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What is Sync Licensing and How Can Synchronization Rights Work for You?

Jourdan Aldredge

May 29, 2024

There can be much to take in when first stepping into the worlds of music and video. And, without getting into the vast and complex worlds of music and video as forms of artistic expression and entertainment, just understanding how the music for the video itself works can be very confusing as well.

One term often used when discussing using music for different video purposes is “sync licensing,” which we’ll help to define and explain how it works.

So, if you’re looking to learn more about how to license music for your videos or simply trying to understand what sync licensing (or a synchronization license) is, let’s go over the basics of this term and how everything works today.

What is synchronization licensing?


As you can see from this great summary video from Spotify, sync licensing (which is sometimes spelled “synch” and is short for synchronization) is a type of music licensing that allows companies, brands, or individuals to use existing music in their various films, commercials, video games, etc.…

Anytime a song is used with a visual medium, that is a sync.

Synchronization licensing is related to music copyright and is the only area in the music business where copyright holders can set their own prices. All other royalties and fees in the industry are negotiated on their behalf by representative entities or set by the federal government.

Where does the name “sync licensing” come from?

Person playing guitar in recording studio creating music for a synchronization rights agreement

As stated above, sync licensing is short for synchronization licensing, and its history dates back to the earliest days of combining music with film and video. A sync license is most often a legal agreement between the copyright owner of a song and the company or person looking to use that music in combination with a visual project.

This process requires synchronizing the copyrighted music with the visual content, which is why the term “synchronization” or “sync” license is used.

The key players involved in sync licensing

To better understand synchronization rights, let’s review some key players involved with synchronization licensing issues. Here are the important people (or parties) you need to know in this space.

The Rightsholder(s)

The rightsholder is the person or organization that owns the master recording and publishing rights. This could be one person or music company that owns both “sides” of the song—as we say in the industry. 

Sometimes, you’ll find a representative who’s been given the right to negotiate on behalf of a piece of music, and other times, you’ll find multiple people all owning or representing their pieces of the song.

The Music Supervisor

The second main player in any sync licensing agreement is the music supervisor. This person generally sits in the middle of the equation between the rightsholder on one side and the ultimate decision maker on the other side. 

The Ultimate Decision Maker

As their name suggests, the ultimate decision maker is the person who will ultimately decide to “sync” a song for a visual film or video project. This ultimate decision maker could be a director or producer working in film or TV, an advertising agency creative director, or even a brand’s CMO in advertising.

Together, these three parties are the key players in any sync license agreement, and until all three agree to a proposal for a synchronization license, nothing will happen.

The process for sync licensing

Person at computer working on a sync licensing agreement

Now, let’s review how sync licensing actually works and break down the steps that need to happen in a specific order for everything to make sense for all parties.

  1. The music supervisor and ultimate decision maker agree on a musical palette for the project.
  2. The music supervisor reaches out to trusted rightsholders with a brief that describes what they’re looking for.
  3. The rightsholders pitch songs they think fit the brief.
  4. The music supervisor delves through all the pitched songs and narrows down their top choices.
  5. The music supervisor goes back to the rightsholders and asks for a quote.
  6. Once the music supervisor has a quote agreed to on all songs, they’ll present those to the ultimate decision maker, who will pick the songs they want to use.
  7. Once a song is confirmed to be used, the music supervisor returns to the rightsholders and finalizes a full, long-form sync license.


That’s basically the process for parties agreeing to a sync rights agreement to use a song in a visual project.

The economics of sync licensing

Close up of a slider on a soundboard recording sounds for a sync rights agreement

Here's a breakdown of the economics behind synchronization licensing, which will help you fully understand synchronization licensing and how it makes sense for musicians and various stakeholders interested in syncing music with their visual content projects.

Many might ask up front how much sync licensing costs for the different parties. In truth, fees can range widely. These fees depend on different factors, such as media distribution. For example, how long will the sync license be used for? And how many territories will it be used in?

But, in general, most upfront sync licensing fees for a single song can be expected to range from $500 to $50,000 for an unknown song from an independent artist to $5,000 to $1,000,000 for a known song by a well-known, established artist.

These fees also range from the smallest to the largest in these different mediums:

  • Cable TV
  • Digital Ad
  • Streaming TV
  • Network TV
  • TV Promo
  • Feature Film
  • Film Trailer
  • Broadcast Ad

So, you can expect to spend less on sync licensing for online and streaming ads than for use in feature films, trailers, and broadcast television spots.