how to prepare your music catalog for sync usage

August, 29 2022

Whether you’re planning to launch your music career or have already established yourself as a songwriter/musician, the big secret to making a good living at your craft is sync licensing (licensing your music for film, TV, video games, and other media). Along with the massive exposure you’ll get, sync usage payments are, in many cases, higher amounts of income than you can make through other revenue sources like streaming, downloads, live performance, or merch.

And that music supervisor you keep hitting up? They are the gatekeeper that will decide if your music makes it onto a TV show or movie. They work as the middle person between you and the film and TV director, and they are constantly seeking out new music on behalf of a production's creative team.

OK—but how do you get your music considered? 
You could form a strong relationship with a music supervisor. However, even with a personal relationship, you still need to prepare your music to be reviewed and/or downloaded by the music supervisor. And that’s where many musicians fail.

If you don’t properly format and deliver your music in the way the music supervisor wants, they may never respond to your submission, or worse, reject your music outright due to bad formatting or not properly following their protocols. What a waste! All that work you put into the music becomes a missed opportunity. Still worse, if you don’t follow formatting or submission protocols, you could end up being blacklisted or blocked by the music supervisor or production company.

That’s why in this post, we want to detail how to best prepare your music catalog for a music supervisor -so that when opportunity knocks, your music is ready to get placed.

So, What Exactly is Synchronization?

Synchronization combines music with moving images. This includes film, advertising, video games, TV series, trailers, etc. Your administrator’s job is to pitch your music to relevant TV, film, and gaming executives. If your music is chosen, your administrator issues them a sync license for the usage on your behalf. That sync license permits the TV network or film company to use your music in the moving picture, subject to the contractual terms.

And once you get your music into movies or on TV, that creates awareness of you as an artist, and maybe the stepping stone you need toward building your brand and fan base. Of course, your music has to be stylistically appropriate for the type of media you’re focusing on. But beyond all that, it’s crucial to prepare your music catalog properly before you even begin approaching a music supervisor. 

Preparing Your Music Catalog for Sync Usage
As we stated before-and we can’t emphasize this strongly enough-even if you have a great relationship with a music supervisor, you’ve got to properly prepare your music for pitching.

To make that happen, do these five specific steps before pitching your songs:

  1. Professionally Record Your Catalog
    OK—it sounds obvious. But you’d be shocked how many musicians think a rough demo will suffice for a major network TV show. Those unused “b-sides” and demos sitting on your laptop hard drive for years are likely not up to the standards needed for placement on HBO or Netflix.

    The first step is: have a professional recording of a great song. Think about it. This is an extremely competitive business.  There are 100 musicians standing behind you who want the same TV placement. So it’s no surprise that sync licensing is ridiculously competitive. If you want your music licensed, you’ll have to invest time and money into a professionally mixed and mastered recording. Full stop.

    Another important but often overlooked step is to create an instrumental mix of your song(s) without vocals. A film or TV project may have a dialogue-heavy scene that requires background music. Your song may have the perfect energy the music supervisor wants, but they may want it without lyrics and/or vocals. An instrumental mix can mean the difference between nailing down a sync usage or losing the gig altogether.

    To be sure you're ready for any contingency, ask your mix engineer to print stems with different elements of your mix.  Instrumental-only mix. Instrumental-with-only-backing vox-and-no-front-vox mix, etc. This extra step will give a creative team even more flexibility in making your music fit within a scene.
  2. Copyright Your Music And Register it With a PRO
    Although your music is technically “copyrighted” the minute you write it down or record it (fixed tangible form), your compositions receive the full scope of protection when they are registered with the Copyright Office. You can do this through the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) portal located at Remember to register both types of copyrights – PA Copyright to protect the composition, and SR Sound Recording Copyright to protect any recordings.

    The licensing fee is just one source of income. When the network submits a “cue sheet” with your song to your PRO, detailing when it landed in the program, you get paid a performance royalty—in addition to the sync royalty you were paid.  Registering your work with one of the Performing Rights Organizations (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC), ensures that you will also receive performance royalties anytime your song is aired on radio, TV, live venues, or on various interactive streaming services.
  3. Properly Formatting Your Work
    When submitting your music, avoid email attachments altogether. If you must do an email, be sure export your song MP3 with a bit rate between 192/kps and 256/kps.  Warning: most music supervisors hate email submissions and won’t even open unsolicited attachments.  Instead, upload your material to a platform like DISCO or Dropbox. Now you can include a link in your email. Whatever service you use, be sure it doesn't require the user to open an account or log in. Make it as easy as possible to listen to your tracks.

    You did it! Your music is licensed! Now what?

    The music supervisor will ask you for a higher-resolution file. Have a master. wav of your music prepared, make sure it is at least 16bit/44.1kHz.4.
  4. Include Metadata
    Another reason to use an MP3 when pitching is the ability to embed metadata in your music file. Metadata can include the artist's name, songwriters, genre, BPM (beats per minute), copyright holders, and lyrics. This information helps music supervisors find your song when searching their catalog and also provides information should your music capture their interest.

    The most important thing to include in your metadata is your contact information. A music supervisor might come across your song and decide to use it months- or even years- after you submit it.
  5. Check and Clear ALL Samples
    If your music contains copyrighted samples you can’t license it without permission from the sample's label and publisher. It is not worth trying to slip in someone else’s beats or melodies without clearing them, as music online is easy for experienced listeners to scrutinize, and many tracks have embedded watermarks in them that can be tracked to specifically find infringers. If you know you have uncleared samples, retain a sample clearance company to have them clear it for you. Or consider creating an alternate mix without the samples. Or use royalty-free samples. Today, there are more legal options for sample use than ever before. Know your options.

Do Your Research!

Once you've prepared your music, put together a list of music supervisors to approach. Find out the past shows they've worked on and what type of music they tend to use. Find out what they are currently working on and what style of music the project needs.

It may take a little digging. But that music supervisor may appear on IMDb, making the search a lot easier. Once you know more about who you're pitching to, you'll be able to better target your music. Take the time to compliment them on past shows and acknowledge any current projects your music may fit into.

The best option for pitching your music, however, is to use your admin/publishing company. Why? Music supervisors get hundreds of emails daily.  An established admin/publisher has forged alliances with hundreds of music supervisors over many years. They know how to make your music stand out and which supervisors to target.

So what’s the takeaway here? Sync usage can be lucrative. It can also provide you with years of performance royalties if you land the right song on the right hit TV show or blockbuster movie. Take the time to prepare your songs. Use your admin/publisher to help you.

And most importantly, be patient! Don't get discouraged if your first pitches don't pan out.  Keep trying! The key is to be consistent, committed, and keep a positive outlook on your music and its potential to make a movie or TV show even better.