If you’ve begun to dive into the topic of how songwriters actually earn money writing music, you may have come across the term “sync.” No, it’s not what happens when your debut single goes nowhere. Instead, it’s one of the most exciting (and potentially lucrative) opportunities available to songwriters: The placement (or “synchronization” - so called because the music is synchronized to a moving image) of their music in a film, trailer, television show, advertisement, music video, video game or any other variation of the moving image.
So…what is micro-sync? Just as the use of a song in different media requires different types of licenses and generates different types of royalties, there are different gradations of syncs. A micro-sync is a license for music to be used in tandem with audiovisual works across many uses rather than one license per use, such as those found on YouTube and other video streaming sites.
By the time you finish this article, you should have a basic understanding of what micro-sync royalties are and how they are earned. If you’re at all interested in leveraging your power as a music creator, they’re not an opportunity to be ignored.
Micro-Syncs: A Macro View
Whenever you hear music set to a moving image, a sync license must be secured from the appropriate rights holders of the music. The terms of this license are negotiated between the rights holders and the licensee and will usually include an upfront fee for the use of both the master recording and the composition. Depending on the song and the context in which it is being used, this can range from nothing to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more depending on the market value of a song. This is what you might expect should you get a sync placement.
While micro-syncs don’t always generate the same eye-popping payouts as standard syncs, they’re an increasingly important part of the music publishing landscape. For example, YouTube features many millions of videos that utilize music. Uploaders whose channels are eligible can earn substantial money from ad revenue on their videos.
Copyright and Micro-Sync
Unfortunately, that’s not legally legit if the video contains content (like music) that the uploader does not own -- unless the video you upload is only for your personal use and not shared online, you must get permission from the copyright holder to use any music on YouTube. That said, there’s no way a publisher or label could keep up with the amount of license requests that would come in for all the videos being uploaded to a platform like YouTube, especially since most of these uses would entail an unviable low price point for them.
Instead, YouTube signs agreements with publishers and labels, which then grant the platform the right to host videos using their entire catalogs. In exchange, rights holders can monetize and collect royalties generated by the videos that use their music. Sometimes a micro-sync license will include a blanket fee, meaning the licensee pays a flat fee for the use of a work or catalog of works.
Ultimately, “micro-sync” is the synchronization of music with moving images in smaller individual instances with a huge number of uses. Depending on where these uses occur, they can generate both performance and mechanical royalties. For example, a monetized YouTube video will generate performance and mechanical royalties.
Your performance royalties are tracked, collected, and paid through your affiliated collection society such as a PRO like ASCAP or BMI in the US or a CMO such as GEMA in Germany or SACEM in France. The mechanical royalties you earn are tracked by organizations that administer mechanical licenses, such as Mechanical Rights Organizations (MRO) like the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) in the US, or by CMOs and paid out by your publisher or by a publishing administrator like Songtrust.
When you’re setting up the strategy for your music career, micro-syncs are an additional potential source of income for your songs. Though you can tackle the administration of these licenses using a third-party service, managing the micro-sync landscape is an intrinsic part of what we do here at Songtrust, and it’s included in our service agreement. Whether or not you ultimately decide to partner with us, make sure you’re on top of this increasingly important part of the publishing landscape.
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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.