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The world of music publishing can be very complex for many and can seem like a daunting topic for artists during their creative process. However, we are here to define it in its simplest terms and help explain each aspect of it thoroughly.
In this article, we will touch on what a music publisher does, music publishing royalty rates, how to publish your own music (or self publishing music) and more.
Be sure to stay tuned until the very end so you find out everything you need to know about all things publishing music companies!
First things first, let us answer the question ‘what is publishing music?’ Put simply, The word “publish” simply means to make a work public (i.e., performing or releasing a song as opposed to writing it in your notebook or diary).
The term ‘publish’ is defined in copyright law as “distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease, or lending”.
How does publishing work in the music industry, I hear you ask? Well, in relation to the information above, it simply refers to the business of song copyrights.
To further our understanding, let’s take a closer look at copyright within music publishing.
Under copyright law, a songwriter, or songwriters, own 100% of their song copyright and all the related so-called “publishing” rights. That is until the songwriter(s) signs those rights away in a written agreement.
Under the law, a copyright – literally, the right to make and sell copies – automatically vests in the author or creator the moment the expression of an idea is ‘fixed in a tangible medium’ (i.e., the moment it is written down or recorded).
According to the CDPA (Copyright Designs And Patents Act of 1988) the owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to:
There are really only two copyrights in the music business: a copyright in the musical composition owned by the songwriter and a copyright in the sound of the recording owned by the recording artist or record company.
This article will focus deeper on the copyright regarding the musical composition and understanding what a music publisher does for you.
As a songwriter, you own the copyright in your work the instant it is written down or recorded. By music publishing copyright law, you can only transfer those rights by signing a written agreement. Therefore, it is important as a songwriter you are wary of any agreement you are asked to sign.
As a songwriter, you are initially self-published until you acquire a publishing deal and sign a publishing contract. Therefore, it is essential you are clued up and know how to handle your own business at the start. Luckily, we’re here to help!
While not absolutely necessary, it is advisable to place a notice of copyright on all copies of your work. This consists of the symbol © or the word ‘copyright’, the author’s name, and the year in which the work was created, for example: © Eddie Allman 2021.
In the United States, filing a copyright registration form in Washington D.C. provides additional protection. It establishes a record of the existence of such copyright and additionally gives the creator the presumption of validity in the event of a lawsuit. Registration also allows for lawsuits to be commenced in Federal court and, under Federal law, allows an award of attorneys fees to the prevailing party.
Here we have reached the essential music publishing question. The business of music publishing consists mostly of the less fun side of music! Your performing rights organization (PRO) or Music Publishers work on administrative duties for the songwriters and composers, exploitation of copyrights, and collection of monies generated from the exploitation of those copyrights which are publishing royalties.
If a writer makes a publishing deal and a publisher takes on these responsibilities, then it ‘administers’ the compositions. Make note, music publishers and record labels are two different things!
Administrative duties concern a whole variety of things. From filing all the necessary registrations (i.e., copyright forms) to answering inquiries with regards to the musical compositions. If you haven’t signed a publishing deal music with a publisher, these responsibilities ultimately lie in your hands. In that specific case you would be considered self-published.
This means you have to do all pedalling and steering when it comes to publishing your music online, offline, finding opportunities for your songs and more. A music publisher takes away all of this, often undesired, admin work. Basically, having a publisher to do the ‘boring stuff’ means that you can focus on the thing that you love most – making music!
One of the most important responsibilities of a music publisher is the exploitation of a composition or plugging a song. Exploitation, put in layman’s terms, means seeking out different uses for your musical compositions.
Sometimes a music publisher will have professional quality demos prepared and send them to artists and producers to try to secure recordings. Additionally, the publisher will use these tracks to secure usage in the TV, film and advertising industries. This is known as sync licensing or synchronization use.
Music publishers companies publish royalties or the collection of the monies earned by musical usages of recorded music. This is more commonly known as music publishing administration. Sources of income generated by a song’s copyright have augmented massively in recent years. Previously, money was made mostly from physical record sales and radio performances. However, in the modern digital age it works slightly differently.
Income sources of music royalties now include streaming services as well as digital downloads and live performances. Even uses in apps, e-cards, advertisements/commercials, remixes and samples, toys and interactive dolls, slot machines, digital jukeboxes, and more. Even if lyrics from your song are used on someone’s clothes or other items, they should be paying you royalties for that as well your film being used in film and television – you’ll get paid a license fee!
It is vital that your publishing administrator is competent when it comes to monitoring and collecting from all these sources. The two primary sources of income for a music publisher are still:
Mechanical royalties are collected directly from the record companies or other distributors and paid to the publisher in the US. In the UK, the MCPS collects mechanical royalties and distributes them accordingly.
Performance royalties are collected by performing rights organizations – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the United States or PRS and PPL in the UK. PROs then distribute royalties to the publisher(s) and finally to the songwriter(s).
What music publishing companies do isn’t simply limited to plugging and administrative functions though, it also includes a creative side. Of course, producing hit songs is in the best interest of both the writer and the publisher.
Therefore, good music publishers have whole departments devoted to helping writers grow and develop. Many popular artists have songs music publishers helped with in terms of writing and production.
The creative staff at publishing companies find and sign new songwriters and work with them to improve their songs. Then, they pair them up with other co-writers and other creative individuals in the hope that hit records are the outcome. It is a win-win for both parties!
In addition, how to sell songs to music publishers is a common question. It requires you to record a demo of the song and pitch it to music publishers. It is important that you don’t pitch songs that are half-finished or lack a short, catchy contemporary chorus. Be sure to study current hit songs and make sure your work can compete.
