In monastic life, silence is golden. In the film world, silence is golden, too—though its value has a converse relationship to money.

Licensing music for a scene can cost a fortune. Working with diegetic sound (sound whose source is visible on screen) only, on the other hand, can save you a bundle. But chances are, unless you’re a minimalist Romanian auteur, you’re going to want a soundtrack.

Marrying music to your movie can be cripplingly expensive, as well as a legally perilous endeavor. Why? Because the adhesive between a film and its score is, unavoidably, paperwork. And paperwork (or digital contracts) means lawyers. And lawyers mean more money, and a lot more headaches.

Two years ago I started building a company called Synkio, precisely to bridge this chasm between moviemakers and the composition for their movies. I’ll touch on the problems in the music licensing world that we tried to address, but I want to start out by setting the scene for all you independent directors and producers trying to navigate this convoluted facet of film post-production.

First, let me touch on some basics. There are, traditionally, two types of music used in film: score (a new piece of music composed specifically for a film), and synch (a previously existing piece of music that the producer must license).

Every music copyright has two sides. One side is the publishing side (the idea/lyrics/melody that make up the song). The other is the master side, or the recorded version (in other words, what you hear). One song can have many different masters (versions), but it can only have one publisher.

In order to synch a piece of music, though, you have to clear both the master and the publishing rights with the owners of the distinct copyrights. These owners, suffice it to say, are almost as myriad as the songs they write. If you’re wondering where to start, try The site is a great resource for figuring out who owns what. It’s not a perfect solution, and some of the credits are inaccurate, but if you know which song you want to use, it’s a good springboard for propelling you toward your goal.

With score, you don’t need to research the copyright holder of the publishing and master rights—because the music doesn’t exist yet. For a score, though, you will need to draw up a contract with a composer that will then state exactly who owns the music created for the film, and how that music can be used throughout the universe afterward.

So, those are the basics.

Vince Face 23

Lynch, author of this article and creator of Synkio

As we’ve established, unless you’re Cristian Mungiu, finding the right song or composer for a film, and then clearing the rights properly, is essential to your movie’s success. In order to jump those hurdles, you’ll probably need some help. Here are a few options.

1. For synch, you can hire a music supervisor. A good supervisor should not only help suggest music for a given scene, but also help clear the copyrights for its use.

2. Another option is to pore over music libraries and other one-stop-shop pre-existing music repositories. On a stock music engine, like or, you can search through their music archives with search terms such as “happy,” “sad,” “funny,” or “crazy,” and you’ll be provided with a bunch of options that might fit what you had in mind. Then, you can call the library and get a quote on how much it would cost to use that track in your film. The good thing about libraries is that you can clear the track with one call to the library instead of going to find the master owner and publisher. The downside, though, is that the music content in these libraries can sound dated and generic. It can also be hard to find the right piece of music with search terms that aren’t specific.

3.Because the first option (hiring a music supervisor) isn’t in the budget for many independent productions, and because option two (using music library content) doesn’t always net great results, we came up with a third option. Our company, Synkio, helps indie moviemakers find music for their films by putting them directly in touch with the music community. You, the moviemaker, fill out an online briefing form that explains your movie and its music budget, and our site builds the license for you. That brief and license get posted to our community of musicians, composers, record labels, publishers, music libraries, and supervisors who will offer music suggestions or their time—thus helping you manage the music in your movie within the confines of you budget. You can find out more about what we do at

Now that you know more about the basics of music licensing, you’re much better prepared for your own post-production travails. Make sure you think about music as early as possible in the moviemaking process. If you get it right, you’ll have people dancing in the aisles—or at least tapping their feet while they watch on their computers. MM


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