How To Write Songs For Sync Licensing

SSync licensing is one of the best ways for musicians to earn additional income. When your music is sync licensed, it means that a producer has decided to use your music in a movie, television show, video game, commercial, or other piece of audiovisual media. Not only do you get paid for your work, but sync licensing is also an opportunity to open up your music to a whole group of potential new fans.

You don’t have to be a big name to make it big in sync licensing. Yes, Hollywood films tend to choose huge music stars, the way The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Skyfall both asked Adele to record sync music for them, but right now you’re not marketing your songs to the next Hunger Games. You’re marketing to the smaller media projects: the independent film, the basic cable drama, the startup phone app, the commercial. Kimya Dawson, after all, got tapped for Juno. Niche indie group Pomplamoose was literally unknown when they lent their music to a Hyundai commercial. All of those songs you don’t quite recognize when you watch soap operas or television dramas? All small artists, all selling their music via sync licensing.

The internet has made it even easier for producers to find your music. Online services like TuneCore sync licensing will actively promote your music to potential media producers. If you haven’t submitted any of your music to a service like this, you’re missing out on potential opportunities.

Of course, not every song is appropriate for sync licensing. Some songs just don’t fit the profile that media producers are looking for. If you want to become successful in the sync licensing arena, you have to learn how to write songs that sync well.

Image credit: humblesound on Flickr

Image credit: humblesound on Flickr

1. Include instrumentals

Here’s an experiment: sit down and watch a few hours of prime time television, including commercials. Pay attention to how many individual songs you hear. How many of those songs just use instrumentals or feature a snippet of chorus followed by a long instrumental stretch? Chances are, a lot of them.

Why is having long instrumental sections important? Because people need to be able to talk over your music. Whether a couple of teen drama characters are arguing over whether to break up, or an announcer is extolling the virtues of the latest innovations in four-wheel drive, these people have to be heard. Good sync licensing music naturally fades into the background when it is needed.

Of course, you don’t have to write a song with a nine-minute instrumental break just so it’ll look attractive to sync licensers. Just make sure you have a decent-sized instrumental break, the usual trading fours or a development of the hook, after the bridge. Ideally, this can be looped to fit whatever time length is needed.

2. Focus on your choruses

Dig up that brilliant Bing commercial, the one that introduced The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” to a wider audience. First, you hear an instrumental hook as the announcer describes the search engine. Then, you get two lines of the verse, and you cut immediately to the song’s now instantly-recognizable chorus.

That’s your job. To write a song like “Ho Hey,” with a fantastic chorus that people will want to use in their products. If you’re going to focus your writing either on the verse or on the chorus, always choose the chorus.


Typewriter on Flickr

3. Pay attention to your lyrics

Truth be told, your song lyrics matter much less than you think, unless the media project has chosen to use your lyrics to make a very specific statement, the way Tony Lucca’s cover of “Devil Town” was used to describe Dillon, Texas in Friday Night Lights. A lot of times, the lyrics are just background.

However, there are ways to choose song lyrics that will make your song more attractive to media producers. First, you have to stay away from anything that could be considered vulgar or offensive. Yes, if your song is good enough, the media producers will find a way to work around the offensive parts, the way that Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle used the edited version of the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started,” but you’re not the Black Eyed Peas. Play it safe.

Likewise, you’re more likely to get your song into a project if you base the lyrics around a universal theme: first kisses, breaking up, feeling lonely. There is always room for another good song about money and fame; David Bowie and Pink Floyd are too expensive for many media producers to sync after all. Think about the types of emotional scenarios that show up in TV, film, and games, and write songs to fit those emotional moments.

Have you ever gotten a sync license for your music? Let us know!