Pitching the pitchers: What to know before working with a sync rep (2022)

Pitching the pitchers: What to know before working with a sync rep (1)

Interested in learning what a sync placement can do for your music career? Our recent DISCO webinar on working with sync reps featuring Kayla Monetta from The Greater Goods Co and Josh Briggs from Terrorbird was one of our most popular events to date. Below, we extend and elaborate on some of the key takeaways from that webinar.

We cover the different types of sync rep companies, deals, and terms to be aware of, how a rep can help you build a successful sync career, finding the right one for you, and how to further your chances of getting a meeting with them.

Before diving in, here’s a helpful primer on what sync licensing is and how it works by Josh Briggs for The Creative Independent.

Pro tip — if you already have an idea of which sync reps you want to work with, jump down to this checklist of things to do before reaching out.

While the concept of sync is simple, the scope of the license, usage terms, and the subsequent commercial impact can be complex. It’s a full-time job to keep track of the different commercial terms at play in different markets while looking for opportunities on a daily basis and negotiating the terms of a deal on your behalf.

(Side note: A sync rep manages the front-end sync fee. Outside of a rep’s responsibilities is performance income managed by Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP or BMI. They collect additional revenue from syndications based on how many times a placement is aired.)

A good sync rep has access to the people you want your music to reach. They have relationships with production houses, music supervisors, directors, and their teams. These decision-makers often prefer to work with reps over artists because they streamline their process.

Supervisors (or ‘supes’) send briefs to sync reps they trust. The reps deliver relevant songs based on those briefs and help clear copyrights quickly. Supes trust that reps are working with a roster they’ve lovingly curated because they believe in each label or musician.

Getting your music pitched by a sync rep is one of the best ways to have your music discovered and placed by a supervisor. So how do you pitch the pitchers?

Do your research

“We can compartmentalize what an artist is trying to do and how and where we can pitch them…They can add varied sounds without being cannibalistic.” — Josh Briggs, Terrorbird

There are hundreds of rep companies worldwide and at least 50 top ones serving the US, Europe, UK, and Australasia. When narrowing down your list, your peers or community of artists, labels, and managers are all good places to start. Ask them who they’re working with and what their experience is like. There are also several online artist communities, subreddits, and Facebook groups — some dedicated purely to sync.

While there are no shortcuts to researching the companies individually, the most commonly cited rep companies can be found online with a bit of digging.

If you don’t have industry connections, look at similar artists in your Spotify profile and research who represents them. Watch lots of media and pay attention to the music. Look up song placements on ispot.tv, tunefind.com, and musiquedepub.tv. If you hear a song from an artist and think “wow, my song would’ve worked there,” look up who represents them.

Josh Briggs at Terrorbird says that if you see bands you’d tour with on an agency’s roster, that’s a good sign. Some projects will want dark garage rock, some will want fun garage rock. Sync companies want to represent diverse artists and genres, but there are nuances to that diversity.

He added, “We could sign an artist who on the surface may seem competitive to another artist on our roster but actually isn’t when we’re making A&R decisions. We can compartmentalize what an artist is trying to do and how and where we can pitch them. An artist reaching out to us might tour with someone on our roster. They can add varied sounds without being cannibalistic.”

If you don’t see your genre represented on a roster, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for you with that company. Many agencies consider themselves genre-agnostic. Focus on the value you’d add to that catalog when reaching out.

Some rep companies have their own publishing arms in addition to their sync business. They run as a hybrid sound house with artists who write music specifically for placement in films, TV, commercials, games, etc.

Do you want to compose music specifically for sync placements? Or do you want someone to pitch your catalog? Look for a rep company that specializes in the type of placements you want.

What to look for in a rep company

There’s a process in the sync world, but not necessarily a formula. This applies to both the art of placing a song and finding the right rep to increase your chances of placement.

Start with a sync company’s placement reel and roster of labels and artists. A bit like signing to any label or management company, their roster will tell you a lot about the company, the type of musicians they’re willing to work with, and the opportunities they present.

Think of it as submitting music for radio play or press. Only reach out if your music fits the station’s/publication’s/company’s programming and audience. When researching rep companies, consider:

  • What type of work is on their reel (ads/trailers/games/film/TV)? Would your music fit their formats?
  • How recent is the work and how much is there?
  • Is there either a gap your music could fill or a complementary roster?
  • Which work/artist did you recognize/like that you’ll be mentioning in your cover email? Do their roster and reel make you excited to reach out?
  • Who are the local rep companies in your state, coast, or country? Does their reel contain overseas work or local placements only? (The breadth of a reel demonstrates the maturity of the company and the extent of their relationships.)

The presence of just one or a few brands on a reel may be a hint that the company is mostly working on bespoke compositions. Or, that they’re working with smaller budgets or have fewer brand relationships. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but will indicate the types of fees and placements to expect.

