The sync business is flying.
Driven by an explosion in program-making from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime – as well as more traditional broadcasters looking to gain a foothold in the on-demand world – recorded music sync revenues hit $285.5m in the US last year, according to RIAA data.
That was up 23% on the equivalent figure the year before, and up by nearly $100m compared to a year as recent as 2014, when labels and artists generated $189.7m from the field in the States.
Someone who is at the center of this fast-growing US sync market is Alicen Schneider, who heads up the creative music division and West Coast music operations for NBCUniversal Television.
Schneider (pictured) oversees in-house music supervision and licensing for a raft of well-known programs including The Sinner, Homecoming, Umbrella Academy, Master of None, Suits and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
In addition, she deals directly with producers who want to work with music, as well as vetting budgets and picking specific creative personnel for certain projects.
Her past supervision work has included shows such as “Grimm”, “Heroes Reborn“, “Being Human”, “Heroes”, and “Royal Pains” as well as promos over the years for various shows, branding campaigns and the Olympics.
MBW caught up with Schneider after she spoke at the MusExpo conference in Los Angeles in late March, to get the lowdown on a sync industry going through seismic changes – and making more money than at any point in recent history…
You often find emerging talent to sync with your shows. HOW DO YOU TYPICALLY FIND MUSIC THESE DAYS?
We find music everywhere. We’re constantly being pitched to by record labels, publishers and managers. We also work with a lot of creative pitching companies who represent a collection of record labels and/or individual artists. Finding great music takes a village and we’re always listening.
Have you seen the impact of the rise of independent artists? Are you dealing with managers direct more as a result?
Absolutely. That’s been going on with us for quite some time; I started going to all the festivals 20 years ago – South By Southwest, Coachella, Brighton [The Great Escape] etc. – and I discovered that there was all this amazing talent out there that wasn’t being sent to us. So I started really solidifying a lot of wonderful relationships with managers and artists.
When cable started for us, it was still the underdog, and the budgets were lower [than mainstream TV productions]. So I said, “Look, okay if we’ve got a third of the budget of what we’re normally given for the NBC network, are you open to [syncing] bands that nobody’s ever heard of before?”
Fortunately for me, I had some really great producers that were like, let’s do it. We started putting a lot of these indie bands in our USA Network shows and our SyFy network shows.
Across the NBC network, unless it’s a time period where it’s really important that they go catalog, you’re finally hearing a lot of indie music today.
Generally speaking, not specific to NBC Universal but across the industry, How do you feel budgets have changed over the last five years?
There are enough people out there that are willing to give their music away for free which undermines the ability of other people who need [sync deals] to make a living. When everybody looks at setting a budget and they know that they can easily find music within whatever budget they set, there’s often no reason for them to try to increase it.
One trend that I’m seeing is that there’s a desire to keep the innovative producers out there that are making amazing content happy and so if there is something that they really want and it’s outside the range of what we would normally pay, I do see a little bit more flexibility there to try to help them achieve their creative vision.
Netflix and Amazon in particular have made investments in a range of programming. how has that affected the sync industry?
There’s certainly more volume out there and that generates more need for music. We [as NBCUniversal] provide a lot of content for those streaming services. Umbrella Academy is ours, Homecoming is ours, and others.
Depending on what they pay us to produce content for them, there is an ability to factor in more money for music because that’s something that we can address in our initial overall negotiations with them.
“Every artist has an actual shot these days for a placement and every sync company is struggling to keep up with the demand from requests to license.”
The SVODs, which is what people call the streaming services, love music. That’s the wonderful thing about them – there is a willingness on their part to contribute so we can make sure that we’re able to make great and unhindered music decisions.
Every artist has an actual shot these days for a placement and every sync company is struggling to keep up with the demand from requests to license.
Is it fair to say the budgets have grown because of this explosion in program making, But ultimately that budget’s got to be spread a little thinner?
