Sync supremo David Wille urges the industry to streamline licensing to seize creative opportunities

Sync supremo David Wille urges the industry to streamline licensing to seize creative opportunities

The number of films and brand campaigns being produced is “exploding”, in addition to new opportunities in the metaverse. 

That’s the upbeat message from David Wille, global head of sync & brand partnerships, Interstellar Music and chair of the MPA Sync Action Group. But the evolving media landscape means that the licensing process needs to be streamlined to secure those syncs.

Read on for the former Kobalt exec’s warning to rights-holders about the need to bring fresh thinking and the latest technology to the approvals process…

What is the future for sync in a world of vast music catalogues, multiplying channels and client demand for faster turnaround times? 

Since my start in the music business back in the ’90s, I have witnessed the ever-increasing importance of sync in driving artist development and delivering significant income to writers, artists and rights holders.

In my experience, sync briefs can be divided into three areas: recognisable evergreen hits that everyone identifies with and to which they have a degree of emotional attachment; contemporary hits that bring a cool factor or connect with a particular demographic; and the up-and-coming song that has not yet reached a mass audience. Every music use is guided by the creative as well as budgetary constraints. 

So, what has changed? The scale of opportunity, for one. 

The number of films and brand campaigns being produced is exploding. The burgeoning number of digital channels and audiences means brands require multiple iterations of campaigns, often refreshed quarterly. The streaming giants continue to greenlight more productions as they battle for our monthly subscriptions, gaming continues its supercharged growth, and entire metaverses are being built where new forms of visual art will appear. From a creative perspective, these new avenues are incredibly exciting; but there is a risk that old habits get in the way of seizing them.

For example, the contemporary process for negotiating a sync fee, seeking writer and artist approval and issuing a licence, is lengthy, involving multiple parties and, often, multiple time zones. For modern, fast-moving brands who produce multiple campaigns across a plethora of channels, this process is problematic and can often lead negotiations to break down. 

Production music, now a $1 billion industry, is securing a larger share of sync opportunities every year. The reason for this is that for today’s music buyer, the ability to select a piece of music, pay for it and receive an executed licence within an hour is increasingly attractive. They may not be accessing the musical kudos of an evergreen song, contemporary hit or cool up-and-comer, but they do get their music in a way that suits their changing licensing expectations. 

As it develops, AI will also inevitably start to find its way into advertising and film, potentially pushing the speed of “search to licence” up a few more notches. 

Traditional rights-holders ignore these factors at their peril. 

From a creative perspective, these new avenues are incredibly exciting; but there is a risk that old habits get in the way of seizing them.

David Wille

Advertising executive Sir John Hegarty recently commented on the decline of the famous ad – the type that became part of our cultural social commentary, with the music at the heart of the conversation. Fewer and fewer of these ads are being produced because of the demands of new digital channels.

What is more, the sync community unequivocally notes that the way brands license their music has become far more granular and detailed. Instead of opting for a 12-month TV, online and social media buyout, they will often prefer a three-month licence, stipulating date timelines and which social media platforms they will use, so that they strictly negotiate and pay for what they need. This reality has led to the atomisation of the mid-level sync fees that previously made up a large part of our business. 

So whilst the number of opportunities for music placements is expanding rapidly, we are seeing a fundamental shift in their nature. For rights-holders to be able to service today’s music buyers, we need to be more streamlined. While there are fewer big ticket sync opportunities than in decades past, there are more short-term, low fee advertising opportunities, providing fertile ground for up-and-coming artists and contemporary hit artists who are willing to take a realistic and future aware position. 

What does that future look like?

Technology has unlocked the potential for new forms of pre-approval and smart licence execution. This does not mean the writer, artist or manager is asked to relinquish full control – rather, they can harness real-time pricing in carefully selected sectors. For example, ethical luxury brands and foodstuffs can be included but fossil fuels and meat products excluded. 

The need for a more streamlined experience is key to addressing the market shift and ensuring sync scales up in tandem with production demands. I believe tech will play a key part in the delivery, but a radical and initially uncomfortable shift of mindset will be essential to ensure this. A team, like that of Interstellar, that is willing to harness technology to manage boundaries on fees, terms and media in tandem with smart contracting will secure more placements in a sync world of increasing velocity and rapidly expanding opportunities.  

There will always be the need to approve marquee, evergreen copyrights out of respect for their status in our global culture. However, there needs to be a willingness to streamline approvals and licensing through innovation in other areas in order to keep the sync aspirations of artists and songwriters firmly in the game. 

Nimble boutique rights-holders with genuine indie mindsets are perfectly placed to move quickly in response to this new sync landscape and, with an eye on the future, to deliver better value and increased opportunities for their artists and writers. 


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