Monday evening saw the annual AIM Sync Licensing conference kick off to a jam-packed Proud Camden.
The event began with a keynote interview with Matt FX Feldman, most renowned for his music supervision work on New York-based comedy Broad City. In conversation with Mute’s David McGinnis, Matt took us through his various experiences in the music industry, from DJing in clubs, to landing his first music supervision role on the US version of Skins, and of course working on Broad City (want to know more about Matt? Check out our Q&A with him here).
Next up was a panel discussion chaired by Sentric Music’s Simon Pursehouse, where some of the brightest minds in sync got together to give out advice. Skipping the basics (because, as Simon says, if you don’t know the basics by now “f**** sake what you doing!?”), the panel gets straight to the point of how to be more successful in your sync endevours. Here’s what we learnt:
Steph Perrin, Felt Music (Music Supervisor for ads)
Pete Beck, Believe Digital (Sync Manager)
Gemma Flaherty, Lime Pictures (Music Supervisor for TV)
Marcus Brooke-Smith, Platinum Rye (Music Supervisor for ads)
Duncan Smith, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (Music Supervisor for games)
Gary Welch, Eyehear Limited (Music Supervisor for film)
Matt FX Feldman (Music Supervisor – Broad City)
Our key takeaways:
1) Get your sh** together before you pitch for anything
This might sound obvious, but according to Believe Digital’s Pete Beck, it’s surprising how many people don’t do their background work. If you’re representing copyrights for sync, be sure to create a checklist of information required before you pitch for anything.
Pete’s checklist includes:
– Are there any un-cleared samples?
– Is there a publishing deal in place?
– Has anyone else been enlisted to work syncs in other territories?
– Has the record been licensed to anyone else in other territories?
– Is the artist up for sync? Are they going to say no to anything?
Registering everything properly with the appropriate organizations is also essential. “Registering is one thing, and registering correctly is another”, says Simon. “If any of the artists are copyright control, for example, it’s not going to get used. Make sure it’s correct before you start approaching people.”
“For Hollyoaks we work mostly under the Channel 4 blanket agreement”, explains Gemma, “which means tracks have to be registered. We will consider tracks outside of that, but it makes it a lot easier if they are registered because the turnaround of the show is so quick.”
Lastly, get all the relevant files together in the correct folders as early on as possible. You’ll need each audio file in multiple formats, plus any instrumentals and stems. When time is of the essence (which in music supervision it almost always is), these things are essential to ensure a deal goes through.
2) Build long-term, honest working relationships with people
Above all else, the panel discussion emphasized the importance of building and maintaining solid working relationships. “Knowing that you could call someone when something’s gone very wrong and they’re there for you as a mate is important – you don’t want to be stuck on your own trying to fix something”, says Platinum Rye’s Marcus Brooke-Smith. “The people I’ve known the longest tend to be the people I work with the most”, he adds.
Matt FX describes a time when someone sent him a song that was going to be used but eventually had to be replaced because of an un-cleared sample. “I thought he sort of owed me after that”, he explains. “Then a couple of days later that gentleman brought me ‘11’ by Hitchhiker, an amazing track that went totally viral in South Korea, and he got it over to me for the same low sync fee as everything else – that I saw as re-payment.” This is exactly the type of relationship needed in the fast moving and often complicated world of sync.
And, as with any relationship, being courteous and respectful is extremely important. “If you’ve got confirmation that I’ve listened and heard it, I’ve listened and heard it – the most annoying thing is to continue to send check-in emails every four or five days”, says Matt. “Here’s a dirty little secret”, adds Simon, “no one’s ever gotten a sync deal by sending a mass carbon copy email to 200 people saying ‘listen to this'”.
3) Try and get all parties on the same side
It’s no secret that conflict often arises in the complex realm of music licensing. Having a good relationship with all the parties involved in the licensing of a track means that you’ll be more likely to see a deal come through.
“My biggest problem on Broad City is probably co-publishers” explains Matt, “for example, when a song is split three ways and one of the publishers chooses not to care and turns what should be a week back and forth into 9 weeks of discussion.”