A publishing deal in music essentially concerns rights and revenues. If there is more than one writer on a song, the writers should sign a music publishing split sheet. This document designates what percentage each writer owns. Once this has been signed, each writer can do its own agreement or retain its respective rights.
If a writer decides to do a publishing contract, the main issue for negotiation is going to be the language pertaining to the calculation and division of the rights in the copyright, with the additional division of the monies earned.
In the earlier years of popular music, most deals were 100% copyright to the publisher and 50/50 share of the revenues. This is because there was a conceptual understanding that the so-called ‘writer’s share’ was 50% and the ‘publisher’s share’ was 50%.
This, of course, was an invention of the publishers. Legally, these terms have no such inherent meaning, but their calculation is defined in each individual contract.
Most modern publishing contracts are deals where the copyrights are co-owned 50/50. The monies in these deals, for the most part, are calculated at around 75/25 in favor of the songwriter. The songwriter receives 100% of the 50% “writer’s share” and 50% of the 50% “publisher’s share”. This adds up to a total of 75% of the revenues.
It is best for the writer to insist that all calculations be made “at source”. This is simply to ensure that there aren’t too many charges and fees deducted before the 75% calculation is made.
It is worth bearing in mind that any “advance” the publisher pays the writer is a pre-payment of royalties not yet earned. Therefore, it is later recouped by the publisher from the writer’s share of songwriter royalties earned from the song. With this in mind, it is advisable not to spend your advance all at once!
A music publisher will typically account for and pay royalties several times a year. This is usually either semi-annually or on a quarterly basis depending on the specific deal you have.
It’s true a writer can be their own publisher and retain 100% of the money.
On the other hand, the larger publishers in the music industry usually pay substantial advance payments to writers. They do this in order to induce them to sign a portion of their publishing rights to the publisher.
This isn’t necessarily a threat though! It can be a very good thing for the writer. This essentially is a loan to allow the writer to spend time writing, collaborate or pay for studio time etc.
A deal for a single song could have little or no advance payment from publishers. However, there should be a substantial music publishing advance ($5,000-$100,000+) for any publishing deal with a longer-term (e.g., 3-5 years or more)
Furthermore, sometimes the length of an agreement is more than just a function of time. It could also be based on the number of songs the songwriter is required to deliver. Or perhaps, even more difficult to calculate, the number of songs released on a major label. However, this is difficult as it’s an eventuality that neither the writer nor the publisher may have any control over.
Remember, you start with 100% ownership of your song’s copyright. The net business effect of any advance on a music publishing deal is that the publisher pays the songwriter with the writer’s own money (although not yet earned). This is to buy a share of the copyright (and the right to future income) from the writer.
When looking for your own music publisher, you’ll have to keep all of the above in mind!
Publishing deals have to do with more than just the money. Remember that every music publisher is different. Therefore, it is important for the songwriter to assess everything before signing any contract.
Ultimately, the songwriter is trading a share of something the writer already owns 100% of (the copyright). Therefore, it is important you are mindful of the exchanges between the parties. Both services and money.
At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talent, give yourself the benefit of the doubt! That means invest in good legal representation – all successful songwriters have one. Your entertainment lawyer can help you decipher the publishing contract to you and explain its terms.
Also, they have the facilities to help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. Our advice would be to never sign anything – other than an autograph – without having your entertainment lawyer review it first!
A sub-publisher acts on behalf of the original publisher of a particular musical work. They take on the role of an agent in a particular territory to collect royalties, monitor copyrights, exploit usage for licensing, and promote the works represented. Having done this, the sub-publisher takes a percentage of the types of royalty earned. Most sub-publishers sign a deal for no less than three years.
They can function almost as a sub-manager. They recommend agents for a tour, sub-publishing rights and communicate with foreign branches of international labels. They can also pitch songs to other artists or films, TV/radio stations, and other users in their market.
We hope we’ve answered all of your questions regarding music publishing! We’ve gone from the very basics, such as what music publishers do, to what a music publishing contract consists of. Additionally, we’ve discussed how to be your own music publisher for independent artists.
Refer back to all the information here when you get round to publishing your own music. We look forward to hearing it!
Music publishing simply refers to the business of song copyrights. It is making your work available for public consumption.
Music publishers are responsible for administrative duties, exploitation of copyrights, and collection of monies generated from the exploitation of those copyrights which are publishing royalties. There is also creative staff at publishing companies to help find and sign new songwriters and work with artists to improve their songs
How to get publishing rights for my music you ask? To self publish requires you to register as a publisher with a PRO. To register as a publisher with ASCAP, for instance, all you need is an address, an email, and a US tax ID number.
Most modern publishing contracts are deals where the copyrights are co-owned 50/50. The monies in these deals, for the most part, are calculated at around 75/25 in favor of the songwriter. The songwriter receives 100% of the 50% “writer’s share” and 50% of the 50% “publisher’s share”, adding to a total of 25% for the publisher.
This depends on whether we are talking about a major music publishing company or minor publisher. Additionally, it depends on the terms negotiated with your chosen publisher. For the most part, , in terms of music publishing rights, music publishers take 25% of your total royalties. So, they make a quarter of what you make from your music. Publishing terms should be set out clearly from the outset of any deal.
Getting a deal requires a bit of networking. For the best chances, go to events where there could be publishers. Alternatively, if you know someone important in the industry is going to be somewhere, make sure you’re there too. Also make music with other artists as they might get published and perhaps are able to give you a contact.