Music publishing and sync licensing is a part of the music business that can change a musician’s career. One high profile sync can take a musician from small bars to a record deal and sold out shows. Those are rare, but in the intermediate, they offer income for songwriters, producers and artists in an era when many are being squeezed by streaming. There are a ton of various sync & publishing houses to help musicians get those prized sync, whether it is in a Netflix show, a small digital ad or something in between. One of those companies is Lyric House, which recently landed syncs in Apple ads, a recent ADT Super Bowl ad and trailers for shows & movies like Space Jam, Billions, After and Raya And The Last Dragon.
Cole started Lyric House nine years ago and now the company's roster now includes over 250 artists and songwriters and grosses millions of dollars a year in sync and publisher revenue on behalf of their artists. A Colorado-born songwriter herself, she comes from family of entrepreneurs and got her start in music spending hours teaching herself how to play her favorites songs from her favorite bands by ear on the family piano, which led to her crafting her own songs.
We decided to chat with sync company Lyric House founder & CEO Jessica Cole about the benefits and challenges of getting syncs, how she founded the company and much more for a new Industry Insider feature. Sync licensing can be complex for artists who need to make sure their music is copyrighted and it is presented correctly for clients, but the benefits are potentially immense.
1. 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?
First and foremost, before approaching a sync company (or pitching their own music for sync), artists should make sure to have the following questions answered:
1. Is your music professionally recorded - do you have the instrumentals, stems and co-writers (if any) signing off on the songs being pitched or signed? Are your songs registered on ASCAP, BMI, SESAC?
2. Do you know who YOU are as an artist - is this very clear to a listener? Do you have an established following or strong / building social media presence? Do you have a specific sound? Are you a master at your craft? Do you feel your songs match up against the competition or songs you hear in TV / Film / Trailers?
These are important questions to ask yourself before even approaching a sync company or music supervisor (if you’re pitching yourself). The market is oversaturated, and highly competitive - you need to make sure your music can stand up against the competition or cut through the noise. I look for artists that stand out above the rest - top-quality recordings, masterful songwriting, interesting and catchy melodies, authentic artistry.
2. How important is insurance for artists trying to get syncs?
It’s more important for sync companies to get E&O insurance (Errors & Omissions), which protects them, the client and the artist. The biggest “insurance” for artists would be copyrighting their material if they wanted to go the extra mile and making sure their songs are registered with their PRO.
3. What are common misconceptions about sync licensing?
That once you sign with a sync company, you will be guaranteed placements. We can never guarantee placements, we can only guarantee to get your music to the right people.
4. 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?
I’ve worked in sync for about a decade now; my ear is trained to know what works and what doesn’t for different types of media. There will be songs that work for all media, and songs that just work for specific media. My team and I always discuss before signing anyone, where we envision their music placing and what the potential is for their music.
Sometimes, however, we (and / or music supervisors) will take a risk or a new approach on certain songs that might not be your typical “syncable” track, which in turn could open a door for more songs to be considered in that particular genre or lane. I’m all about taking risks and I love to see it when our music supervisor friends and clients choose something “left of center” or out of the box - it’s what makes watching your favorite show so exciting sometimes. The music can really set the tone, in any and all media for that matter. If I’m working on a creative brief for a client and I know they are open to hearing some left-of-center ideas, I’ll always take a shot with a track that might be considered a wild card. Because you just never know!
5. What is an example of an artist that at first struggled to get placements, but then something clicked for syncs?
Lizzo is probably a good example of this with her story, so I’ve heard. She had been hustling and putting her music out there for years until finally, the years of hard work paid off and she became a superstar and sync phenom. I can’t necessarily speak for artists I don’t represent though and their experiences, but I can tell you in my experience with my artists, there has been a handful that my team and I signed with such passion and excitement and worked very hard pitching their music to everything and everyone for a solid year and it just wasn’t landing - not until the following year, when sync after sync after sync would come in from the groundwork we laid the previous year.
That most definitely does not always happen, placements can happen at any point after you start pitching, but on occasion, we will have this experience. I can tell you it’s quite frustrating in the moment when we feel very passionate about an artist/song and it just isn’t sticking. Once we see our efforts finally paying off though, even if it’s a bit later than we’d hoped for, it’s always worth the wait.
6. 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?
My team and I take this into account every time we are vetting a new signing. We like to have several calls if we can with the artists and their team beforehand. Of course falling in love with their catalog of music is the most important part, but since we’ll be working closely with them and their music for the length of our contracts, we like to know that they are good team players and easy to work with.
There have been a few instances, however rare, where we’ve either not signed someone or continued working with them because their team was making the process much more difficult than it needed to be. We are all about teamwork and open communication - we also operate like a close family - and if we find that we’re working with someone with a different mentality and negative vibes, we won’t proceed with them. We love and appreciate working with people who are team players and good communicators. It’s all about reciprocity. With all that said, it is a rare occasion when that happens. We feel very lucky to have the most wonderful roster full of lovely humans :).
What is tech that will change sync licensing in the next five years?
New media - apps like Tiktok, Facebook Watch, etc. New streaming like Apple+, Tubi, etc.
How did you get your start in the music business?
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I started Lyric House, at the young age of 26. The company originated in Denver, Colorado, where the music publishing and licensing business was practically non-existent. I saw a need and jumped at the opportunity to bring attention to Denver’s music scene. I reached out to all of the songwriters and artists that I knew in the city and told them what I was embarking on. I was excited and that excitement was infectious. The move to LA became inevitable, traveling back to back was no longer an option and we need to be in the heart of the film and TV business. Now nearly a decade we have an incredible team working hard for our roster of over 250 sensational artists.
How does being a songwriter inform your decisions as a CEO of a music company?
Having a creative brain and business brain allows me to see the entire picture - both sides of the coin. I’m able to “speak songwriter” at the same time as “speaking business.” I understand a writer’s process, the effort and creativity that goes into creating a song, I can relate on a deep level with our writers in that respect. I’m able to help guide a song or shape it because of my background, as well as hone in on new song ideas and help execute them. Which in turn helps my business and the catalog continue to grow.
How can someone who isn’t in the sync business make their way into the sync & publishing business, notably if they don’t have any specific experience or the money to do unpaid internships? Even entry-level jobs at all levels of music always seem to require some experience.
I would suggest networking, mentorships, meetings, etc. There are a handful of wonderful music business / sync industry organizations that have many networking events and opportunities a year. Meet as many people as possible, get your face and name out there, ask questions, see if you can take someone to coffee or lunch. Some companies offer mentorship programs, which don’t involve being in college or getting credit - my company is one of them in fact :) We love providing a foot in the door for someone who just wants to the opportunity to learn about the industry and see what we do on a daily basis.
What type of people / specific qualifications do you look for in potential employees at Lyric House?
I look for people who are passionate, dedicated, and enthusiastic about what we do. Someone who has a good ear, a finger on the pulse. A great communicator, team player, and an overall good-hearted, kind human being :)