Although not always the case, most rep companies require an exclusive rights agreement to rep your music on an all-in basis. “All-in” means they represent both the publishing and master copyright. The agreement grants them the exclusive rights to pitch your music for sync.

Josh says “non-exclusive deals muddy the waters and create animosity between teams. Everybody has to fight when something comes through to prove they did their work. But when you’re working within your specific role on an artist’s team, everyone is pulling their weight and doing what they have to do.” He added, “if a supe has a relationship with two rep companies that are pitching the same track, they’ll go with a different track option altogether in order to avoid hurting either relationship.”

Kayla from Greater Goods added, “I’ve talked to supervisors who say it [a non-exclusive deal] can devalue the music sometimes. When different reps are pitching the same song for different fees, that can get difficult.”

Prep your works

Before reaching out, get your house in order. If you have a publishing or label deal, ask what sync rights you have to offer a rep company.

Josh shared that until you assign those rights to a record label (the master, typically) and a publisher (the rights to the composition), you own and control both copyrights. That means you receive 100% of royalties. It’s up to you to pay commission rates to managers, reps, etc.

If there are co-writers or other band members involved in your songs, create a written agreement with them regarding both the publishing and the master side of any recording.

How to pitch yourself

“The [streaming] numbers and followers of an artist don’t matter. Either the song works or it doesn’t. That evens the playing field for all artists, no matter their size.” — Kayla Monetta, The Greater Goods Co.

Good rep companies prefer a warm introduction. Josh and Kayla both noted that most of their artists come from referrals. As an artist, focus on making great work. But also get out there and make friends and connections in the industry, including with other artists.

Every rep company has a different approach. At The Greater Goods Co, Kayla said they don’t like to sign artists who are too similar to ones they already represent because they want to make sure everyone has a fighting chance.

She said, “We don’t want to sign a bunch of stuff that would directly compete sonically with each other because then we can’t super-serve our artists.” She added, “The [streaming] numbers and followers of an artist don’t matter. Either the song works or it doesn’t. That evens the playing field for all artists, no matter their size.”

Josh adds, “Music supervisors sometimes look to companies like Terrorbird and The Greater Goods Co to point the way toward what’s next or to stuff they haven’t heard of. We look for real artists; artist marketing is our goal. I’m hearing that at this moment especially, music supervisors want to support independent artists.”

Regardless of whether you have a warm introduction or not, always research the individual you’re pitching to. Kayla said, “If you do enough digging in 2020, you can find someone’s email. If your work matters that much to you, you’ll make that little bit of effort to find someone’s name and include it in your email. Being personal goes a long way. Tell us why you’d be a good fit on our roster. Tell us what we’ve done that was impressive to you.”

Josh says, “Tell us why you want to work with us, whether it’s a certain artist on our roster that got you excited or the roster or reel in general. We also want to see that artists are working as hard as we are and are taking the time to know who they’re reaching out to in the first place.”

Once you know who you are going to reach out to, here are some ways to maximize the time the rep has with your music submission:

  • Follow the submission guidelines. If they say submit via a form, do that. Don’t DM Reps with links to your music; they’ll ignore it.
  • Make your message personal. Don’t BCC a bunch of agencies or copy and paste the same email. Instead, tell them how you can add value to them specifically. Research the company. What previous placements were impressive to you? What artists on their roster do you admire? Let them know.
  • Make it snappy. Reference artists your work sounds like or any quick lines of context for your music to make your submission easier to parse.
  • Don’t attach files to emails. Send them a link they can stream and download easily, ideally one you can track.
  • Share the details of your copyrights. Let them know what rights you control and who controls the others. Disclose all writer and publisher information.
  • Share sample details. If your music includes uncleared samples, the best thing is to not include that track. An uncleared sample can sneak through even when it’s been flagged and that’s additional hassle a rep doesn’t want to think about.
  • Make a playlist or share highlights. Keep the playlists short. No more than nine songs on the one link. Include as much of a range as possible.
  • Flag highlight moments in the song. Everyone is short on time. Draw attention to the sections you deem most syncable. Include bios, press, and other relevant material — almost like an electronic press kit (EPK).
  • It’s ok to include covers. Though you only have master rights to offer (and it’s always worth noting only master rights are available), it’s worth doing if there’s something distinctive or different about the cover. Reps are always looking for bands/artists with a distinctive sound, and a cover could be a good way to showcase how you can adapt existing material. It also indicates that you’re available for covers if one is needed for creative or budgetary reasons.
  • Include demos. If you have a demo that complements or extends the range of your sound, include it. Highly produced music is not necessarily what supes are after all the time. Everyone is after surprising and distinctive. This wins over production most times.
  • AIFs NOT WAVS. Include your mastered AIF files. AIFs travel with metadata. WAVS generally don’t. Try to get mastered instrumentals if you can afford it.
  • Keep stems on hand and let the receiver know you have them. A bounce of the instrumental with backing vocals and a split on the lead vocal is normally a great place to start.
  • Include lyrics in your submission. Make it easy for the receiver to view your lyrics while streaming your music. This optimizes your pitch and gets them thinking creatively about potential opportunities for your songs. If your lyrics are explicit, indicate if you have clean versions.
  • Share your latest or unreleased material. New and unreleased stuff will be of greatest interest for shows and placements that are trying to stay current. You may be surprised what grabs a rep’s interest.

