Sync Deals, Vol. I: Syncola and upfront fees

An Editorial By Mark Frieser


One of the most important QAs I chaired at this past week’s SyncSummit NY was about sync deals – good and bad – with eOne’s SVP of Licensing Mick Lloyd.

I think knowing the difference between a good and a bad deal is so important that we’ve added a deal points panel to September’s SyncSummit LA.

And, I’m going to start writing about the topic too on our blog – starting with this post.

So, why are deal points so important to you anyway?

Simple – getting music placed or scoring a gig to make music for an ad, TV show, film, video game – whatever – is hard enough without people jacking you for upfront fees, taking high backend percentages of your sync fee, or taking a share – or worse – of your publishing for no good reason.

And let’s face it, knowing what’s a good deal in this business is hard – licensing and composition for visual and interactive media is an opaque, clannish buyer’s market a lot of people are desperate to get in without knowing how to actually get in or how to get a decent deal.

And in any buyer’s market, there’s going to be people that will promise you – for a high fee, or by taking a high percentage of the worth of your work in perpetuity – they’ll help get you a deal.

My hope is that in these next few posts I can give you some pointers that will help you find and get the best deals possible.

So let’s start by talking about upfront fees.

No Syncola

I personally don’t think you should pay an upfront fee outright to a music supervisor for getting access to a sync opportunity. I call it syncola – like payola back in the day – it doesn’t happen that often – but if you come across it, avoid it.

An example of what I’m talking about is the racket DJ Sluggo who got shit-canned from music supervising a Spike Lee Joint, tried to pull.

In his case, this wasn’t a fee for guaranteeing he’d use the songs – just for submitting them for listening.  And they were high fees too – $100 – $500 a submission.

And you know what, Spike Lee would have been no more likely to use any track submitted because he was totally oblivious to what Sluggo was doing.

Anyway, Sluggo’s not the first, and he won’t be the last to do this, but really, any decent music supervisor wouldn’t do this to an artist. So if a music supervisor asks for an upfront fee for you to submit, my advice is to reject it outright.

On the other hand, paying for some things is okay.  

There are some other upfront “asks” that I would consider perfectly fine, at least in my opinion.

Personally, I think it’s fine if someone asks you for a nominal subscription fee for a well-vetted listing of placement opportunities – so long as that’s all they’re asking for. If you submit, that’s entirely up to you, and if you get placed you keep 100% of your sync fee.

I’m not sure how effective that will be for you in terms of actually getting placements, but there’s at least some value in knowing what projects are out there you can pitch to beyond what you can research yourself.

While paying for other things is an area more grey…

Then there are some services that ask you to pay small upfront fees (usually $10-$25) for opportunities to submit your work for specific projects.

If that’s all they ask of you – and there’s no backend fees of any kind, I don’t see a real problem with this if the fees are low and you know what you’re paying for.

Here’s how it works.

Basically a music supervisor, producer or other buyer – usually working with these services on some sort of advisory role – puts out a request for a song (a brief) on one of these services, and as a “service” these companies will charge you a small upfront submission fee to let you pitch your music to that brief.

It’s a bit like buying a lottery ticket, and just like the lottery there’s a real opportunity to win (however small), and just like the lottery, if you win, you don’t split the winnings with the shopkeeper who sold you the ticket.

The only area that could be considered grey here is that sometimes the people who put out the requests – the buyers – get a percentage of the collective submission fees paid by artists.

Do I have a problem with this?  Honestly, I don’t. So long as the fees paid out to the buyers are from a general pool and don’t influence one artist over another, I think it’s just another tool artists can use to get access to projects.

And I know a lot of my friends will disagree with me, but personally, if I was an artist on one of these sites and I saw an opportunity for $10 to submit a song of mine I thought may work in a project, I’d probably see this as a decent value.

Especially if I didn’t have a sync agency or someone working on my behalf.

And other times you should just stay away…

Then there are the real assholes – some “services” which will ask you for money up front every step of the way.

Not only to get access to a list of potential placements or to pitch a song to a brief, but then they’ll have the audacity (I have seen this myself, so believe it) to ask you to pay them to keep your publishing.

Now, let’s back up… 

Then you’re telling me that I need to pay you a fee up front to keep my publishing rights?!?

Huh?

You don’t even have the fucking right to make that decision – that’s the buyer’s call.

To be sure, some buyers want all the rights (a buy out) for reasons of simplicity, like if they are using your song in a global ad campaign, others will just pay a sync fee – and that’s part of the business and a decision you need to make as circumstances warrant – like if there’s a bigger sync fee for a buyout… that’s probably ok and in many instances required.

But under no circumstances should you have to pay anyone upfront to retain your publishing or any other rights.

Period.

I hope the above gives you some good insight – or at the least a decent perspective – into what kinds of upfront fees are being asked for in the sync world and you can go into these types of situation with both eyes open.

In the next article in this series, I’m going to get into a real quagmire – backend percentages and types.  How high, for what and when and to who… 

Feel free to send any feedback or questions to me at mark@syncsummit.com

 

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