The budgets are healthier for the SVODs. If you look at broadcast television, there are maybe three kinds of budgets: there’s the standard budget, which covers a show that isn’t a big user of music like Law And Order and then there’s a show like This Is Us that uses maybe 2-3 an episode so their budget would reflect that kind of usage.
“We try to take a thoughtful approach during our budget planning in order to make sure that the producers can achieve their goals with music.”
We try to take a thoughtful approach during our budget planning in order to make sure that the producers can achieve their goals with music.
Then you have an entirely other spectrum of shows like NBC’s Smash and Fox’s Glee, where the music plays integral throughout and features performances.
These budgets have to accommodate music placements, on-camera performances, musicians, pre-records, additional music personnel, etc.
Is the success of music-based movies like Greatest Showman, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born, having any impact on the world of music supervision and sync more generally?
It’s really changing both. The success of contemporary musicals has shown that people really enjoy that genre. I think everyone is trying to create content to capitalize on that.
I believe expectations towards how the role of a music supervisor is defined is going to shift in the coming years. There are only a few people that can do the big musicals, deal with the unions, bring in musicians, [execute] on-camera pre-records and things like that.
“Music supervision is becoming much more sophisticated as producers continue to pursue outside-the-box ideas as far as how to create and use music.”
The old school traditional music supervisor role was finding and suggesting songs and securing the music licenses.
It’s becoming much more sophisticated as producers continue to pursue outside-the-box ideas as far as how to create and use music. We all need to keep learning new skills in order to stay relevant in this field.
What are some of the biggest challenges of the modern music supervision and licensing world?
One of the biggest challenges in the last few years has been… people sometimes not really recognizing that the people who hold the role of music supervisor are experts in their field.
Music is so subjective and everybody has their own idea of what the perfect song is or who is the ‘it’ composer. There’s a lot of undermining that goes on with this role and it creates huge challenges because you’ve got to get songs cleared on time and within budgets.
“I would like people to understand and respect that music is a really sophisticated and very difficult thing to manage. And to trust us, and to trust our expertise.”
When you have people thinking that their next door neighbour can supply what music they need better than you, or they had a drink once with this major composer three years ago and surely he’s going to want to do their show within budget…I’d like to see that kind of thing shift.
I would like people to understand and respect that music is a really sophisticated and very difficult thing to manage. And to trust us, and to trust our expertise.
The influence of traditional media, music magazines especially, has depleted in recent years. Do you think The power of TV and film to break an artist is becoming more important?
Absolutely. You see that when you see the number of artists that have come over to TV to use the platform in order to continue to build and maintain their careers: John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez… all of these huge celebrities have decided that they want to be hosts on music television programs like The Voice, America’s Got Talent and American Idol because it’s an amazing PR tool.
“I don’t feel like there’s anybody that’s unapproachable anymore.”
When I started in this business, I was on the label side and for every three bands that someone wanted to license for a TV show, usually only one was willing to allow it. The artist saw it as selling out; film was God.
I don’t feel like there’s anybody that’s unapproachable anymore.
What do you think the defining themes of sync’s evolution are going to be in the years ahead?
You’re going to see more on demand platforms getting launched. Anyone with any skin in the game is going to launch one.
And filmmakers seem to be shifting what they consider to be an appropriate initial home for their project. Roma is a good example of the future being here before anyone admitted to seeing it coming.
I don’t see the volume dissipating at all. I see the business continuing to evolve and escalate. Even if a Netflix or an Amazon goes away, there are going to be so many other platforms around that I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on the music business at all.
“Our business will always require some kind of human conversation.”
I believe that we’re going to have to see huge changes in how the labels run their sync businesses. Right now, they can’t accommodate the amount of requests that are coming in and they also can’t increase the number of heads that they need in order to meet the demand. I imagine they’re all considering an IT system that could streamline the process for everyone.
That said, our business will always require some kind of human conversation and, circling back to what I originally said… it takes a village to music supervise a project.Music Business Worldwide