big sync phil lawlor

Phil Lawlor, Big Sync Music

Big Sync's Phil Lawlor shares his views on the current sync marketplace and its challenges, and lets us in on the new opportunities opening up for emerging artists…

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 30 Mar 2017
  • min read
‘Uncertainty in the marketplace is the biggest challenge facing the sync sector in 2017’, says Phil Lawlor, co-founder and chief operations officer at Big Sync Music.

He’s referring to current ‘political and socioeconomic issues’ plus fluctuating exchange rates which are affecting the global music supervision market and in particular, companies operating in the UK.

Big Sync Music is based in London, New York and Singapore, and works directly for multinational brands. It is the single supplier for Unilever’s music services across 400 plus brands, in all territories.

Since its foundation in 2013, the company has worked on thousands of projects, including award-winning global campaigns from Axe, Dove, Lipton, Magnum, Pot Noodle and Samsung.

Here, Phil shares his views on the current sync marketplace and its challenges, and lets us in on the new opportunities opening up for emerging artists…

What are you concentrating on at Big Sync Music this year?
The main focus for us is to find wonderful songs that work beautifully to picture. These days, we’re working with much more long-form content than we did previously. Now we're asked to help create five-to-10-minute-long films where there might be not just one piece of music within it.

How has the content explosion affected your business?
We’re noticing more demand for music than ever before. The appetite is incredibly healthy for UK repertoire in particular. Over the last 12 to 24 months we’ve noticed a lot more demand in Asia, Singapore and Latin America and are doing more business in those territories.

We're living in interesting times when you consider the uncertainty within the political landscape. The majority of our work comes from outside of the UK so I think 2017 is going to be a very interesting, exciting year.

What is it about the Asian and Latin American markets that’s driving demand?
For us it's been about working closely with our clients in those areas to make them aware that it is feasible to license this music if done the right way.

We’ve been busy joining the dots, helping them to understand that, actually, songs which they may not consider to be available can be licensed if the project is right. This is particularly true of legacy catalogues – those big copyrights, which have huge interest all over the world.

Is there much opportunity for smaller, unsigned acts too?
Yes, completely. We're always looking for great songs and that has to come first, signed or unsigned. We have an extraordinary team of music supervisors whose sole job is to go find the latest, greatest talent out there.

Given today's tools, artists can get their songs out there in all manner of different ways. As music supervisors, we can utilise those tools to find that great music. In many ways, music supervisors are operating in an A&R function these days. They're out there looking for the hottest track for next summer.

The difficulty within all of this for new artists is getting heard. How can you stand out among the crowd? That’s a particular challenge for songwriters, publishers and rightsholders, but as far as appetite goes, the demand is undeniable.

What are your biggest challenges in the sync business?
First and foremost, it’s the uncertainty in the marketplace. The majority of our work comes outside the UK so political and socioeconomic issues can have a potential impact. We're all interested to see how it will unfold.

Fluctuations in the exchange rate have been increasing and become even more difficult to forecast. The pound compared to the dollar had a swing of something like 18 percent within six months. Those sorts of factors are important.

What are the challenges for rightsholders?
It’s all about getting your music heard in the right places. Being able to work a catalogue in a way that makes sense for everybody involved is still the number one challenge.

What changes can be made to make it even easier to do business in the sync market?
Music licensing is still very complicated and difficult to navigate. We're living in a time where it's actually becoming more complex, particularly as pretty much everything we do now has an online component to it. Five years ago we would have done TV-only deals but they don't really exist now.

We need to ensure there's good communication not just between music users and rightsholders, but the wider music industry. It's important that we look to solve these problems, and utilise and leverage technology to help us find answers. There are a lot of stakeholders within the music industry, and I think as long as we're respectful and listen to each other we can find ways to ensure music is correctly valued and it's simple enough for music users to access the music they want to.

Lastly, how is the growth in streaming altering your business?
Streaming certainly plays an important role within the sync business and the wider industry. The data and real-time information we can glean from these platforms is game-changing. Now we need to consider how we can best use that information to our advantage. On a simple level, we've got real clarity on who is actively listening to all types of music and where they live. We can use that information when dealing with ad agencies and brands to validate music decisions. As data grows and flows, it will become even more important.