ARTIST RESOURCES: Sync Licensing - Part One: Music In Motion

A synchronization license is a license to use music in sequence with a series of moving images. For example, the song playing in the foreground & background of the scene where Brian, "the Brain" narrates the essay he wrote on behalf of the Breakfast Club, the song "Don't You Forget About Me" captures the scene's emotion and undertone.

Before getting started, there are two forms of copyright to consider when you want to license your music for film and TV:

The Master
The "Sync"

The Master is the PHYSICAL recording, the piece of plastic or film or megabytes of the song.
The Sync (short for synchronization) is the INTANGIBLE composition of the song.

Do you get it? No? Don't worry, I didn't get it the first hundred times I heard about it in class. So here is a diagram that may help.

Phew! Okay, moving on.

Music in Motion

There are various uses for music in film:
·    A television series
·    Motion picture
·    Independent film
·    Commercials
·    Video Games

In this article I will delve into these separately:


TV licenses are in perpetuity; meaning that as long as a copy of a television show/series exists in the world, the license for using a song lasts forever. Shows like American Idol, the Voice, and the X Factor only pay for the songs they use for the duration of a season or episode.

Television show producers hire music supervisors to seek out music that would fit a specific scene or mood. They are given a budget for the episode/season, then create a list of “Wants vs. Reality”. For example, if the a music supervisor is given a $10,000 budget for the whole season and want to have a Kanye West song (I’m picking on you today, Kanye) it would cost their entire budget or more for one snippet in an episode.

In the most likely of cases, music supervisors use independent or up-and-coming acts’ music to use in the series. The since broken-up Fairview is an indie act out of Brockville, Ontario whose music was used in a CW television show as background music over dialogue. They received $1,500 for the use of their song, plus royalties (which I will get to later). 

Next, a music supervisor takes to blogs, their inbox of 1,000+ emails, Dropbox, and their contact list of “Music Pitchers” (we’ll get there) to find the right music for a scene. Next, when the supervisor has a smaller list of “Reality” songs, they make sure that they can easily acquire the Master and the Sync Licenses from the label and/or artist, and publisher.

After they have clearance for the songs, the music supervisor meets with the producer, director, and/or editor to pitch 3-5 songs they believe fits the mood/scene. Once they have the okay from the higher-ups, they go ahead with the purchase of a license.

Motion Picture & Independent Film

Sweet Thing's Change of Seasons, Simple Mind's Don't You Forget About Me in Easy A.

The process is very similar to a Television Music Supervisor's, but there is a lot more money in the budget. Usage of a song in the opening credits can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000. A song that is featured in the trailer and credits, like Sweet Thing's Change of Seasons in Easy A, is licensed with something known as "broad rights". The film company takes all rights in perpetuity to the film.

Independent films have a smaller budget similar to that of a television series. 


For commercials, a song can get anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 for a one-year national usage in the United States, on television and radio. Really well-known songs in major campaigns can go higher sometimes over a million for a classic, iconic song, but the current trend is downward. These figures get scaled down for regional or local usages, and for periods of less than a year.

- All You Need to Know About the Music Business, Donald S Passman, 2012, page 252.

Video Games

In Canada, video game music supervisors pay a sync license fee and mechanical royalties. In the United States they do not pay out royalties for video games. The pay can range from mere dollars to $50,000 depending on the popularity of the song and the video game.

Follow me @rachaelbstar and @SoundCaveAudio on Twitter for a link to Part 2: What Music Supervisors Are Looking For & Music Pitchers