The panel agrees that being friendly with the other parties is extremely helpful, and at the very least you should be able to provide their contact details. “Anything you can do to help make it quick and easy is going to not just work in this case, but mean that I’m more likely to go back to you in the future because I trust you”, says Duncan. “There’s nothing I love more than when split publishers are all in one email – that’s the best”, adds Steph.
Going one step further, Matt explains that when he’s having difficulty with a publisher, he’ll go to the artist’s management and label and then “do a three-point charge on the castle.”
4) Don’t forget about union fees
When dealing with licensing fees, union musicians (AFM members in the US and MUmembers in the UK) who played on the master recording also need to be kept in mind. “It’s to do with non-featured artists on recordings”, says Gary. “If you use a recording that has claims on it, you have to work out how many people are on each recording by confirming with the relevant unions, and then they will charge you a rate.”
Union fees should be incorporated as early on as possible. “We pretty much lost a deal once because the other person didn’t find out if there were union costs involved”, explains Simon, “and we had to re-work our percentage as a publisher in order to make the deal happen.”
5) Find ways to stand out from the crowd
Reputation is everything when you’re trying to score a sync. “Having a strong musical identity is a key thing, especially for indie publishers and labels”, explains Duncan. “If someone has a passion for a particular style, I’ll remember it and log it somewhere and come back to them.” On the flipside, he explains that representing a wide range of music is not necessarily a hindrance, as long as you build up a reputation for being good at whatever you have.
When an audience member who represents tracks from the London Symphony Orchestra asks how classical music can stand out, Marcus suggests commissioning producers to create remixes as this is something that he’s asked for a lot. Matt also suggests re-mastering classical tracks to make them louder. Both are great examples of how you can think ahead and differentiate your product.
6) Tastemakers respect tastemakers’ tastes
If there’s a buzz around one of your tracks it’s likely that a music supervisor will want to know about it. “It adds weight when we’re putting a track forward if we can say it’s been picked up for said playlist or featured in said blog”, explains Steph. “Brands in particular want to be culturally relevant, that stuff really helps on the agency side”, adds Marcus.
7) Have a realistic and long term sync strategy
Last but not least, having a realistic mindset and a long-term approach to sync is more important than ever. “Be realistic about the fee”, advises Duncan. “Don’t expect a life-changing payment, instead look at having a long-term relationship with repeat business, rather than hoping you can buy a mansion with the proceeds off one sync.”
What they’re all working on at the moment:
Steph (Felt Music) – “We’re currently working on the new Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond show, so we’re looking for really cool indie and electronic stuff.”
Gemma (Lime Pictures) – “Hollyoaks needs anything pop, indie, upbeat. There’s always death and misery in Hollyoaks so we always want music to contrast that.”
Marcus (Platinum Rye) – “My main client is an ad agency that represents Nissan, Aquafresh, and Lidl – those are the bigger ones and they each have their rough sounds. Nissan is more dark and electro, Lidl is acoustic music, and Aquafresh tend to be a bit more fun and theatrical, so there’s always stuff in those genres that I’m building playlists for.”
Duncan (Sony Computer Entertainment) – “I’m sourcing tracks for a big new driving game so I’m looking for lots of 100-mile-an-hour music that’s good to drive to, whether that’s drum and bass, rock, whatever. I’m also looking for music for the front end of the game where we go for more atmospheric, ambient kind of stuff. I’m also always interested in hearing from labels and publishers if their artists are interested in doing bespoke stuff.”
Gary (Eyehear Limited) – “There’s a Gabriel Byrne Harvey Keitel film Lies We Tell that we’re working on at the moment which is British and set in Yorkshire, and it’s quite dark. There’s a club scene, and a hip hop scene that we’re sourcing music for. On the back catalogue stuff there’s a film going into production in October – if anyone’s got any really under the radar back catalogue 90s indie wacked out pop or electronic then let us know – it doesn’t have to be British. We use a shitload of niche back catalogue stuff and it’s always good to have in the bank for later. We also work with bespoke compositions so it’s good to know about anyone with any score history.”