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Unreal Engine 4 Could Bring Rise to Synch Licensing

October 10, 2020 — The continued uncertainty created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced creative minds to consider new outlets for their mediums. If the brilliance of Primetime Emmy Award-winning production designer, set decorator, and art director James Connelly is any indication, one answer may be lying in the Unreal Engine 4. 

Without safe access to a physical studio, designers like Connelly, founder of JP Connelly, are creating virtual spaces using “real-time game engines.” You’ve already seen the results in action with The Voice and The Masked Singer, and while it’s an incredibly fascinating future for “live” television, there’s another angle to consider with the advent of virtual sets – the music.

Unreal Engine may be a fine tool when it comes to building entire, lifelike sets, but what are production crews going to use for ambient tracks playing just under the action? With everything going virtual and being rendered through a video game engine, there may be a rise in an entirely different industry.

It was a concept briefly touched on during an April 19, 2020 episode of John Krasinski’s Some Good News. In a segment addressing music licensing in a round-about way, guest Rain Wilson cautions the host not to use a Chance the Rapper song without permission. Though played for laughs, it does bring an important issue to light that could bring big business to the synch licensing industry. 

To go along with the digitized sets created by JP Connelly, productions will need music. It’s unlikely money will be spent on original compositions, which means scouts will be looking for more affordable and suitable tracks. In this age of digitized everything, they’ll be turning to songs found on a variety of social media outlets, with TikTok being a prime spot for up-and-coming artists to share their music. If you’ve ever heard Powfu’s “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head), you can thank TikTok for that.

Form these platforms, songs will be discovered and vetted for use in virtual products. However, without the artist’s approval, inclusion of the track in any commercial media could violate the original owner’s rights. That’s where synch licensing will come into play. While JP Connelly is busy developing an entire set from Unreal Engine, another aspect of the production will be working with an agency to secure synch rights for a composition. 

As more virtual productions come down the pipeline, more and more music will be needed. In a way, this could lead to a synch boom. Few production companies will deny the importance of music in a finished product. Whether ambient or serving as a virtual show’s theme track, music is a necessity. Especially if we’re looking at a show like The Voice, where music plays an integral part.

It’s not only major productions that require music, though. With the advent of streaming as a form of income for gamers and entertainers, the question of music licensing is on everyone’s mind. Some Twitch and YouTubers streamers don’t understand that most songs played, even if muffled on the radio in the background, requires a synch license. In fact, this lack of knowledge ultimately led to Twitch launching a catalog of “rights-cleared music” that streamers can play without concern. While it’s rare for a platform to offer a list of legally licensed music, Twitch and the demand for tracks may lead to others integrating similar concepts. 

In more specific instances, where a catalog of pre-cleared music doesn’t fill a need, we circle back to the necessity of synch licensing. The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a fire in virtual entertainment, one that completely alters how programming and productions are handled. In this new age, digital sets could very well become the norm, especially with the accessibility of the Unreal Engine. As more and more entertainers adopt this means of creating a dynamic home studio, they’ll likely find themselves looking for more ways to enhance their production.

Somewhere on that list, music will land. And when they get to that point, synch licensing will become a common part of these virtual productions.


Mark LoProto
Mark LoProto is a horror-loving gaming enthusiast with a love for electronic music and a soft spot for the real Ghostbusters, bubble wrapped synthwave, and neon kittens. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he's also on Twitter.


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