During the London Sync Sessions at Metropolis Studios last week, our client SynchAudio hosted both a Sync Songwriter Workshop and an Indie Music Supervision panel with VICE‘s Lindsay-Bea Davis, Songhunters‘ David Weiss, and Flavorlab‘s Matt Block. We jotted down the following key pieces of advice for indie musicians and rights holders…
1) Keywords are your friend
Whether it’s in your metadata or your email communications, keywords are gonna be your friend says VICE’s Lindsay-Bea Davis, particularly if your songs are quite different from one another. These words don’t necessarily have to be part of the track’s title, you could simply suggest some keywords when sending your music or album. Consider moods, genres, the vibe. Do you sound like Beyoncé? Adding in artists / bands you sound like is also useful, especially for instances when a track you can’t afford is temped in and you need to find a quick replacement.
Music supervisors have multiple folders and playlists, so adding keywords will help them to file away your track in a suitable location that they can return to when required. If you want to include a keyword in your title, for example naming a track “Intoxicated”, this will go a long way with helping a music supervisor out, especially if they only have a limited amount of time to find that perfect song.
2) Beware of samples
There is no excuse for not knowing what tracks you have sampled and whether you have cleared them or not. If you have any clearance issues they can always be replaced.
Another issue with samples is being aware of the balance. If you’re trying to give the effect of an orchestra or backing drums, do you best to trick listeners into thinking it’s real. If you’re just one guy doing everything, you might be better off stripping it back and highlighting the fact that it’s just you, rather than over compensating with too many samples.
3) Label your folders
Your track metadata might be perfect, but it’s important to also label the folders that you’re putting the files into. “If I download the folder containing your music and it’s called “mp3s” I’m at a loss”, explains Lindsay-Bea. Music supervisors will often hit download and return to view folders later, so make sure each one is clearly labelled with the artist name (at the very least), and the album title or appropriate detail. You can have too little information but you can never have too much.
4) Versatility will set you apart
The more versatile you are with your mixes and in your approach to creating any edits or custom work, the more likely you are to have a good relationship with a music supervisor. If you sound like a composer or producer who writes for Film and TV, be prepared to have stems, alternative mixes, and so on. If someone asks you to re-configure a track so it hits with the visuals at 38 seconds, for example, you need to be prepared and open minded, explains David.
5) Consider the potential usage
Are you writing for trailers? Does it need to be an epic 30-second piece filled with anticipation? Always consider how your songs could be used when reaching out to people.
“Promo is a great word to use in your communication”, explains Lindsay-Bea. “We’re always creating promo videos otherwise no one will watch our stuff. Explain what your music could be good for – e.g. it works well for online, works well for trailers, works well for a channel promo spot.” If you know your music has a promotional quality, keep that in mind when you’re presenting your music.
Perhaps you have tracks that evolve a lot or have many different sections that could be suitable for many different uses. Music supervisors might only have time to play a few seconds of a song, so Lindsay-Bea suggests including timecodes so they don’t miss any key parts.
6) Think about your lyrics
Lyrics that are specific yet open to interpretation are useful in sync, according to Lindsay-Bea. At the same time, sparse lyrics can have a huge impact so be aware of cluttering and overdoing it. Music supervisors often require tracks with no vocals / lyrics at all, so don’t be afraid of sending tracks that are purely instrumental.
7) Be helpful, honest, and considerate in your communication
“I love it when an artist emails me saying. “I do X, Y, and Z – how can I be of help to you? What are you looking for?” When I hear that question I’m immediately impressed”, explains Matt.
If you recieve a brief and you don’t have anything suitable, don’t just send music for the sake of sending something. As Lindsay-Bea says,”There’s a lot of integrity in a response that says, “I don’t have anything suitable”. I’m 10 times more likely to come back to you another time.”
Although the “one-stop shop” is ideal, particularly with smaller budgets, it’s not essential. Transparency, on the other hand, most definitely is. “If I come to you I need you to tell me what % of the song you own, who your PRO is, and give me the contact details of the other parties involved”, says Lindsay-Bea. Last but not least, always be considerate. As David suggests, “There’s a fine line between being obnoxious and good following up – use your intuition to figure out where that line is.”
8) Read every single page of every single contract
Whether you’re signing a deal with a sync agent or you’re looking through a sync licensing agreement, make sure you know exactly what you’re signing. “Read all contracts and know what you’re getting into with your intellectual property” stresses David.
If you don’t have a lawyer, Lindsay-Bea suggests asking someone who’s good with contracts to take a look on your behalf. “Never ever sign anything you haven’t read”, she adds, “I don’t care if it’s 150 pages you read that s***. If something stands out at you that you flag, there might be a good chance that it’s not right for you.”
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to go back to the person who issued the contract and ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed or worry that you might lose the opportunity, taking time to educate yourself and ask questions will really say a lot about you as an artist.
9) Watch out for the “E” word
“You have to find creative ways to maintain the value of music”, Matt explains. “I don’t think anything should be free”. Most music supervisors are entirely against the concept of licensing music for free in exchange for “exposure”. “I created a new rule at VICE Canada where we have a minimum licensing fee, because everyone’s music is worth something”, explains Lindsay-Bea. “People lose the awareness of how difficult it is to write a song and the talent that goes into it. Don’t sell yourself short.”
Whilst there may be some examples where you determine that the value of the exposure is there for you, you need to watch your rights and how they are being used. Will giving your music away for free in an exclusive contract for two years in exchange for 2 million views be worth it if you can’t do anything else with that music in the time period?
As Lindsay-Bea says, “the more you fight for your rights musically, the more respect you’ll get from the industry”.