Write On: In Response To The Sync Dilemma

The inside line on getting the most from 'selling out'...

Clash recently published a Write On piece from Public Service Broadcasting’s J Willgoose, Esq on the dilemma of selling songs to advertisers – in said band’s case, to Freeview. His line: that it was a tough decision knowing when to let a song be associated with a product. Read the piece here

Clash received several comments along comparable lines, from artists agreeing, confirming that it can be difficult indeed to let your art soundtrack a commercial campaign for something that, perhaps, bears no relation to what the song in question was originally inspired by, or stood for.

And then an email came in, from someone on the other side of this relationship between supplier and, for want of a better word, exploiter. Daniel Cross is the man in charge of Record-Play (website), a leading music consultancy firm handling soundtrack supervision, licensing and composition matters, concept development and much more. The company works with clients including adidas, Sony and Nokia.

Daniel has written a selection of rules, if you like, for approaching any sync deal on any table, which we can share with you below.

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J Willgoose, Esq of the band Public Service Broadcasting recently wrote an article for Clash regarding syncs, and the deep dilemma they faced when deciding to accept a particular offer or not. The subsequent soul searching as to whether it was the right thing to do, both morally and creatively for them as a band, made for a fascinating piece.

I read the article with great interest and found myself hearing, not for the first time, the concerns of many of today's recording artists. First, a bit of background. I run a music consultancy called Record-Play, and one of our roles is to provide brands like the adidas Group with the most relevant music for their campaigns. Our other service is to advise bands and rights holders on how best to make money via commercial exploitation of their catalogues.   

Over the years I’ve heard both sides of the argument countless times and have developed an outlook that not only helps keep me sane in a cynical, relentlessly consumption-driven world, but also hopefully provides a useful methodology for both the artist and the brand when considering working together. It’s pretty simple.

Artists: if you don’t like the brand, their products or their principles, don’t work with them. Regardless of the cash, you'll ultimately end up regretting it.

Brands: you'll get much more than just a track for an ad from an artist who is a natural fit to your business. Going deeper and finding the right music will extend the reach of your campaign.

PSB’s story illustrates both the positives and negatives of music and brand association. However, over the past few years I’ve seen how a band’s profile can be elevated exponentially via a decent sync, and if you as a band are being offered a sync it’s worth seeing if you can extend the value beyond just cash by referring to my bonus checklist below:

1. What are the upsides of the placement? Yes there’s a cash fee, but what is the media spend for the campaign? This will show you where the ad will be promoted and the kind of visibility you’ll be getting in which territories. You can tie this back into your PR and commission a PR agent to run a concurrent online campaign about the track.

2. Will there be any PR around the campaign and can you, as the artist, get in on the copy? Because this is invaluable exposure, in both business and consumer media, on- and off-line. 

3. Will there be any social media visibility? adidas Originals has well over 15 million fans, and a promoted post with your name and link is some pretty sweet global exposure.

4. This obviously depends on whether you actually like the brand’s products, but can you get your hands on any of it? They’ll want you to represent, so you just need to ask.

5. Finally, further use. What are the other departments within the brand doing about music? Can you get in on the act? Live events are a good example, while PR, digital marketing campaigns and modelling could all also be possibilities. It’s highly likely that the brand will thank you for this, as it all goes to making them look good. 

Naturally there will always be some people who see syncing as selling out, plain and simple. But as musicians struggle to make money via traditional routes, and struggle to get their music heard above the din of the million other bands on SoundCloud, Bandcamp and the like, syncing can be invaluable.

And, as Willgoose, John Lydon (enjoying some butter, below) and Chilly Gonzales have all coherently argued, if you use the money from advertising to create something of quality, your fans will support rather than abandon you. And in a world where ultimate DIY icon Ian MacKaye is happy for Minor Threat T-shirts to be sold in Urban Outfitters (news), the ‘selling out’ boundary is becoming ever more blurred anyway.

Ultimately you have to judge any syncing opportunity on its own merits, because if you dismiss them out of hand you may be shooting yourself in the foot when you could be funding your next album.

Word: Daniel Cross

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Read Public Service Broadcasting’s sync-related Write On here

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