the amount of writers, you need to take into account the number of people who own that track, be that on the publishing or master copyright side.

With the publishing, which is what we look after, one issue can be the writers involved. Many songs have multiple writers involved, so you have to clear what you’re trying to use through several different publishers that represent several different writers, which is very cumbersome.

SL: So if just one of those writers doesn’t agree, then you can’t use the music.

PC: To give you a working example, there was a Kanye West track, worth about a million dollars, to be used in a trailer for The Great Gatsby. But there was a guy who owned 0.2 of that track and basically until he gave clearance that million dollar sync couldn’t happen.

Because he was off the radar, they couldn’t find him to get permission – which meant that it almost didn’t happen.

SL: With major artists there are many fingers in different pies, unlike with independent artists, whereas just one or two people are involved in the clearance process.

PC: One of the joys of using the artists that we work with, is that there is a great deal of movement. A lot of the music supervisors we work with come to us, as they know our catalogue and know that we can clear music. A lot comes down to time constraints and budgets, we have a lot of briefs who have quick turnarounds.

People create something and have their heart set on the Rolling Stones, but the music supervisor has come to them and told them that it really isn’t possible. So they go out to all the publishers and labels who may have appropriate music, which is where we get involved. We pitch out to the music supervisors and basically provide them with the music and information they need to make the license possible.

SL: Describe to me the benefits of using a smaller, independent artist over a larger established artist.

PC: The benefits are that the music is great, new and exciting. You’re often guaranteed that you’re the first brand to work with these artists. We’ve worked with Bastille, Catfish and the Bottlemen, all these artists that we’ve licensed syncs for who have then gone on to major success.

We’re always ahead of the curve, so two years before they’re on Radio One, we’ve worked with them and licensed syncs for them for smaller projects. The likes of cool shows that use new music, such as Made in Chelsea and Hollyoaks, with teen audiences, they come to us specifically to use new music that is unsigned or small and independent, from grass roots level. That way they can be the first to use it and work with exciting new artists.

SL: The typical video producer is used to going to an off-the-shelf library track, effectively the enemy of what you guys do. What’s the distinction between independent artists and stock music libraries?

PC: What’s different is that music from independent artists are great. Artists are out there performing, so you get that cross pollination of branding.

The independent artists are thrilled to be used on a YouTube video as they get new fans, and the brand gets a new independent artist who are out there playing shows and growing their fan base.

SL: What is the main difference between the publishing side of copyright and what is Master Copyright?

PC: If you think of a song as being two halves, half of that would be the publishing which you need to clear, clearing the performance and mechanical copyrights, which is all down to the writers who wrote the track, not always the artist, though often the writer and artist are the same.

Then the Master Copyright is traditionally what the record label would represent, whoever owns the sound recording of the actual track. Until you clear both these sides, you can’t use the track.

SL: Is there anything to stop an artist going to a different record label and re-recording a song? In a real world sense, how do those two copyrights work together or in conflict with each other.

PC: It’s down to each individual record label, often contracts also come into play. But yes, it’s a different Master recording each time. What record labels often do in their contracts is tie bands down for a minimum of ten years.

But in the majority of situations the record labels and publishers have good relationships with the writers and we always make sure we clear everything we sign off on with our artists to keep good relations.

SL: Is it cheaper to license a cover version?

PC: It depends on the cover, if you take a John Lewis advert for instance, you still have to clear whoever owns the publishing, then employ an emerging artist who may be cheaper to cover the song.

They can spend a lot on the publishing side, but less on the Master Copyright side.

SL: From a producer point of view, money is often a issue, but the bonus is that a cover can be recorded in a certain way to aid your content brief.

PC: It’s something that takes place, using covers for adverts is a growing trend. Generally only for the big brands because it’s only the popular songs that people know, that work as covers. I think a lot of times, brands want to play it safe, taking less risks so go with the known option even though it costs more.

Covers can be riskier, and there are costs involved as you’re effectively creating your song from scratch.

SL: What are the key things drawn into the agreement when arranging a sync license?

PC: There are a variety of things which need to be taken into account. Budget is also a key factor, one of the first things we ask. We don’t want to send out tracks that we know we can’t clear for that cost. We try to work with the ad agency to find out what they want, to act as a middleman between the record label and the agency.

The terms are important, is it a two month ad-campaign or do they require the song in perpetuity (forever). What the territories are, is it worldwide or just the UK? General rule of thumb, more people who will come into contact with it, the more expensive it is going to be.

