Marmoset’s Music Licensing Creative, Michelle Goldstein, explains why sync licensing is beneficial to a musician’s career and income.

The life of an artist can feel like a beautiful yet vicious cycle of intensive creating, recording, and touring. It requires an ambitiously determined spirit; the artists who reach a comfortable coasting status through their work’s recognition can finally breathe a little easier. But what if the road to “success” wasn’t such a straight line? It’s not, especially for artists capitalizing on sync licensing. 

What is Sync Licensing?

A music synchronization license means an artist can “sell” the usage of their music to be used in media, like TV shows, films, movie trailers, video games, and more. Musicians like Lelia Broussard (SKLLY, Amico Mio) have tapped sync opportunities along the route of becoming an established, touring artist. A collaborator of Marmoset’s original music team, while also being featured on their roster of artists, Broussard is no novice to music licensing.

“I first became aware of licensing a long time ago, when the Grey’s Anatomy thing was happening,” says Broussard of the hit show’s reputation for using indie music throughout its episodes. “It gave a voice or platform to a lot of artists and singer-songwriters, and a lot of people were discovering music that way. And to get your song on a show could kind of change your career.” 

Broussard has worked with many different licensing and publishing companies throughout the years, creating original songs or curating music to picture. Utilizing sync opportunities not only meant getting paid for her musical work, but being a proactive, working musician who had a higher potential of being heard and, most importantly, discovered. 

Credit: Rob Bondurant

Taking Ownership of Your Music

Sync licensing is an evolving territory within the music industry that has made huge strides in past decades; the lingering dark cloud of ‘selling out’ has pretty much dissipated. For a lot of earlier iconic artists, licensing wasn’t even a permissible thought, but today artists have figuratively stormed the gates, claiming sync licensing as their own. It’s become an empowering tool; a means of taking more ownership of one’s work, and getting paid for the fruit of their labor. 

“Bands used to be super hesitant to license their music,” says Broussard. “Obviously this has changed so much now. A big part of this is because our revenue streams are going down, there are not as many places to make money, and this is one of those few places that you can actually make money as a musician these days.” 

In the era of online streaming platforms and declining physical music sales, sync paves the way for musicians and bands to earn a livelihood in music; it’s also a field where artists are changing their approach toward making music. When CD and record sales were once a prominent focus, musicians set their sights on creating an entire album of hits, whereas now syncing a single song under the right distribution terms could guarantee a hefty payout. 

But taking this leap toward capitalizing licensing opportunities requires staying sharp and diligent, as any artist should be when stepping into the business side of a competitive industry. 

“There are a lot of people and companies out there looking to take advantage of young artists,” says Broussard. “It’s important to be careful entering into any kind of agreement because this can be a lucrative income stream and a passive income stream. You can also make money owning your own publishing and working with companies like Marmoset. Just be wary of what kind of publishing you’re getting into and have a good lawyer because you can always get out of it.” 

Credit: Rob Bondurant

Know Who and What You’re Working With

Once identifying which publishing or music licensing agency to work with, get to know the team who’s pitching the music. Places like Marmoset have an onsite A&R (artists and repertoire) team who will answer any questions during the on-boarding to roster process. This team also works alongside music licensing coordinators who are doing the actual pitching to clients; they’re on the front lines of music trends and what clients seek in relation to music needs. Essentially, music licensing agencies and music supervisors exist to pitch an artist’s music to big brand campaigns, TV shows, and even film soundtracks; they’re in the trenches of music licensing catalogs, Soundcloud, Spotify, and other corners of the internet to find that perfect song their client is requesting. 

Credit: Whim Allebasi

For other artists like Sarah DiMuzio (Allebasi, Whim) who divides her time between creating music for herself/fans while fostering her expanding roster of licensable music, she acknowledges there’s a harmony she strives to maintain between the two. 

“It can be pretty stressful. Sometimes everything will kind of converge in one week but then things will straighten out,” says DiMuzio. “Getting that balance is key for me, to keep going but stay present so you’re not signing onto too many projects at once.” 

Apart from the music she has on Marmoset’s music catalog, DiMuzio often receives creative briefs from music producers and publishers. While it might take hours or days to perfect a song and album under standard recording studio settings, collaborators like DiMuzio endure a quick two day deadline once equipped with the project’s brief. If the first round is well received, it’s common for another round of edits or fine-tuning. And so the cycle repeats.

“Everytime I get a brief, I have to wait and read it at the right time because as soon as I read it, my brain explodes with hundreds of ideas,” says DiMuzio. “If I have two days to write and produce, I love it. It’s almost like a creative high.”

Credit: Whim Allebasi

Stay Authentic and Creative

Acknowledging that there’s an undeniable creative side to the sync process, DiMuzio notes her analytical side is what guides her along scoring to picture. “My dad calls me a hybrid because while I’m totally an artist, I’m also really punctual and super organized. I try to pull the best from both and just keep going.” 

If artists are up for the enduring, fast-paced nature of the sync beast, they should also keep in mind that it’s important to create authentic content. Creative agencies are often on the hunt for music that carries high production value that still sustains artistic integrity. When submitting music to licensing platforms like Marmoset, providing a lyrical version and strictly instrumental version of a song can hold great benefit—instrumental versions are frequently requested over lyrical due to union laws, or in some cases instrumental is easier to cut to picture in terms of shorter ad placements. 

While sync licensing is one way to generate a steady stream of revenue, musicians should approach opportunities as they would any business venture by understanding there will be successes and failures along the way. 

“You just have to keep writing. You never know what a song will do, you can’t be attached to the outcome because it’s really not up to the artist,” says Broussard. “Look at Lizzo’s ‘Truth Hurts’—it’s a great example of a song that came out and went to radio like two years ago but didn’t do anything. Now it’s incredible with what’s happened to that song. So learn to let things go, keep writing, don’t stay attached to previous things you’ve written. Even if it feels like no one’s paying attention, keep creating and find the right business people or a good licensing company that believes in what you do.” 

Credit: Marmoset

A Few Tips to Successfully License Your Music from Marmoset’s Music Licensing Creative, Marissa Hernandez :

  • Don’t try to create music that other artists already do better. Instead, create something that is a unique expression of you. So many musicians try to write based on what’s trendy, and you can feel that their heart just isn’t in it. Music that has a fresh, interesting perspective is ultimately what does best—because at the end of the day, synching music is about melding two forms of art together in order to tell a story.
  • You should have hi-res files (WAVs or AIFFs) and instrumental versions for all of your songs. Keeping session files on hand is also extremely helpful. 
  • This is a business, which means networking and behaving professionally are important. The music industry is definitely on the casual side, but if you’re difficult to work with or get a hold of, other people aren’t going to go the extra mile to help your career.
  • Register your music with a PRO (Performing Rights Organization), i.e. ASCAP, BMI, SESAC. If you don’t, you’ll end up missing out on residual payments which can really add up!