How To Write Songs For Sync Licensing

how To Write For Sync Music- SongTown

In today’s ever changing music landscape, writing music for sync has become an important marketplace for songs and songwriters. More music content is being consumed now than at any other time in the history of the world. And, much of that music is showcased in TV shows, movies, video games, and ads. 

There has long been a misconception among songwriters that if a song doesn’t fit into a popular radio format like country, hip hop, or pop, then it has a shot to get licensed. As someone who has had over 1,500 sync placements in my career, I can say with certainty, this is NOT often the case. 

Let’s break down what makes a song “syncable,” and what will sink your song in this prized arena.

The 6 Pillars Of Sync

Sync publisher Randall Foster (Symphonic Music) says to be a good candidate for sync, a song needs to fit into one of six categories. He calls it “The 6 pillars of Sync.” Randall shared his list with SongTown in a recent SongTown course. 

#1: ANTHEM

Celebratory, shout-at-the-top-of-your-lungs music. The verse can be, and typically is, calmer, but the chorus is explosive! Typically, in the rock or pop genre.

Examples:

“Viva la Vida” by Coldplay 

“We Are Young”  by Fun

#2: SWAGGER

All about the vibe in your face, sexy, and with a groove. This groove is often found throughout the whole song, unlike anthemic music where the emphasis is  in the chorus. Typically, in the rock or hip-hop genre.

Examples:

“I’m Shakin’” by Jack White

“Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand 

“BLKKK SKKKN HEAD” by Kanye West

“What Makes A Good Man” by The Heavy

#3 ASSURANCE

A positive declaration intended to give confidence; a promise. 

Synonyms: honor, word, promise, pledge, vow, oath, bond, undertaking

Example:

“Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

#4 SULTRY

(Of a person, especially a woman) Attractive in a way that suggests a passionate nature.

Synonyms: passionate, attractive, sensual, sexy, voluptuous, erotic, seductive 

Example: 

“Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King

#5: PURE JOY

An emotional feeling that can be conveyed in lyrics OR happen completely within  the instrumentation. Celebratory music that often has a touch of anthemic (but doesn’t have to). Almost always uptempo/pop.

Examples:

“I Love It” by Icona Pop

“Best Day of My Life” by All American Authors

“Boom Clap”  by Charlie XCX

#6: MODERN

This can be a tricky one to nail. It is music that hipsters know is cool before the rest of the world knows. This “modern” music is usually played by a band  or artist with a very unique sound (non-traditional instrumentation, often electronic elements). Anything that pushes the conventional music boundaries.

Typically, in a high-art advertising commercial.

Examples:

“Modern Drift” by Efterklang

“We Are The People” by Empire of the Sun

“Global Concepts” by Robert DeLong

“Memories That You Call“ by ODESZA

Lyrical Content

Songwriters have a highly tuned skill for painting pictures with words. They should have the ability to tell a three-minute story with lyrics. But, in the world of sync songs, the audience is watching a movie or TV show and hears the lines spoken by the actors. They have been following the story intently. (If it’s a good movie!) The music plays a support role. Therefore, lyrics in this role should be less specific or more vague. The words should convey an emotion or feeling, rather than a detailed story. The actors and action on the screen tell the story. Painting with broad lyrical strokes will help songs get more sync placements.

Think about it like this: if you write a song about a guy named Thurston who goes for a three hour tour on the SS Minnow and gets shipwrecked, you had better hope they revive the old TV show Gilligan’s Island, or you will have a hard time finding a story that matches all that detail! 

But, what if you take the same story and write a song about a man who feels lost, as if he is drifting at sea? Focusing on the emotion of being lost and looking for a safe harbor. You now have a much better shot at placing your song in a scene where someone is feeling lost. If your lyrical content fits one of the “6 Pillars Of Sync,” then your odds go way up!

Create A Recording Act

A few years back, a friend of mine was struggling to make it as a record producer and decided to pursue sync placements. He was super talented at creating vibe music tracks. He called on a friend of his who was a singer, and together, they created a persona. They recorded an entire album under the alias of an old blues singer from Georgia. The music was swampy with gravelly blues vocals. Their songs were good, and they created a recording act as part of their story.

The two began sending links to their project to music supervisors in LA and immediately started getting placements for their songs in TV. Why? Because music supervisors like to discover cool, underground music and acts before the rest of the world does. They want to brings new music to the masses. It’s a feather in their cap, so to speak.

So, consider creating a band or solo act for which you can build support online, and also, pitch to music supervisors. I know one singer who has created five or six of these stories—all under different band names. Much like Jack White going from the White Stripes to solo to The Raconteurs. The good thing is you don’t have to be as famous as Jack White to get sync placements. This kind of story branding can be just as important as the music itself.

Do Your Research

As SongTown’s resident guru and  Sync Edge mentor, Jess Furman, puts it: “Music Supervisors have individual taste and style.”

They are tasked with finding music for projects, and you have to get them into your music to get placements. So, do your homework. If you want to get a song on the TV show Better Call Saul, then listen to the style of songs getting placed on that show. Find out who the music supervisor is. You’ll discover that the same music supervisor might work on another show like The Walking Dead. Supervisors like Thomas Golubic have a definite style they are looking for and a sound they gravitate toward. Websites like Tunefind and IMDb will help you in your sleuthing. The more familiar you are with what type of songs are getting placed and who is listening for those shows, the more likely you will write music that is going to get placed.

Coming soon in another article, I’ll cover some top ways you can get your music into the hands of music supervisors and sync libraries. In the meantime, check out SongTown’s Sync Writer’s Edge Group, which works directly with top L.A. publisher Jess Furman. Until then…

Write on!

Clay

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.

4 thoughts on “How To Write Songs For Sync Licensing

  1. Love this Clay, it’s a real eye opener learning what writing for sync entails. Great article, thanks.

  2. I had a deal with AudioBrain out of New York and had some of mine placed with the Olympic Games on NBC in 2003 i believe was the year. Great article.

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