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Two Ways Sync Pays | Synchronization Rights, Licensing and Royalties

Two copyright bundles and two types of payment come to music artists when they get sync placements in movies, advertisements and tv shows.

stock image music in film synchronization
Photo credit thodonal Adobe Stock

Synchronization or “sync” is when your song is used alongside moving visual images.

When you hear music in a video, television show, advertisement, movie or film, you are looking at a synchronization usage.

There are different forms of payment for sync usages, and the pay is for two separate copyrights.

Any time you record a song, there are two copyrights.

The first copyright is the one that protects your song itself – the words and melody. This is represented by the symbol of a "c" with a circle around it.

The second copyright is the one that protects only the recording of the song separate from the song. This is represented by the symbol of a "p" with a circle around it.

This is confusing at first, because it’s hard to think about the song being separate from the recording. Of course when you hear a recording of a song, you’re hearing the song, too.

But for the purpose of copyright protections, we separate the composition from the recording.

The reason is because the song composition belongs to the songwriter and publisher, and the recording belongs to the artist and record company. These are very often different people and companies.

Therefore, anytime someone records a song composition, they have to get permission in writing from the songwriter and publisher.

This permission is called a license, and in the case of synchronization placements, a license is needed from both the owner of the song composition, and the owner of the sound recording.

This is why we say that sync pays in two ways – for both the song copyright and the sound recording copyright.

Sometimes the payment is the same for both the song composition and the sound recording.

That’s called MFN or Most Favored Nations in music business terminology and means that you are agreeing to pay everyone the same amount for the same usage.

But as with many things in the music business, how much the movie production company pays for the song and the recording is negotiable depending on their budget and how popular your song is.

In addition to the payment for both the composition and sound recording copyrights, sync placements pay in two different ways – upfront and backend.

Upfront payments happen at the time your music is used in a movie or advertising project and can range from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands depending on your clout, skill and popularity.

Backend payments happen whenever the movie with your song in it is shown on television or one of the streaming services in the form of public performance royalty.

The upfront money comes to you directly, or maybe through your publisher or record label if you are signed.

The backend money is royalty that comes from your performing rights organization. In the United States, the largest of these for songwriter / publishers are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and Sound Exchange is the one for artists and record labels.

If you’re getting music picked up in movies or television shows, you need to make sure you’re registered with all the organizations that collect royalty, including the MLC, the Mechanical Licensing Collective, which handles all the mechanical royalty floating around the digital space. You can learn more about that in a different article.

So to recap – the two ways sync pays are:

Two types of payments –

· Upfront fees and backend royalties

Two copyrights involved

· Sound recording and composition

Got experience getting your songs in film and television placements? Leave a comment below and let us hear about your success!


Songpreneurs helped over 20 of our Leadership Community members get their first songs in a national TV show called GearHeads a few years back through a special collaboration.

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