Increase Your Sync Licensing

Posted in The Weekly on January 2, 2024 by

When I critique songs, I always ask the writers’ intentions or hopes for the song so I can assess if they are hitting their desired target. When I started teaching the BMI Songwriters Workshops more than thirty years ago, the answers to these questions were almost always, “I want a hit artist to record this,” or “I’m an artist and it’s for my own album.”

“I hope to license this for TV or film,” is a response I rarely heard.

Now, fewer artists than ever record outside songs—ones they or their producer did not co-write. But with hundreds of cable TV channels and streaming services, there are more opportunities than ever to license songs for sync. These days, I rarely teach a workshop where writers are not targeting sync (i.e., TV and film) placements.

Sync licensing is the great equalizer. If your music fits the scene, it doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, or how you look. It’s all about the music.

There are no rules in songwriting, but as a teacher, I listen to successful songs and look for common denominators—the tools that most often work. So when one of my songs, “Show Me the Honey” (written with Sharron March) landed over and over again in television shows and movies including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,” “Kickin’ it Old Skool,” MTV’s “Young & Pregnant,” and Kevin Costner’s “Black or White,” I put it under the microscope and identified some of the elements (listed below) that helped this song attain so many placements.

  • I Put Myself in the Right Place

By attending a music conference, I was able to network and make a connection with a successful sync publisher who gave me the backing track to write a topline for. This publisher secured the subsequent placements.

We can increase our odds of getting “lucky” by attending events where we can interact with music industry professionals.

  • The Song Has a Clever, Attention-Grabbing Title

We need to give decision-makers reasons to choose our song over the competition, and a unique concept and title can set your song apart. I won’t invest my time writing a song if I don’t have a fresh angle—a new way to approach a topic to which millions of listeners will likely be able to relate. If coming up with fresh approaches is not your forté, write with collaborators who have that skill.

  • The Lyrics Avoid References That Might Exclude the Song from Working with Some Scenes and Storylines

Details such as locations; descriptions and names of characters in the song; the time of year; weather; brand names; and other specifics can limit a song’s potential uses.

  • The Song Could Be on a Playlist Beside Popular Songs

When one of my workshop attendees plays a slow, depressing song, they invariably state that it is intended for sync licensing. But when I watch television shows and movies, I hear very few sad, poetic songs about death, grieving, feeling hopeless, or missing someone.

At a sync licensing conference, a music supervisor shared that the easiest songs for her to place are those that sound like they could be on the radio. When asked about popular topics for lyrics, she mentioned “we can do this,” “let’s get started,” “being happy,” “celebrating,” “partying,” “having fun,” “it’s gonna be a good day,” and “things are gonna be great.” It was pointed out that with it’s uplifting, uptempo, feel-good music and message, Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine” (written by Kimberley Rew) is among the most successful songs for sync licensing.

  • The Sonic Quality Meets the Industry Standard

With rare exceptions, recordings included in television shows or movies are used “as is,” meaning they are not re-recorded. This means that in addition to the performances, the audio quality of the recording needs to sound like a professionally produced master

  • Musicians and Vocalists Are Top-Notch

The musical backing track (composed and produced by Sharron March) to which I wrote the topline (the vocal melody and lyrics) was excellent. I did not need to alter it. When it was time to choose a vocalist, I hired the best singer for that song, instead of singing it myself.

We need to put our egos in our back pocket and make decisions that will best benefit our songs and recordings.

  • The Song Has a Memorable Melody and a “Bonus Hook”

The title is hammered home four times in every chorus, searing it into listeners’ brains. In addition to crafting an easy-to-sing, catchy melody, I included a “bonus hook” at the end of each chorus—a melody sung on a nonsense syllable, “Oh, oh, oh, oh.”

At one of my BMI Songwriting Workshops, a guest music publisher said that when you add one of those hooky, non-lyric vocal phrases you increase the chance of your song being recorded by 10,000 times. While I can’t vouch for the math, the point is well taken. For an exceptional example of this tool, check out the “Whoa-Oh-Oh” hook at the end of the chorus in Britney’s BMI-Award-winning song “Till the World Ends” (written by Alexander Kronlund, Max Martin, Kesha, and Dr. Luke)

  • It Includes Unique Lines of Lyric

In addition to the attention-grabbing title, I included lines of lyric that were fresh; lines that supported—and led the listeners—to the title. These lines included references such as “chocolate candy kisses” and “your body melting into mine.”

  • Paperwork Was in Order/The Song Was Pre-Cleared

All musicians, vocalists, writers, and publishers had the right to grant permission to place their recorded performance in TV shows or films. They had signed waivers/work-for-hire agreements prior to recording. If there had been a producer (other than me) I would have had him or her sign a similar agreement. This meant that the recording was pre-cleared and a music supervisor could be assured there would be no snags if the song were chosen.

A downloadable musicians’ and vocalists’ waiver/work-for-hire agreement is included in the digital audio lecture “Placing Music in TV & Films.”

Additional Hot Tips

Many of my students who earn a substantial living from sync licensing place many more instrumental cues than songs that include vocals. Some of these composers have more than 1,000 instrumental cues in music libraries.

By removing the vocals and replacing them with an instrumental melody line, we can double our opportunities to place material.

Composer/Producer Sean Spence of Blue Grotto Studios suggests that many instrumental cues can be transformed into pitches for holiday music by adding the sound of chimes (aka tubular bells), sleigh bells, a carillon, celesta (aka celeste), and other sounds associated with the Christmas season.


With the plethora of television shows and movies incorporating music 24/7, sync licensing can be a lucrative aspect of your career. Give your songs an edge by using the tools and techniques outlined in this article.

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, recorded lessons, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit

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