How to... navigate the sync market

‘In an age of declining record sales, pitiful streaming income and loss-making tours, sync stands as one of the last ways to make good money in the music industry’: we sit down with Bucks Music Group’s Robyn Kennedy to get the lowdown on sync.

Bekki Bemrose
  • By Bekki Bemrose
  • 19 Nov 2019
  • min read
‘In an age of declining record sales, pitiful streaming income and loss-making tours, sync stands as one of the last ways to make good money in the music industry’: says Bucks Music Group’s Robyn Kennedy.

Robyn recently joined Bucks’s sync team as senior creative sync & licensing manager.

Having started her career at Kobalt, she went on to hold positions at Music Sales and Reservoir Media.

Alongside her new role at Bucks, Robyn is also involved with the Music Publishers Association (MPA) and its YMPA initiative, which helps the organisation to connect and engage with its younger members.

As sync increasingly becomes an integral source of revenue, it brings with a new set of challenges and opportunities for music creators and publishers.

Here, we chat to Robyn about current trends, the advantages and evolution of sync and what advice she has for aspiring publishers…

What’s the first thing you’re focusing on in your new role at Bucks?

Apart from learning the catalogue, meeting the writers, getting to know my new colleagues, being introduced to the sub-publishers, getting my head around the catalogues we represent in the UK and reintroducing myself to supervisors as a member of the Bucks team, I’ve been looking at what I can bring to the company from my experience working at other independent music publishers.

I genuinely believe Bucks has one of the best sync teams in the business, with staff who have previously held roles at supervision agencies, TV production companies and labels. I’m bringing my experience from publishers, such as Kobalt and Reservoir, to help refine processes they already have in place and to make the team even more efficient and effective.

Where is the wider sync business at right now, do you think?

In recent years it’s become an important income stream for musicians, as well as a marketing tool to reach a wider audience with their music.

The sync business has evolved to make the most of these opportunities to benefit both the artist and the brand. Go on any advert on YouTube and you’ll normally find someone asking for the name of the track in the comments. TV shows, games and films release their soundtracks on CD and Spotify playlists, and artists are now even releasing their singles as branded content, so the first time you can hear their new music is on a promo video for a TV show or sports event.

While there has always been opportunities for a-list artists to get their music placed, the evolution of technology has allowed anyone to get their music heard by supervisors and potentially placed in content. The public are now discovering new bands through their favourite TV shows; it’s almost like the new radio. It’s a pretty interesting time as new opportunities appear with every technological advance.

What trends are you seeing?

Generally speaking, there’s a big focus on British music at the moment. A lot of UK brands and TV shows want to align themselves with home grown talent rather than looking overseas to populate their soundtrack.

Brands are moving away from what was dubbed ‘the John Lewis effect’, so for a while we saw a lot of requests for interesting and emotive covers of well-known tracks (sound familiar?) Now there’s been a rise of requests asking for pre-release or recently released tracks by up & coming artists which is exciting.

Where are the biggest opportunities for songwriters, composers and their publishers?

With the boom of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services, we’re seeing a rise in more TV shows being created outside of the broadcast blanket, so there are more opportunities to license directly into television content than we’ve seen previously. A good television placement can really have an impact on a young artist’s career. Just look at Freya Riding and Love Island!

There’s more demand for music across more platforms than ever before – what challenges does this present – or is there no catch at all?

It’s an exciting time in sync. There are more opportunities than ever to get your music used in traditional media such as TV shows, adverts, films and computer games, but also in new and exciting mediums, such as user generated content on sites such as YouTube, Twitch and Tik Tok. It’s early days but it’s exciting to see the possibility of how technology can have an impact on the music industry. I guess the best example is how a remix of Jay Sean’s Ride It became a meme on Tik Tok and catapulted the track back into the charts more than ten years after it was originally released.

On the flip side, the rise in demand for sync means there are also more people who have realised the value of sync income. Libraries have stepped up their game, many people have found a niche working as sync agents, allowing artists and songwriters to have sync representation while shunning the traditional label and publishing models, and rights holders have expanded their teams to take a more aggressive strategy in the sync market.

Add to that the boom of Spotify and other DSPs, supervisors can often find the perfect track by artists who don’t have any sync representation at all. In a world where we’re more connected than we’ve ever been, it can present a new challenge of being heard above the noise. Naturally, we’ve noticed a decline in fees as sync becomes a more competitive market, but we will always fight for what we feel is a fair fee for our writers. It can be frustrating at times, but who doesn’t love a challenge…?

How has the sync market evolved since you first started out in the industry?

Sync has become such an important part of the modern music industry that artists and writers are now aware of its value and want to get in early with the sync team. Sync teams are now working closer than ever before with A&Rs in the signing process, as well as during development and release stages. Savvy managers will now request a meeting with the sync team before signing to a publisher to ensure they all share the same vision.

This has also led to sync becoming more of a science than just relying on the art. We have regular sync strategy meetings to look at trends and analyse everything from when we get the best engagement from newsletters to when we should be sending out Christmas music. There’s still a creative side to it, but you’re behind the game if you’re not using technology to your advantage.

What advice would you give to songwriters and composers keen to have their music synced?

Have something to say. The best moments in sync – the ones that really create that magical moment which people remember and talk about – are when an artist’s voice really connects with what’s on screen. That’s the stuff that can’t be manufactured and of course it takes a bit of luck to make those moments happen, but every rights holder has a few good songs in their back pocket that are waiting for their moment to shine.

Know your market. There’s no point in writing a metal song and sending it to the supervisor for Grey’s Anatomy. A club banger is probably not going to be used in a DFS advert. Ok these are extreme examples, but you get my point. It sounds obvious, but research the brand/tv show/game etc you want to work with and write music that fits their sonic branding. A sync can be a great promotional tool for a band or artist, but at the end of the day an agency are paying for music to enhance their vision so don’t think about what a sync can do for you, think about what you can do for the scene.

You work with the Music Publishers Association’s YMPA mentoring scheme – what advice would you offer new and aspiring music publishers?

Grow your network! I’m a big advocate of networking and I think in a business like music, which is largely based on human connections, the best thing you can do is put yourself out there and try to meet people face to face. Even if you don’t work in the creative side of music, there’s so much value in having a support network you can call on when you come up against tricky problems, need to pull in a favour, looking for a new job or just need a moan at someone who understands!

I highly encourage you to join the MPA Futures Group (previously the YMPA) if you’ve been in the publishing industry for less than 10 years. It’s a ready-made network of peers across the industry. They run regular training sessions, networking events and a yearly mentoring scheme which you can apply to be a part of.

It’s also important to take care of yourself. The music business is 24/7 and it’s easy to get swept up in the mentality of being available at all hours but it’s important to find a good work/life balance whilst also not missing opportunities. I had to learn that I didn’t have to respond to every email as soon as it came in. Now I switch off my email notifications when I get home and will only check if I’m waiting on something really important. A good question to ask yourself is, ‘is this really urgent or can it wait until I’m back in the office?’ I guarantee it’s much better to reply at your desk rather than at 11pm after a couple of wines (or worse!)

Which artists do you have on repeat at the moment?

At the moment it’s the latest releases from Dermot Kennedy, Sam Fender, Bedouin Soundclash and Vampire Weekend. Ask me again next week and it’ll all change!