Harsh Truths About the Sync Licensing World!
I don't know who needs to hear this, but there are some hard-to-swallow truths about the sync licensing world and current state of music licensing. This isn't meant to be negative, or to steer you away from the sync world, because there are plenty of opportunities out there for all of us. Once you understand some of these things, you can do your best to avoid getting into bad situations, wasting time and effort or getting involved with shady players. Enjoy!
No one is going to do the research for you
Newcomers always ask what the best library is for a certain style or the "best library for me". The truth is, you won't know until you personally try some out and see for yourself. Most libraries deal with a wide variety of styles. My advice would be to google lists of music libraries, or to go on websites such as APM, Universal Production Music, etc. These major libraries have tons of individual labels on their sites. You can also look up independent music libraries or royalty-free sites. Chances are that composers won't share their best libraries and hard-earned contacts with you because they don't want to invite competition.
Sync Fees are getting significantly smaller thanks to subscription libraries
The race to the bottom is worse than ever. The other day I saw a subscription library that sells unlimited monthly packages for $5! I would never sell 1 track for that price, let alone my whole catalog which would give me $2.50 if I was lucky! Know your worth, and don't contribute to the race to the bottom. Pretty soon they will just be giving away our music.
Exclusive libraries have noticed a drop in sync fees as well. Most clients have blanket license deals with networks. It is very beneficial to join a library that splits blanket license fees with you. Otherwise you will just have to hope for backend royalties. If you join a library and they pay you sync fees regularly, you should stick with them!
TV Placements may pay very little or not at all
Most newcomers think that they will make hundreds or thousands of dollars for a TV placement. There are some placements that pay well, but there are a lot that pay pennies or even nothing. Some TV channels just don't pay the performing rights organizations. I don't know how it is legal, but it is a fact. The way to build up your income is to have a very large catalog of high quality material, which takes years.
There are shady libraries and websites out there
Beware of sketchy websites or deals! You should never give up any part of your writer's share to someone who didn't help you compose the music. Too many composers doing this will destroy our ability to make a living. Always read contracts too, and if there are questionable terms, don't sign it! You can have a discussion with them and have them alter it, but if they are unwilling to do so, that is a bad sign. Lawyers will be able to clarify anything on a contract that you don't understand.
Also beware of sites that want you to not be part of a performing rights organization! As someone who creates intellectual property, it is your right to be a part of one of these organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). If they don't want you to be a member of these organizations, they are probably trying to collect that money on your behalf.
It takes a long time to build up a catalog and start making good money
Since most placements don't pay backend royalties until at least 9 months later, don't expect much in your first few years. Some international payments can take several years. When you start getting a lot of placements, the money will start trickling in. The more music you have out there, the better your chances are. Get into a habit of writing regularly, at least several tracks a week or more. Working with a variety of libraries can give you a diverse range of uses and more consistent money.
Sometimes you need to chase down cue sheets and money
Even if you get TV placements, the clients don't always file cue sheets (which are necessary to get paid backend money). I've found that independent libraries are more on top of this than major labels. My strategy is to keep track of my placements (on Tunesat or something similar), and reach out to my PRO if the cue sheet or payment doesn't show up after 1 year or so. It can be tedious work, but we need to get paid right?
This is a very exciting field to work in, but we all need to be careful and smart about it. Don't just jump at any opportunity that comes your way, make sure it is worthwhile. There are plenty of horror stories out there! Reputable libraries with fair deals are always the best choice. An unfair deal could cost you a ton of money over time, whereas a good deal could make you money for years to come. Which one would you prefer?
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