The Remix Project Chicago Presents: A Crash Course in Sync Licensing

Last month, Mtn Dew partner and musical-talent incubator The Remix Project invited four of Chicago‘s top TV and ad music professionals to give a “crash course in sync licensing.”

What’s “Sync licensing”?

This means making money from any music that is synchronized to a picture, from television to video games, to movie trailers and commercials.

The Basics: Master Side

In synchronization and song licensing, there are two sides to each song: master side and publishing side. The Master Side is the actual studio recording that is owned by either the actual artist or record label. It protects the recording of the song

Think of it like this: if you draw something on a piece of paper, you own that drawing. If it’s a copy of someone else’s drawing, it is still yours, however, if you want to do something with that piece of art, like sell it or use it in an advertisement, you need permission from the original artist to do so.

The Basics: Publishing Side

The Publishing Side represents the songwriter and protects the composition of the song. The second you want to exploit, sell, or put it in a movie trailer, that’s when you’re going to need permission from the publisher to use the song.

Usually there are two different negotiations to use the song, one for the master side and the other for the publishing side. They may also be two different prices.

Sampling is a no-no; think of it as actually drawing compared to cutting something out–cutting out seems illegal.

If you’re rewriting a song, note for note, the master will belong to you, but the song’s rights belong to the songwriter; think of it like the sheet music and the actual recording.

Covering a song and changing is to your benefit; music supervisors often look for a fresh take on something familiar. Most supervisors on the panel agreed that people get recognized with a familiar song

What’s A Music Supervisor?

A Music Supervisor is a person who combines music and visual media. They tend to search for emerging—and established—artists and find a place for their music in commercials, films, television, etc.; basically everywhere else other than on stage.

Music Supervisors work through commissions. They represent artists’ songs and they pitch those songs to clients who may want to use them in their visual medium. The same goes the other way, where a client contacts a music supervisor to find a certain type of song for them.

How to Present Your Music to a Supervisor

When sending music, take time to perfect it before sending it out; make it presentable and finish and produce it.

Make it easy for the supervisor to work with you. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to format, send an option to both stream or download.


Include everything from the track name to every artist on the track, contact info, and who was in the studio and session when it was recorded. All this information is has to be submitted by a supervisor to the talent department so that people can get paid fairly.

If you’re collaborating with others, get it in writing before the money is the table—even something as simple as an email to verify.

A good example is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album had uncleared samples due to lack of record-keeping. If it can happen on a major label, think of what could happen on a smaller one.

Be Speedy

If a music supervisor is reaching out to you, the project they are pitching you was already due and the job needs to be done immediately. The more proficient and quicker you are, the better off you would be and supervisors will want to work with you every time.

Pro Tip

North America plays it safe, while the UK is more willing to take risks. If you do something crazy, it may sound great, but more often than not, people will be scared to use it, nine out of 10 time—but the tenth time it will be unbeatable.

Getting Paid

Make your song real and register it with ASCAP and BMI. When you register, make sure your contact info is up to date, and constantly update it when you move around. Contact info is important because writers have to be cleared. If there are three writers on a song, three phone calls have to be made.

Agreements can be made where one artist can clear the other artists on their behalf—this should be in writing. This is called “one stop” and is very appealing to people in the industry.

Live venues, like restaurants and bars, have to file what they are playing. If you’re a performing artist, the bigger the show you do, you can file that information on ASCAP and BMI and based on the number of people in attendance and cover charges, they can determine your royalties on those statistics. Every time your song plays on shows like Dr. Oz, Oprah, and Pawn Stars, you’re getting paid; it’s small money, but it adds up.
Singers get paid more in TV than musicians.

More Tips

If you’re doing it just to get the track done, people can hear it and tell. Play it from the heart.
Usually when you send a track, music supervisors are sharing it with other people and if you’re not playing from the heart, it will come across like that. The difference between a beat maker and a producer/composer is ego. It’s not about you, it’s about the picture and your job is to serve the picture.

You have to have thick skin. Most of the time, you’re going to make errors the first time around, but 99% of the time, people will get back to you for revisions.


“If you’ve met one of us, you’ve met two of us.” In most creative fields, the most creative people aren’t the most successful.

How To Make Yourself Stand Out

Have an instrumental or clean version of your track. It’s a great thing to have since there is voice over on a lot of commercials and they can’t have competing voices.

Have short versions of your music; it’s a great way to showcase what you’re capable of.

Try and include stem formats as well, in hi-resoulution files, since music quality on television is very different.
Be specific. You may be able to do everything, but a music supervisor may not know what to contact you for. If you say this is what you do best, it makes it easier for the music supervisor to know what to call you for.

Mike Jansen once emailed a music supervisor five times. He found that she was going to a music conference in Toronto—Mike’s hometown. After doing research online, he finds out that she is vegan. Mike’s first emails were really self-serving. He emailed her again, but this time with the subject line, “ Vegan Snacks in Toronto.” He wrote something like, “I understand being vegan and going to another town is difficult and I would love to bring you food to your hotel or take you out to lunch. P.S. Here’s the band that I work with.” She responded back in two minutes saying that he’s talking her language. She turned out to be a major business partner for Mike, and introduced Mike to other people.

*Featuring Jocelyn Brown, Music Producer at Leo Burnett; Melissa Chapman of Groove Garden, a music supervision and licensing agency; Madeline Dowling, Assistant Music Producer at McGarryBowen; and Parker Lee Williams, Music Supervisor at Oprah’s HARPO.

Images: Ture Morrow, The Remix Project

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