There are not many professionals in Austria offering licenses for film, advertising and gaming. JÜRGEN DISTLER (“Ink Music”) is one of them. In an interview with Ruth Ranacher he told us how he practically created his job by himself and what his work in the field of “Sync & Licensing” involves. What is happening in the sync business in Europe and beyond? He talked about advertising as a time-limited format, about trends and trust and about the nerdy music brain as a reliable source.
You are responsible for the “Sync & Licensing” area at “Ink Music” since 2017. How did you find this niche? What were the most important stages in your career towards it?
Jürgen Distler: I worked for ten years as a sound engineer in a recording studio for commercials and films where inquiries for music licensing for advertising campaigns or films automatically kept coming in. But in Austria at that time very little copyrighted music was requested by customers, because they thought that licensing was very laborious, time-consuming and expensive. If you don’t know how licensing works, where to ask and what to look for, that may be true. That’s why I decided a few years ago to become a licensing manager who also provides musical advice for advertising and film projects. Sort of a “music supervisor”, a job unfortunately not really well established in Austria. The rest of Europe and the USA are very much ahead of us.
“Advertising is a very time-limited format…”
Radio, film and advertising – does a typical ” music for commercials” exist?
Jürgen Distler: There is music that fits better in advertising campaigns and there is music that is treated rather as “niche-music” in advertising. Yet there is no stylistic rule of thumb. That always depends very much on the campaign. But it is important that a song gets to the point quickly in advertising, as this is a very tight format in terms of time, so it’s no use if a song unfolds over three and a half minutes. This is more suitable for film.
In music, emotions are immediately aroused. Depending on what we hear, the mood of one and the same film scene can vary completely. Can you tell us a little more about this? Do you have a few examples?
Jürgen Distler: It’s really impressive what music can emotionally do when it’s used properly. At this point I always think of the scene with the plastic bag in “American Beauty”. If you switch off the sound, nothing much remains. But because of these tender, melancholic piano tones the whole scene becomes a magical dance. Anyway, “American Beauty” is a movie in which a lot has been done in the right manner regarding its score.
For sync placements in Austria, “Ink Music” is the partner of “Buddemusic”, a large indie publisher from Germany. Does “Ink Music” also work together with other sync partners?
Jürgen Distler: “Ink Music” has been allowed to offer the catalogue of “Buddemusic” for sync licensing exclusively in Austria for one year now. This enables us to offer everything from world hits to cool indie insider tips in Austria. To push our own catalogue internationally in sync, we also work together with other partners like sync agents or “Music Supervisors”.
Do you also commission work or do you bring together film producers and musicians? Keyword: film music.
Jürgen Distler: That does happen. We are constantly exchanging information with production companies, directors and filmmakers. Scoring is a very popular field for many musicians, in which they can be creative outside their actual musical work. In a way, films also have the cooler image compared to advertising. And even if the production job is not the cool, new and hip thing right now, at least you have additional financial income. In principle, I think everything is good and important for musicians that can open up not only new creative, but also economic fields. Film is one of those options.
“It’s important for musicians to know where their label and publishing rights are stashed.”
At a certain level of professionalism, artists should at best be able to deal with legal issues themselves. What do they themselves need to know about sync placements? What do you do for the artists?
Jürgen Distler: Musicians from the Ink-Music-Universe don’t really have to care about anything. They just have to give me their no-go’s regarding the advertised products. Of course, in the final step you have to get the author’s final okay again, but until then, our composers and authors trust me. Trust is also very important, because the sync business is a very fast one. I often get requests for a campaign for which music is currently being sought, and by the evening songs are to be sent, which are also one hundred percent legally clarified and available for the offered budget. It’s important for musicians to know where their label and publishing rights are stashed. Is there a label? Is there one or are there more publishers? Are they self-published? Who is involved in the song as the author? And very important is the following: If you give your songs to colleagues from the sync section, make sure that the files are labeled correctly! Artist name and song title are a must, even this is unfortunately often forgotten.
On average, how many signatures do you need to get for a placement?
