In this article, we dive into synchronization royalties and all the background work enabling artists to earn from their music in movies, TV, games, ads, etc.

Synchronisation Royalties Explained: Harmonizing Music and Visual Media

9 minute read
David Dittrich
Director of Marketing

The shelf life of a brilliant piece of music may be a maximum of one year. Only 44 songs have stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard chart for ten weeks or more. Now, some artists release a song and earn good money within the shelf life of their work. And there is Kate Bush - who not only made a profit within the period her song was a hit but earned even more 37 years later.

Kate Bush was a household name during the 70s and 80s. The "Wuthering Heights" crooner topped charts globally at 19. "Running Up That Hill," the lead single from her fifth studio album, Hounds of Love, was a hit in 1985. And a hit in 2022 — because of the Netflix show, Stranger Things.

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"Running Up That Hill" featured in the fourth episode of the show's fourth season. As a result, Bush earned up to $2.3 million in royalties. And this was only possible because of synchronization royalties.

Understanding synchronization royalties

Music has always been woven into visuals. Some of our favorite movies, TV shows, and games have been flavored with our favorite songs. Pairing music with these forms of content injects an emotional quality into the work and helps creators evoke responses from the audience. Therefore, it is only appropriate that artists or rights holders earn from their work if such work is used or paired with visual content.

Synchronization royalties or sync royalties refer to the fees paid to artists and rightsholders when their music is featured with visual content such as movies, TV shows, video games, and commercials. They differ from mechanical royalties (royalties earned from the reproduction and distribution of recorded music) and performance royalties (royalties from public performances or music broadcasts). Sync royalties represent a harmony between artists or rightsholders and the stakeholders of the visual content, as each creative piece of work complements the other. What Is Sync Licensing?

Factors influencing synchronization royalties

If Kate Bush earned around $2.3 million in sync royalties, would any artist whose music is paired with visual content earn the same? Not really. Some factors influence the amount of sync royalties. Factors such as the song's popularity and artist's usage duration, among others, play a role in determining sync royalties.

The popularity of the song and artist

The popularity of a song and artist can significantly influence the sync royalties they earn. Popular songs and well-known artists are more in demand for synchronization in various media projects. For instance, Bob Dylan has made 123 appearances through his music. While there's no record of his earnings in sync royalties, selling his entire songwriting catalog for a whopping $300 million gives an idea of how much he can earn from sync royalties.

Advertisers, filmmakers, and content creators believe that artists like Dylan or their songs can enhance their visual productions and connect with audiences better.

How a song is used

The way a song is used can also impact sync royalties. In some cases, the sync royalties may be calculated proportionally based on the percentage of the song used in the visual content. If a small portion of the song is used, the royalties paid would be lower than the entire track. Conversely, if a substantial portion or the whole song is used, the royalties reflect the extended exposure.

Furthermore, suppose the song is prominently featured and significantly impacts the scene or the overall narrative. In that case, it may be subject to higher licensing fees, regardless of duration. In cases where the song might be used repeatedly or in endless loops within a specific scene or game level, the sync royalties may consider the number of repetitions or the continuous play, which may lead to increased royalty fees.

Duration of song

Often, sync licensing fees are structured into different tiers based on the length of the song's use. For example, there might be separate rates for songs used in short clips (e.g., 30 seconds or less), medium-length segments (e.g., 1-2 minutes), and full-song uses. Longer uses generally command higher fees since the song's presence in the visual media becomes more significant and influential. As an influencing factor, duration ties nicely to a form of sync royalties known as micro-sync royalties.

Micro-sync royalties

Micro-sync royalties, also known as micro-sync licensing or micro-licensing, refer to music licensing for very short and low-budget media uses. It involves the use of a small portion of a song or a brief musical snippet, usually lasting only a few seconds, in various types of user-generated content, social media posts, short videos, mobile apps, and other digital platforms. Examples of micro-sync uses include incorporating a short segment of a song as background music in a TikTok video, an Instagram Reel, a YouTube vlog, or a mobile app.

The term "micro" in micro-sync royalties also indicates that the licensing fees for these short music uses are relatively small and more affordable than traditional sync licensing deals for major film, TV, or commercial placements. While the fees for micro-sync licenses are smaller compared to traditional sync placements, the cumulative impact of multiple micro-sync uses can still contribute to the overall revenue for music rights holders, especially if the song gains popularity and becomes widely used in various user-generated content across the internet.

