Sync licensing is the part of the music business that may be the least appreciated, but most ubiquitous. Syncs are everywhere we turn in entertainment from TV shows, to sports, ads and movies. Whenever you watch something with music, there was a journey that song had to take from it being formed to eventually getting placed in some visual medium. This is where a sync licensing company comes in. They are the connector between musicians, composers and music supervisors to help place the right song in the right opportunity. This can be complex, fast moving and at times lucrative for artists. There are plenty of examples of musicians who got their big break from a placement like Jet or Sofi Tukker (both Apple commercials).
Rhythm Couture is a company that looks to make those connections, specializing in music production for ads, television, and film. They boast a diverse roster of producers, composers, singers and rappers with placements in The New York Times, Netflix, Calvin Klein, VANS, Forever 21, Les Mills and elsewhere. We decided to chat with Rhythm Couture CEO Kyle Hunter for a new Industry Insider feature and go into the importance of insurance, how to best get a sync and more.
What are common misconceptions about publishing and sync licensing?
That's a great question. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around. The largest misconception is the artists' lack of understanding in regards to how publishing and sync licensing intertwine. Some artists don’t understand why music licensing companies take a percentage of publishing on sync placements. The reality is that if it were not for the music licensing company successfully pitching a musician's song through their relationships, the musician would never have received the placement. So subsequently it’s a fair business practice that both parties receive compensation from the upfront payment, and publishing on the successful sync placement.
What can artists do to help get a sync? What are some basic first steps they should take? What are some paperwork or legal matters they should always have, but often don’t?
The first step is to ensure that their music is of great quality and original. Sometimes I hear songs that have great potential, but a terrible mix can negate everything. Secondly, making sure they are actively online with contact information visibly displayed. Lots of times music supervisors will look online for talent, sometimes coming across really talented musicians, but there is no contact information; and or it’s an email address that’s not checked regularly. So even though we may like the music, we have to move on due to a very tight time frame to meet deadlines.
Lastly, musicians must have their business situated. When it comes to sync the turn around time can be relatively short in certain cases, and as a result, musicians that succeed are those that have everything ready to go. This includes things such as having their Performing Rights Organization information readily available and no samples. Making everything one stop to ensure the sync crosses the finish line. Unfortunately, lots of musicians don’t have their publishing set up, so then it becomes a lot of guesswork to determine who wrote the song, produced the song, and who legally owns the rights to the composition.
How important is insurance for artists trying to get syncs?
Insurance is something that is often overlooked but is paramount for musicians in this present landscape. The impact of lawsuits for libel, slander, invasion of privacy, infringement of copyright and other specified things are common. When I discuss with musicians the importance of Errors and Omissions insurance (E&O) most of the time they don’t know what that is. Essentially it’s professional liability insurance that protects against claims of inadequate work or negligent actions.
Rhythm Couture has a very diverse roster. Was that always the intention, or did it just happen to build that way? What are some advantages and potentially disadvantages, if there are any?
After several discussions with my business partner Robert, we knew so many talented musicians from years of working in the music industry that we had all these amazing pre-existing relationships. We essentially started reaching out letting everyone know what we were doing and they hopped on board. Having a diverse roster provides several advantages because our company offers an eclectic blend of talent. We have musicians that play a range of instruments such as guitar, trumpet, piano, bass, etc. Then on the flip side, we have talented artists that sing, rap, etc; so all angles are covered. When music supervisors need a specific song we can create a custom piece tailored to execute every need, with a relatively quick turn around.
The music that gets signed to TV, film and ads are often very different from each other. How do you shift between those various mediums and A&R for each?
There are fundamental differences between music for television, film, and ads. For example, a single melody is sufficient to carry an entire ad, but this isn’t the case with television. The music has to be evolved. When you watch shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, STARZ, etc you will notice each show can have multiple songs per episode. This essentially has to be done, otherwise, monotony would start to irritate the viewers. They might feel that there isn’t any newness in the show, especially if there are few changes in terms of plot. Viewers need to be constantly entertained, and the musicality is a large part of that process. So every medium requires the application of a different approach, to execute a successful marriage between the music and visuals.
How do you listen to all the music sent to you and sort all of it?
We receive lots of music submissions, so we’ve developed a system that works for efficient processing. Jermaine Vincent is our Head of Artists & Repertoire that listens to all demos submitted by musicians. After that initial screening, our staff collectively goes back and re-listens to the songs we unanimously agree upon. So we essentially have a process to ensure we get the best music from the best musicians. Quality over quantity has always been our business model, curating a small roster with big talent.
What is the payment structure for artists who get their music placed?
Our payment structure is 50/50 with our musicians. We believe the music is just as important as the business side, so a fair and mutually beneficial partnership is ideal for all parties.
How do you factor in artist’s conduct outside of music when A&Ring versus being impartial and just caring about their catalog of music?
Rhythm Couture has a very close-knit family atmosphere. So the approach is holistic in lots of ways meaning, this isn’t solely about music. We need to vibe with each artist, and with that comes along genuine concern in regards to how they are doing overall. The music can be amazing, but if someone is dealing with pertinent issues outside of music, those things are taken into consideration. We want everyone to succeed, and that’s inclusive of everything in and outside of the music arena.
How did you get your start in the music business?
I started out creating music and distributing it independently under my moniker K. Sparks. Those independent releases eventually gained significant traction and I garnered the attention of major record labels. Subsequently, I collaborated with major musicians such as Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Rapsody, Nick Cannon, and various others. Outside of that, I was doing a lot of music production, ghost-writing, and shopping songs for placements to the majors. From that point, I began generating radio play on major radio stations and receiving recognition in major publications. Not too long after that period, I was signed by a music agent to create custom music for TV and film. After receiving hundreds of successful placements within television and film, I branched out and formulated Rhythm Couture. So for me, it was a natural progression that leads me to where I am at today. I’ve always been involved in the music industry, but operating a successful company, and seeing artists succeed is the most fulfilling.
What do you look for in a potential employee applicant to join Rhythm Couture?
There are a few key components we look for in potential applicants. The first thing is passion. I've found that successful people are often passionate in regards to what they do, and that passionate drive often fosters creativity and hunger for new ideas. Another deciding factor is that I look for visionaries. Individuals that can think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. Also, understanding conflict resolution. People often assume that disagreement is negative, but it's not as long as it is rooted in conflict resolution. I like people that can effectively communicate their views and move forward so we can collectively arrive at an effective solution. Lastly, teamwork is the anchor.
How can someone who isn’t in music publishing and sync business make their way into the business, notably if they don’t have any specific experience? Even entry level jobs at all levels of music always seem to require some experience.
That’s always a challenge when you’re first starting out. It’s the old preverbal question, how do you gain experience if no one is willing to give you a shot. Despite there being several challenges, there are two things that I always encourage people to do. For starters, networking is key. Actively attending sync summits, industry mixers and forming solid relationships. Business and tangible relationships often go hand in hand. We’re living in a technologically driven age where it’s easy to lose interpersonal interaction. There’s no substitute for getting out, networking, and shaking hands, pre coronavirus of course (laughs). The last thing is to be prepared. Once you form those tangible relationships you have to be prepared for your moment when it arises. There’s a timeless saying, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.