What role does sync licensing play in keeping new talent afloat in the music industry? Liam Reay, Sync Manager at indie music publisher Wipe Out Music, takes a look at sync from the other (artist’s) side.
As times move on from the years when Michael Jackson’s Thriller was selling one million copies per week worldwide and “streaming” was as futuristic as a flying car, we have to accept that the dawn of the “record” apocalypse is upon us. As our friends at billboard.com tell us, in the U.S. in 2016, “Album units overall fell 13.6 percent, with 100.3 million total sales. The compact disc continued to crumble, losing 11.6 percent and moving 50 million. Digital album sales fell to 43.8 million, from 53.7 million in the first half of last year”. So if musicians are seeing reduced income from record sales, what role does sync play in making sure emerging performers stay afloat in our industry? Working for an independent music publisher in the current climate and seeing examples of bands reaping the rewards of even the smallest placement has brought to my attention just how pivotal sync can be in taking careers to the next level, or even just keeping an artist’s head above water.
As it always has done, sync plays a massive part in exposing artists and their music to the world in modern times. For a band that is just starting to get its foot in the theoretical door, the benefits that a placement can have can, in some cases, blow it off of its hinges. A case in point is Holy Moly & The Crackers, a band hailing from Newcastle Upon Tyne in the north-east of England. In 2017, Holy Moly released their new album Salem, a motif driven, huge sounding, indie-rock marvel. Every track on this record has something memorable about it, but none more so than the riff driven anthem and lead single “Cold Comfort Lane“. Music supervisors seemed to think so too, as the track has had several placements since its release. I asked vocalist Conrad Bird a few questions about the band’s relationship with sync:
What do you think is your “best” sync?
“Cold Comfort Lane” has had sync on a number of platforms, including TV show trailers for E4 and Ultimate Ears and featured in a BT Sport motorsport show, but the best sync has been The Capital One Credit Card advert “Torched” – both in terms of financial gain and exposure. Because we release on our own label we retain all Master Rights, meaning that the band/label, as an entity, received 50% of the sync fee, without deduction from a third party.”
Having decided to release their album on their own record label (Pink Lane Records) and with the help of Bradley Kulisic from Kartel label services, Holy Moly kept the whole of the master side of the sync fee. The upshot is the band had free reign of a larger sum of money that could be re-invested (hopefully not just on beer!). Conrad further explains the positive investments that were made out of having a larger lump sum from the sync placement:
“We have invested in PR/Radio in the UK, US and Germany and production improvement (backline updates etc.), all of which would not have been possible without the sync deal. It has also made possible further recording as we look towards the next album. This has had significant benefit to the band in terms of investing in both the current album campaign and setting up release campaigns for next year (2018).”
This is a perfect example of a constructive usage of those extra funds that could be beneficial long term for an independent band, and it’s proving to be fruitful for Holy Moly. The employment of a radio plugger has already gained the band successes, such as a session on BBC Radio Scotland and a place for their fourth single “Let Go” on Radio X’s X-Posure List. That extra investment has also already created interest with a major Dutch booking agent, who are in discussions with the band about undertaking an extensive European tour in 2018.
A really important benefit of an overseas sync placement is that it can act as an advertisement for an artist’s music in territories where it has not yet been possible for them to reach. In this instance, Holy Moly’s Capital One credit card advert has already been broadcast on TV 600 times across the USA. For any band that aspires to tour America, a placement like this is obviously a massive bonus. The expertise of the radio plugger they hired in the USA and the exposure from this sync should give Holy Moly more of a presence in America, which could give them greater success when they decide to tour there. This is a great example of how sync can directly and indirectly influence a band’s reputation and ultimately push their career forward.
It’s clear that sync can affect a band’s image, reputation and following via many tributaries that can lead to benefits financial and otherwise. One of these to consider is Spotify, a service that now more and more reflects the importance of sync.
As this Statista graph shows, the surge of streaming coincides with the decline of music sales, with digital tracks selling a quarter less than a year previous, while audio streams increased by more than three quarters. Developing artists can take advantage of this by submitting a “sync support form” to Spotify when someone licences one of their tracks. This form gives all of the details of the placement and when it gets closer to the time of broadcast, Spotify may add the track to one of their curated playlists. These playlists are put together by genre, theme, or mood and often have hundreds of thousands of followers, so it’s an absolutely fantastic way to get your music heard by a big chunk of your target demographic. For example, Holy Moly’s “Cold Comfort Lane” was included in the Punk Unleashed and New Noise Spotify playlists and has 140,000 streams and climbing.
In turn, the popularity generated by an increased number of streams may increase the familiarity of the song when the sync is broadcasted, making it a more relatable experience for the listener and potentially leading to the artist getting more fans and notoriety.
So could sync flatten the economic trough that has been created by record sales? Well… even though there are some major positives that can come out of a sync placement, there are a plethora of hurdles and stumbling blocks that could cause problems. For example, before a piece of music can be licensed, the track needs to be cleared both on the master side and the publishing side. This can cause all kinds of dilemmas depending on the conditions of the parties involved. For instance, some rights holders set a minimum amount a track can be licensed for, which may limit the number of sync placements a band can achieve. This could end the race before it has even begun, subsequently meaning the band won’t get the income or the publicity from the placement.
In this respect, there is a similar situation with completely independent bands. If a band is represented by a record label, the label will normally own the master rights and can therefore clear them on the artists behalf as part of their agreement. However, if an artist self-releases, they retain their master rights, usually meaning each individual writer of a band must agree for a track to be cleared. Normally if one member refuses to clear his share for whatever reason, the track cannot be used.
All in all though, possibly the biggest issue with having a financial reliance on sync is continuity and therefore reliability. A salient fact when working in sync is that nothing ever stays the same from one placement to the next. Certain genres, styles, and themes dip in and out of popularity, but a music supervisor never looks for the same kind year after year. Consequently, the benefits of an artist sustaining themselves by writing for sync could be disputed. This is something I asked Conrad about:
Do you have sync in mind when you are writing new songs?
“When we wrote “Salem” our latest album, we did not have sync in mind. However, we have started writing for our next release and now we definitely have sync in mind – though the things you look for in sync are often the same things a look for in any good song: hooks, riffs, grooves and chorus. A good song is a good song, whether you are writing with sync in mind or not.?”
When writing to sell records, an artist would be looking to cater for their demographic or a predisposed audience, which would require them to write the same style of song with similar lyrical themes. When writing for sync however, it’s never guaranteed that someone will be looking for what an artist might think would be attractive, so it’s pretty much impossible to create a formula for the perfect song for sync. Therefore, I think Conrad makes an interesting point, suggesting that although sync could and should be kept in mind, it is important to keep the songwriting process organic and if you write a song that you believe in, success will follow.
So the question is, could sync play a major part in keeping new talent afloat in the current climate? Well… although sync can enhance an artist’s profile in a number of ways, I think it would be unfair to assume that a band could sustain themselves on sync alone. Consistency isn’t something sync is associated with, which would mean there would be no guarantee of placements or funds on a regular basis, and there are only so many placements to go around! However, I think there is evidence to suggest that paired with new technologies and hard working music professionals, its role in bolstering the careers of new talent is more important than it has ever been.