It is important to note that an artist can earn micro-sync royalties from a YouTube content. Check out our dedicated guide on YouTube royalties where we discuss how artists can earn royalties from their work published and used on YouTube. This includes monetization through ads, views, plays, etc.

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The process of synchronization licensing

Music publishers act as intermediaries between artists and licensees, facilitate negotiations, and ensure a fair deal for all parties involved. Licensing agreements dictate the terms of usage, including the duration, exclusivity, and geographical territory of the synchronization. Here are the key steps in the synchronization licensing process:

Exploring licensing opportunities

The first step is to identify and locate the music rights holders, which typically include the songwriter(s), the music publisher(s), and the recording artist(s) or their respective record label(s). This information can usually be found through performing rights organizations (PROs), music publishers, record labels, or online databases.

On the other hand, artists or music rights holders can also reach out to music supervisors, production companies, and other online platforms to explore potential licensing opportunities. Artists must focus on networking and building strong relationships in the industry, as this improves their chances of bagging licensing opportunities. But before setting out to seek licensing opportunities, it is also crucial for the artist to register their songs with the appropriate copyright agency.

Negotiating the license terms

The negotiation process involves discussing the terms and conditions of the synchronization license. This includes the scope of the usage (e.g., duration, territory, media, exclusivity), the licensing fee, and any other specific rights or restrictions applicable to using the song in the visual media.

Securing the license agreement and paying the licensing fee

After agreeing on the terms, the licensee and the music rights holders formalize the arrangement by signing a synchronization license agreement. This contract outlines the agreed-upon terms and grants the licensee the right to use the song in the specified visual media.

Once the license agreement is in place, the licensee pays the agreed-upon licensing fee to the music rights holders. The fee can vary widely based on factors such as the song's popularity, the prominence of its use in the visual media, and the reach of the media project.

Fulfill reporting and other royalty obligations

Depending on the terms of the license agreement, the licensee may be required to provide periodic reports on the song's usage and pay any additional royalties or fees contingent on the success of the media project.

Note: The synchronization licensing process can be complex, and the specific terms and requirements may vary depending on the region, the type of media project, and the negotiating parties involved. To avoid legal issues and ensure proper compensation for the use of copyrighted music, it's advisable to work with experienced music licensing professionals or legal counsel during the process.

Trends and challenges

The rise of streaming services in recent years has transformed the music industry, bringing new opportunities for synchronization licensing. With platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime producing abundant original content, the demand for music synchronization has skyrocketed.

However, this trend also presents challenges in tracking and monitoring music usage, as decentralized distribution platforms make it difficult to account for each synchronization instance accurately.

What lies ahead?

Looking ahead, changing consumer behaviors alongside emerging technologies such as the metaverse, Web3, and NFTs will undoubtedly influence the future of synchronization royalties. Thus, we are set to see a reorganization in how music matches with visual content, allowing for more precise and personalized synchronization choices.

How to elevate your royalties with Talentir?

We understand the importance of empowering artists and creators to maximize their royalties. Talentir is the first platform to turn YouTube videos into an asset you can buy and sell. It lets creators and artists share parts of their videos with their fans, which helps to build a close and authentic community. With Talentir, royalties become scalable, enabling distribution to many  fans. We focus on artists and creators, ensuring a seamless and user-friendly process. Talentir is the backbone, facilitating an effortless experience to make shared ownership and payouts a reality. The more people own and interact with a video, the more popular and profitable it becomes. Got curious about how it works? Explore Talentir now.

Wrapping up

Synchronization royalties represent a harmonious partnership between music and media. As the music industry continues to evolve, so will the significance of synchronization licensing. By embracing emerging technologies and addressing existing challenges, the future of synchronization royalties holds great promise, providing a resonating melody for artists, visual content creators, and consumers.


Who collects sync royalties?

Sync royalties are typically collected by music publishers or performance rights organizations (PROs) on behalf of artists and rights holders. They handle the licensing, administration, and collection of sync royalties for music usage in synchronization with visual content.

Who pays sync royalties?

Sync royalties are paid by the entities that license and use the music in synchronization with visual content. These include film studios, production companies, advertising agencies, video game developers, and other users of music who seek permission to incorporate it into their projects.

How much are sync royalties?

Sync royalties can vary widely depending on various factors, including the song’s popularity, the prominence of its usage, the budget of the project, and the negotiated terms. Sync royalties can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars or more for high-profile placements.