Jürgen Distler: In my case, with my own repertoire of “Ink Music”, ideally I only need one signature. That is the customer’s one in the license agreement. I always make sure that the music I am offering is at best “one stop possible”. That means that label and publishing rights have to be legally clarified in one move. Therefore, even before a pitch, I make sure that the composers or authors give me the right to offer their works in a 100% legally clarified way. With a music supervisor who offers different catalogues, where different labels and publishers are also involved, it is of course different.
How do you keep yourself and your knowledge up to date?
Jürgen Distler: Through the exchange with colleagues.
Where can you learn more about sync placements, licensing and classic publishing work?
Jürgen Distler: For example, there are some showcase festivals in Europe that have been getting more and more involved with sync in recent years. I would advise those who want to be involved in licensing works and recordings for film, advertising and computer games to start there. In addition, many courses are now offered in the music industry, such as courses at the mdw, the SAE Institute, etc.
“In addition, you also need a nerdy musical brain and the knowledge about current musical trends in advertising.”
How do you know what fits where?
Jürgen Distler: There are usually briefings from customers about the music. Ideally, mood examples are also sent along. In other words, the music should have this or that mood, the tempo is determined or the lyrics should contain special keywords. After that you start digging in your catalogue. But often these briefings are not that detailed. Then it definitely is an advantage to know the taste of the customers in advance. In addition, you also need a nerdy musical brain, a feeling for images and sound and the knowledge about current musical trends in advertising. Even though advertising can be very innovative, it also invariably follows trends that are redefined every other year by some courageous agency.
Do people in the industry talk about money?
Jürgen Distler: Only with the authors or customers.
You will soon be at the Musexpo*) in Los Angeles – a trade show that brings together the most important industry representatives from TV, radio, film and gaming. Do you have concrete expectations? How relevant is the US market for domestic musicians? Where would you personally start to gain a foothold there?
Jürgen Distler: We are taking the step to Los Angeles for the Musexpo for the first time this year. So I can’t really say now what I can expect there. But we are not unprepared, of course. Needless to say, the American market is much bigger than the Austrian market, so it’s good to know one or two people beforehand. But the size of the market makes it interesting to stretch your antennas out there. In principle, I think it’s the logical step for Austrian artists to go abroad if they want to work at a certain level. Unfortunately, the Austrian market is dealt with very quickly. However, the step does not need to be the USA immediately. In our case, however, the USA is a logical step, especially in terms of licensing. The copyright law in the USA is somewhat different from that in Europe. There, for example, the so-called “blank license” does not exist in TV. The consequence of this in the USA is that every snippet of music on TV must be licensed. The sync market in the USA is therefore automatically much larger and much more attractive.
With streaming services such as Netflix & Co, even art house films and niche topics have the potential to reach a large audience. Of course, it still takes some luck to get a lucrative placement, but basically it is possible. How important has this branch become for the sync & licensing industry?
Jürgen Distler: “Ink Music” already had a few placements in US productions. Very recently in the Showtime series “Shameless” the song “Bright” by the band Daffodils. Most of the time something like this can be seen in the streaming and shazam numbers of the song. But that doesn’t always have to be like that. It depends a lot on the scene, the movie or series in which a song is used, how long it is heard and so on. To achieve a placement here, the international network is very important, like the direct contact with “music supervisors” in the USA. The fact that the streaming market is expanding at this rate at the moment is of course very beneficial for the sync business. But more business does not automatically mean more opportunities for everyone. Netflix & Co are expanding into many countries at the moment, but these projects are often subsidized by the respective country and you only get the subsidies if the service remains in the country. This means that where the artist comes from is unfortunately often more important than the music.
How can you be approached as a band? What should I bring with me?
Jürgen Distler: Send me an e-mail or meet me at the bar.
[A follow-up question a few weeks after the outbreak of the corona disease:]
The ongoing corona crisis has a massive impact on the music market and on the income of music professionals. Is Sync a reliable source of income even in times of Covid-19?
It seems as if the whole world is taking a little break, which will also affect the sync market a bit. Film projects are currently on hold, planned advertising campaigns are postponed or cancelled. The effects are certainly not as serious as they are in the event sector, but the volume is already declining slightly.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Ruth Ranacher – translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld
*) Due to the outbreak of the corona disease the Musexpo has been cancelled.