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The Influencers

Old Doesn’t Mean Cheap: The Ups and Downs of the Sync Stock Market

INFLUENCER: Finger Music’s Chris Phelps discusses how understanding artists and labels can help de-code the cost of music sync in advertising

Old Doesn’t Mean Cheap: The Ups and Downs of the Sync Stock Market

Often with music sync and licencing there is a veil of mystery shrouding how much a track is going to cost. It seems there are a few questions that remain consistently up in the air; ‘why does the price vary so much from track to track?’, ‘how do you know if something will be approved for licence?’ and ‘what can you do to budget for the music you want?’

Quite honestly there isn’t a one-size fits all answer. Online streaming and technology are rapidly changing the approach of artists and labels in licencing their music for advertising, and sync has become a more significant revenue stream for artists and labels than physical sales. We shouldn’t forget that when labels were signing acts 20 years ago they weren’t thinking about how much money they would have to re-coup through licencing – they didn’t need to. However the shift in terms of generating revenue is encouraging artists and labels to re-evaluate the opportunities available.

But that doesn’t mean that you should presume artists or tracks will be easy to licence. You still have to be incredibly savvy to the changing environment and personalities of the music business to know what you can realistically achieve with your budget. One of the most common misconceptions about licencing music for commercials is that if a track is older, and perhaps less well-known, it will be cheaper. But the reality is, the only presumption you should make about a track, from any genre or era, is that it might be expensive.

With so many variables determining the cost of music, and so many moving parts between label, artist and production, a better understanding of labels and artists is the best start to securing your perfect track. 

Record Labels and Music Companies don’t all work the same way.

It can be easy to assume that record labels, music companies or publishers all work the same way. But just like any business they all have their own priorities, agendas and strategies, and their company ethos will affect the way they approach commercial sync.

Typically music companies and labels might sign thousands of artists but only a small percentage will become popular. In general, the revenue generated by those artists must cover not only their own production, sales, and promotion, but also the costs of artists signed to the label who didn’t make it so big.

Each label and music company will have these figures in mind when it comes to costing any product by their artists, and of course each will have their own strategy. In some ways, music can be likened to a stock market. If an artist has a legacy of hits and credibility worldwide, then damn right the record label are going to charge for it, because they’re worth it. The label and the artist has something to protect and that will determine those high costs.

Similarly with small and ‘just-breaking’ artists, a label will assess their value over time. If they have real confidence in an act then they will encourage them to hold off from sync deals, particularly if their value could be on the rise over the next few months. The label may know that in six months, this hot young artist is going to be touring with ‘X’ superstars and they’re going to be massive. Labels won’t let them go for cheap because they’ve got something important to protect. You can never assume that an ‘unknown’ artist will be open to licencing.

Royal Blood are a perfect example of this. They were on the radar of a number of sync and licencing professionals before they broke. Their music was great and they were a sure-fire up and coming band who were (at the time) relatively low in cost. However sync deals were being consistently rejected. Discussion on the topic of sync only re-opened once the artist had attended the Brit awards and had toured with Foo Fighters, at which point their music was worth over double the cost. Their ‘stock value’ had gone up.

Artists don’t all work the same way

As much as you need to be able to navigate the variables within music companies and labels. You also have to consider the artist’s approach to sync. Do they want to be associated with certain brands? Do they have an image or an ethos you need to be aware of?

Granted thinking has changed; there are more opportunities for exposure and revenue in sync for artists now but ultimately it still comes down to how each artist values their music and their personal brand.  Do they view their work as a commodity, as genuine art, or a mixture of the two? There will always be those who refuse to licence any of their music for commercial purposes, or those who will do it for no less than millions, but some are starting to look at sync with different eyes.

Sync can provide the launch platform for smaller artists to become international. Some acts are trying to make a living in this industry. Licencing for adverts isn’t necessarily damaging to their brand but an opportunity to expand it. If you get lucky enough to licence your music to something global, you’re suddenly an international artist.  Some artists are even starting to play up to the opportunities of licencing, which has seen a real rise in track names with emotionally generic terms and phrases: ‘Changes’, ‘Coming Home’, ‘We’re Gonna Make It’, ‘Something Good’.

However that’s not to say acts can’t be convinced of the opportunities available to them. Bigger artists who perhaps may not have licenced their music before are now using sync as a route for promoting new singles, and if a brand fits their image or their own agenda they may be willing to waive their fee completely.

Understanding artists, their approach to sync, and the opportunities available to them is a huge part of understanding the type of budget you might be looking at. At the end of the day they will (in most cases) have final refusal on whether they will agree to licence their music. 

When working with record labels and big music companies it is imperative you have someone on board who has a deep understanding of the way that they all work (not to mention speed and accuracy in choosing music). Just like trading stock, timing is everything and you have to strike whilst the iron is hot – there will often only be a small window to grab a great track at the budget you want.

Music sync isn’t all about money or being the highest bidder, it’s about working with the best navigator. Music companies and labels aren’t big evil corporations. They are running a business and are trying to produce quality work, protecting their artists’ best interests, as well as their company ethos. Alongside this, artists want to protect their art and the value of it, and they will approach the way they share music with their fans differently.  If you can work with someone that understands these variables and can give them enough time to make creative decisions, you will undoubtedly land the best track for your commercial. 

Recent work by Finger Sync:

Adam&EveDDB Volkswagen Tiguan, 'Big Arrival'

Track: Dead Prez, 'Hip Hop'

Krow Communications, Virgin Trains, 'RACE

Track: The Heavy, 'How you like me now'

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Genre: Music & Sound Design