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Music Sync Licensing Contracts: Three Key Terms

Are you a musician who has been offered a sync licensing contract and aren’t sure whether it is fair or not? Don’t worry because you’re not alone!
These days, there are numerous variations to sync deals out there and it can be very challenging to decipher the good ones from the bad ones. In short, a music synchronization license is a license granted by the holder of the copyright of a composition, allowing the licensee to synchronize music with some kind of visual media output (i.e. film, television shows, advertisements, video games, movie trailers, etc.). Here are some basic guidelines on what to look out for in a sync contract:
1. TERM: How long does the agreement last for? One year? Five years? Ten years? In general, a musician should request a shorter contract term than a longer one. If things are going well, you can always extend the term.
Music Sync Licensing Contracts
2. EXCLUSIVITY: Will the company be the only ones who can exploit your song(s) for the duration of the sync agreement or are you free to secure sync deals with other companies? Typically, musicians should agree to non-exclusive agreements in order to pursue other deals. The only exception for agreeing to an exclusive agreement is if a very established and reputable company is offering you a contract.
3. ROYALTIES: For the most part, royalty splits between the musician and company depend on how much bargaining power each party has. An attorney can usually recommend what the splits should be based on your situation and negotiate the best rates for you. Sometimes, it may be appropriate to simply accept a one-time payment to make things easier in certain situations. Other times, it may make sense to grant a license in exchange for the privilege of receiving significant exposure in a high-profile film or television show.
For the most part, music artists typically make the majority of their income from touring and merchandise. However, sync deals can generate a significant amount of money over time (i.e. having your music featured in the opening credits of a syndicated television show). So, if you are presented with one, you should carefully analyze the contract before signing on the dotted line.
Jonathan Maisel, Esq. is the principal attorney of The Law Office of Jonathan H. Maisel, P.C., a New York City-based media and entertainment firm. He provides counsel to companies and individuals throughout the media and entertainment industries and routinely advises clients on entertainment, intellectual property, and business law matters. For more info, visit
DISCLAIMER: ATTORNEY ADVERTISING. This article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. All rights reserved. Copyright Jonathan H. Maisel, 2015. Reproduction of this article in whole or in part without express permission is prohibited.
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