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The Indie Musicians Guide To Music Sync & Publishing

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Music licensing can be a lucrative way to put your recordings to work but how does it work and what does it mean for an indie musician?
The Indie Musicians Guide To Music Sync & Publishing
The Indie Musicians Guide To Music Sync & Publishing
What is music sync?

Music sync or publishing placement is when your music is used in TV adverts, programmes, films, videos and games it can be a valuable revenue stream for independent artists.

How sync licensing works

Musicians can earn royalties from sync licensing in a couple of different ways. There are two different music copyrights involved in every sync placement.

1) The master recording rights and

2) the composition rights.

  • A Master Use License (Master) is negotiated for the usage of a particular sound recording. The fee is often paid upfront to the artist or label who owns that studio track or live recording.

  • A Sync License for the Composition is negotiated for the usage of the underlying song (melody and lyrics). The related fee is often paid upfront to the music publisher, publishing administrator, or songwriter.

If you own your masters and wrote the songs (like most independent artists) you’re in a great spot. You can approve both usages at once AND collect both upfront sync fees. No need to communicate with labels and publishers for outside permissions. Also, unless the terms of your sync deal involve exclusivity you can continue to license the same song for other placements.


When your music is used in a sync placement, it's effectively hired out for an agreed period of time for use in agreed content. You always retain ownership of your music

Non-exclusive deals

Most sync licensing agencies offer non-exclusive deals which means you can work with other agencies too. This is normally the best way to start, but we don't recommend you add your music to too many different catalogues nobody wants to receive the same track five times from five different agencies.

Earn real money

Music licensing can be a lucrative way to put your recordings to work. One artist recently earned £30,000 when their song was used in a commercial.

What determines the money you earn?

  • The type of visual media, from a video on social to a blockbuster film

  • The duration of the usage, from one-time use to “in perpetuity”

  • The production budget from zero to millions

  • The region of use, from a local station to worldwide

  • The demand for the song and the popularity of the artist

  • The length of the audio segment being used

  • The nature of the usage, from quick background music to opening credits

Can I get a cover version placed?

If you’ve created a cover version of another artist’s song, you can license your master recording for sync, but only if the composition rights are also granted by the publisher. In many cases, cover songs are preferable for sync licensing because the original recording of a famous song commands too high a fee.

What is a music supervisor?

It's the job of the music supervisor to find and place music in media. Supervisors can be employed by a network, film studio, production company, or even do freelance work — but ultimately, their job is to:

  • Find the right music for the production

  • Secure the rights

  • Gather required information for credits and royalty reporting

  • Deliver on budget on deadline

Residual royalties

Songwriters, composers, and music producers who create original songs and lyrics can also earn publishing royalties “on the back end” for sync placements. This money comes in the form of performance royalties generated each time a TV show airs again or gets moved to a secondary market. Imagine if your music ends up in a show which is constantly being re-run like Friends or The Inbetweeners!

Other benefits of sync placements

Sync placements can help drive awareness and streams of your track and wider catalogue discovery. Joel Corry’s track Sorry is the most Shazamed track in one day in the UK, following its placement in the reality show. The single received 41,000 Shazams on July 24, sending it straight to No.1 in the Shazam UK charts. Sync placements can also help drive YouTube views and subscriber numbers as viewers seek you out online.

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