By Mark Frieser
CEO, Sync Summit
One of my musician friends came to me last week with a story about one of the strangest deals I’ve heard presented to someone in a while.
The company’s pitch is a bit rambling and grammatically incoherent, but at its core, it’s pretty basic.
They say they work with studios and networks to provide music for various types of shows like reality TV, sports, human interest, etc., and ask musicians to submit their music for possible future placement in a number of shows and productions.
According to the company, these are low-level opportunities with no up-front fees, so the company’s pitch to musicians relies on selling the artist on the revenue potential they’ll receive from performance royalties rather than upfront fees and that the artist will benefit from the promotional value of having been exposed in a future broadcast.
So far, so good.
The fact is, a lot of the lower level sync deals really do pay little to nothing up front, and yes, some people have made good money just based on the royalties received from licensing their songs in this manner, though most of the time, it doesn’t pay more than a few hundred dollars at best, and much less in many cases.
And these deals can sometimes bring great promotional value for an indie artist who’s music is being broadcast during a show – at least in theory. Will the network give you an on-screen credit? How many people are going to see the show? How will this broadcast lead to people Shazaming to discover more about an artist? Who knows.
At the end of the day, though I REALLY don’t like placement deals that don’t include any upfront fee (I wouldn’t do them, as a rule), I can of course see the potential of these deals for an artist – promotion and royalties are a good thing. But I would want to know up front exactly what shows, when the songs are being used and what the audience of the show is before I even thought about not requiring an upfront fee.
So to summarize so far, the company is asking you to provide a song or a number of songs, all of which will be submitted to studios for various projects, which they might or might not use, and you’ll have no way of knowing if they were used until you see your performance rights organization’s royalty statement. If nothing is used, then you see no royalties in the report.
This is completely opaque – basically the company is creating something akin to a production library from your music and the music of other artists, that they then submit to studios and shows for potential usage, and hope some of these get picked up, maybe yours.
And finally, we’ve established how you’ll get paid. No upfront fees to you, but you will get paid royalties if your music is used. Fine.
Again, though I wouldn’t move forward with this kind of a deal, though if I was an artist, and it didn’t cost me anything to do this, I could see a lot of people thinking, “why not pull the trigger on this and we’ll see what happens.”
Of course, as a businessperson, my first question after processing all this is “how does this company get paid from artists to submitting music? They’re not participating at all on the royalty side, and since there’s no upfront fees to share, what’s their business model?
Do they have a deal with the studios where they get a fee from them for collecting this library of music they’re submitting to the label? Probably, though I don’t know this for sure.
Do they ask the artist to pay them fees for submitting their music? Yes they do.
Here’s what I know.
In order for an artist to move forward, the company requires a fee of $100 per song submitted per project.
That can add up really quickly, especially when there’s no guarantee the music will get used in a project.
To Quote Steve Harvey, “Aw HELL, NAW!”
You pay what’s a pretty hefty fee to put your music into a pile of other music from other people, which the company then makes into a impromptu library and submits to their studio clients.
I don’t like any of this.
First off, the company that’s submitting your music is likely not only getting paid by you for each of your submissions, but is also likely getting paid some type of consulting fee by the network they’re contracted to source music for. So they’re getting paid coming and going.
But there’s more to it. Your ‘deal”, if we can even call it that, doesn’t require a damn thing from the company after they’ve taken your $100 then to throw your music into a pile. No handholding, no help, no follow up.
Good luck if you make it. Some do, most don’t. No matter what happens, they get paid from you and from their client.
And you know what? As bad as this may sound, I’ve seen worse.
In terms of deals, a good general rule to keep in mind is that if you’re working with an agency, consultant or company that’s submitting your music for usage in media, they should explain to you in basic terms what their relationship with you is, you should have a verifiable agreement that includes how you are going to get paid, and if there’s a deal, you should know what are the deal points in regards to how your music is going to get used.
As to production libraries, I’ll write more about them in detail in a separate post, but if you are working with them to create music – royalty-free or not, the agreements are normally music more clear-cut than the above, and in any case, they don’t ask you to pay them to be a part of their library or to have your music submitted.
I have no issue with people paying for experts to consult with them and their catalog or company, to help them get their catalog ready to pitch, connect them to people in the business and to go out there and actively pitch it.
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Sometimes, it’s worth it just to pay a company or a person to help you get everything organized and to connect with the right people so you get personalized attention. But, this kind of relationship has to be based on concrete goals and respect.
So too with services online or off that ask you to pay a minimal fee for them to assist you to organize and pitch your music. If there are clear goals provided and set by the company you’re dealing with, why not give them a try — so long as it won’t cost much – you’ll probably get some valuable experience, if not a sync our two.
But, when you’re being asked to throw down $100 for every song you submit for every project, and there’s no guarantee of return, basically ever, it’s not good ROI and I would avoid it. Just don’t get involved with anything where the upfront fees are high and the deal points and follow up are really opaque.
The fact is, most companies and most sync agents are totally legit and are incredible advocates for their clients, are transparent about the terms of their deals with those clients and take pains to be fair partners and advocates on behalf of their clients when brokering deals, and to solve problems for music licensors in TV, Film, Games, Ads, Brands and Interactive projects.
They are straight shooters who provide a real service for both the licensor and licensee. If you want to dig deeper into the world of a sync agent click here to read our last blog post.
At the end of the day, you are the only person that can decide whether ANY deal with work for you, and you may decide that it’s worth taking the kind of deal I described. That’s your choice. Just beware of the potential drawbacks, the cost and the really really low potential for ROI.
By the way, my friend didn’t take the deal (no prompting from me) which made me very happy.