Josh says having unreleased music is key. “As with having lyrics or having instrumentals on hand, [having unreleased music] is like having a piece of the puzzle. Every streaming show front-loads production — it’s all released at once. It’s important to stay extra current. When searches come in, they’re asking for new and unreleased stuff.”

“We also want to see that artists are working as hard as we are and are taking the time to know who they’re reaching out to in the first place.” — Josh Briggs, Terrorbird

A rep company is interested. Now what?

When engaging in initial conversations, look for someone who’s excited about your music. Get a sense of how much time they’ve spent with it. Ask what type of projects they envision your music in.

Half of a sync agent’s job is to manage your expectations. (Note: your expectations should be very low but lined with optimism.) If a potential rep is promising you the world or a specific placement, run for the hills. A good sync rep will speak to the opportunities they envision for your sound. A great sync agent knows there are no guarantees, and they’ll tell you that.

Kayla said some artists won’t see placement for a year or more, others see something in a month. She added, “It can take up to a year to build awareness around an artist with a lot of the music supervisors. We don’t just passively sign, we’re actively pushing everyone on our roster. Our reputation is on the line too.”

Some artists never see a placement. Getting short-listed for a project is in itself a win — you’re one step closer to being considered for the next brief.

You’ll want a rep who’s actively pitching your music. Consider asking the rep company for an introduction to someone on their roster for their experience.

There’s a certain degree of luck in securing sync placements. At the end of the day, you want to like and trust the people you work with. Don’t hesitate to get to know them a bit before signing a contract.

Contract red flags & commission rates

Here are a couple of quick tips to watch out for. (Please note that the below comments are general recommendations only and should not be taken as or in lieu of legal advice.)

Josh says that any contract term over 2–3 years feels like an overreach.

Never work with someone trying to charge a fee or flat rate. Sync agents should be commission-based. It’s not a pay-to-play model.

Check out the exit period defined in the contract. You’ll be expected to leave your music with the rep company for a certain number of months after contract termination. Or, you may be contractually required to give notice some number of months before the end of the term. Be clear about the termination clause and how it will come into effect and plan accordingly.

Josh suggests not giving away more than 50% in commission. Huge artists can negotiate on the very low end. For indie artists, however, a sync agent is a member of your marketing team. Ideally, you’ll work with someone who got into this business because they want to help your art be heard. Keep in mind, high-level syncs have changed artists’ lives.

Do some math to determine what you’re comfortable with. If you secure a sync that’s $2,000 all-in, are you comfortable keeping 70% of that? Think through several scenarios. Commission rates should be something everyone is comfortable with and motivated by.

Ask to see the contract. If it’s slow coming, that’s a red flag. Once you have it, get legal advice. At the very least, speak to someone in the industry who’s seen a rep agreement before. With the hybrid publisher/rep companies, there are often different deal terms. If there’s a publishing component to the deal, you should know exactly what you’re signing up for and get legal advice. Always have the agreement signed before the rep company starts pitching.

Trusting your other reps

“Most supervisors are creative people who are trying to make some sort of narrative mixtape. Those are the most exciting ones when they reach out because it means they want you to be a part of it.” — Eric D. Johnson, Fruit Bats

Eric D. Johnson, who performs as Fruit Bats, shared that his sync reps have always been hired through his record labels, either an in-house person or an independent contractor. It’s always gone well for him. He’s had several syncs on TV, his first being Six Feet Under, and more recently on Amazon’s Upload. He added, “Most supervisors are creative people who are trying to make some sort of narrative mixtape. Those are the most exciting ones when they reach out because it means they want you to be a part of it.”

If you have a label who works with sync reps, either ask to meet them before signing your label contract or know that you trust your label with that decision.

Sync and supervision professionals spend a lot of time on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify, Youtube, and music blogs. Make sure your music is available to listen to and if you have the resources, being promoted on relevant platforms. It feels nice to be discovered, but you have to make yourself discoverable.

There’s a growing awareness of both the importance of sync for independent musicians and the value of independent artists can add to syncs. Now is a great time to get your music into the hands of those responsible for placing syncs, as people across the industry have more time to listen.

There’s no magic solution to getting your songs synced. Put in the time and the research and you can increase your chances of a placement. The trick is to give it a try and learn along the way. The perfect project for your favorite track may land on your lap with the help of a solid representative.

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