SL: You’ve represented a lot of people in their early days. If a band goes big after you’ve made an agreement, I’m assuming nothing changes in terms of the fees.

PC: That’s correct. What’s agreed at the time, is whats agreed. We placed an artist on an advert and two weeks later they got into the Top 40 with another song that they’d released two years previously.

That can be a benefit to the artist to have that reaction from a sync deal, that’s exactly what a brand wants to do. They want to be a trendsetter, licensing new music and if they can help an artist break that’s great.

SL: So brands want to discovers a new brand and utilise that kudos?

PC: It’s down to individuals within the marketing world, you can sense what audience companies want to approach and work with.

We work with BT Sport who only want to work with new releases and champion new artists. They want to take a creative risk.

SL: When you hear an old track, there is often the nostalgia and emotional baggage that comes with it. Can a fresh track with no connections or baggage be a benefit?

PC: Yes, I think there is, hearing a new track for the very first time and to connect with it is a unique thing.

We see it full circle, if people are asking for a unknown new track two months later, you know it’s been popular and a success.

SL: What does the average deal look like for the corporate world?

PC: For TV, you’re often looking at a blanket license, which means you can use any track as long as it is properly registered in the UK with the three key bodies then, for example, a BBC producer could use the track, they’d get paid the exact same amount.

All done via cue sheets on the back end. There’s no upfront fees as long as it’s being used within the programme.

SL: At what point do you have to seek permission?

PC: If you’re using music within a production, if it’s not title music or end credits music then you can use it under the blanket agreement. All channels pay annual fees to have a blanket license to use certain tracks within the main body of any programme they want.

It really comes down to necessity, the BBC uses around 40,000 intellectual properties every week. So if you think about the staff they’d need for all those copyrights so it’s much better to have a yearly fee, blanket license, so producers can select from a bank the track they want and just use it.

SL: So sync licensing for a feature film or corporate production, what are the ballpark figures?

PC: It’s really a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ because we don’t know whether it’ll be successful or not. We licensed a track to Ex Machina, which went on to win an Oscar, we never knew how big it was going to get.

You have to look at who is involved, each film has a budget and specifically a music budget. People are fairly honest and genuine about their budget. They often spend half the budget to clear one song, and then the other half to clear another 15 songs.


SL: Would you encourage content producers and music producers to be open and honest with their budgets so you work as helpfully as possible?
PC: We always try to work with producers as closely as we can, we want to license as much music as possible. These days more than ever artists are looking for a way to supplement their income and a sync license is a great way to do that.

But there has to be a price on things, so we always advise our artists to never do anything for free or for promotion. We’re trying to work for the best of the artists and for the content producers, its being the medium between the two. It is business as we need to work with both parties.

SL: Once terms have been arranged, what is done behind the scenes?

PC: Once it’s been agreed then it is a case of signing off on agreements on both sides. From the publishing and master side, to make sure that everybody is covered on both sides. Including all the budgets and factors that are involved, and finally giving the ok for the end client to use that piece of music.

We’re always happy to work with the content providers on whatever the need, if they need the track without vocals or a certain instrument, we can provide that for them. 70% of syncs in the UK are an instrumental mix, I do a lot of chasing for instrumental stems.

SL: Is there a central registration system where the license is held?

PC: No, it’s down to the two copyright holders, who need to be in control of the stuff licensed. It’s a mutual respect thing. It usually works fairly well.

SL: What is a typical time frame between the initial phone call and the final sign off?

PC: It can be turned around in a matter of hours, it completely depends on the who the artist is that’s involved and what parties are able to do.

We’re very flexible and proactive. We’re constantly pitching out ideas to content producers and a lot of the time things can go out of our hands in terms of time. But it’s in our benefit and everyone’s benefit to sort things out as quickly as possible.

SL: So content producers, involved in TV, Film, Games Industry, where can they go to source and find the right kind of music?

PC: It depends on what music you’re looking for, and what project you’re working on If it’s for a big brand, then some agencies employ a music supervisor who will liaise with the record labels and the copyright holders. They know everyone involved, in the UK there are around 200 people in the sync industry.

It’s quite a small area and everyone knows everyone. We work with supervisors quite a lot who represent their brand and agency for licensing music. For smaller online things, there are companies that you can use, we do things direct. If people are producing video content than we can go through our catalogue.

They can come to us with a brief, or some reference tracks and we can tailor it and use our knowledge of our catalogue to give them some good music we know we can clear and license for them.

SL: Thank you Patrick, it’s been fascinating to get this insight.