What is music publishing?
If I sign with a publishing company, what percent do they take?
What should I be aware of before signing a publishing deal?
In essence, music publishing is involved in owning rights to music in order to protect, to promote and to make money from the music. If you are the writer or copyright owner of the song, you can keep ownership of your publishing or work alongside a publishing company.
If you 're offered to work alongside a publisher and get a publishing deal, typically this involves the publishing company receiving a share of the royalties made in exchange for and an assignment of some portion of ownership. Currently, there are 4 main roles music publishers play in a Musicians life. These roles depend on what type of "deal" you sign with the publishing company, which is based what level of an artist the publishing company deems you as.
Depending on your deal, if you're signed with a Music Publisher, they are responsible to handle the following:
Managing your Licensing
The publisher will manage issuing your music licenses. Licensing your songs is like renting out your song, or part of your song to another person. Different licenses give another person permission to copy and sell your song under different parameters. The royalty you receive will be based on how many copies are sold. It’s wise to have a lawyer or your publisher review a license (such as a mechanical license) before you sign it. Your royalty payment and rights to your song will all be included in this license, so it’s important to fully understand what you are signing.
Registering your Songs
This is where the publishing company gives the pertinent song information to a Performance Rights Organizations which in the US would be BMI, SESAC, or ASCAP. So, each of your songs are properly registered and you and your publisher can receive the correct royalties.
Collection of your Royalties
After your song is registered through a publisher, the publisher is given access to collect due royalties from all sources.
Opening Creative Possibilities for you and your Music
Many publisher’s open doors for artists to collaborate and write with other artists to further their potential career. They make connections that are more difficult for artists to make themselves. Because publishers have pre-existing relationships that spread throughout the industry. They can relieve the pressure of you networking on your own by introducing you to the right people.
Let's look at an overview of what publishing deals do for artists and the different roles publishing companies can take.
A publishing company can:
Help place your song with a recording artist
Invest time, money, creativity, and passion into your work
Follow up with money that could have gone missing, which basically means hunt down the income you're owed
Register your work, commission your work and promote your work
Raise your profile
All these may be possible, but depending on the publishing deal offered to you, there are different roles that Music Publishers play
Music Publisher Administrator Role: this publishing deal is usually associated with new or smaller level artists.
What they Do:
The publishing company handles the registration of your song with different associations; they will also handle the licensing of your songs and administrate your royalties. They will do this all for a commission fee. The publishing company does not make an advance payment or offer additional creative services.
Music Publisher Independent Role:
This Publishing deal is a step up from an administrator deal. It is commonly associated with mid-level artists.
What they Do:
Just like the Administrator Role, the publishing company handles registration of your song with different associations; they will also handle the licensing of your songs and administrate your royalties. In addition to this, they will open the door for creative services that we've previously mentioned. And they offer advances to the songwriter. An advance is basically a pre-payment of the royalties the publishing company believes you will make.
Music Publisher Major Role: this publishing deal is usually associated with top level artists who are influential on a global level or whom the publishing company can see the potential to be so.
What they Do:
Again, in this Major Publishing role, the publishing company handles registration of your song with the different associations; they will also handle the licensing of your songs and administrate your royalties. They offer the connection to creative services. And here, they also offer big financial, (such as millions of dollars) advances to the songwriters.
Publishing deals usually last between 3 to 5 years. Commonly, there is a 70% - 30% split between a writer and a publisher. Where the publisher is taking 30% and the writer or copywriter owner is taking 70%. This varies depending on which deal you sign and which country or countries the deal is involved in. In some countries, publishers have a national fixed rate.
There are Pro’s to both working with a Publisher and keeping ownership over your publishing.
The administrative side of registering your songs, tracking your licensing and keeping tabs on your royalties can take away from your creative process.
In the right Publishing deal, publishers will spend time and energy pitching your song to influential people who work in advertising, film, TV, and video games. If you can sign an independent or major deal, the creative opportunities that a publishing company can link you to, could heavily advance your career and quickly.
Publishing companies have employees whose sole purpose it to know the right people and plug your songs.
If you’re low on money, many publishing deals offer a demo budget.
For a beginning song-writer it can be tough to write full time without making the money to live on. Some publishing deals give the writer a draw which is an advance against the writer’s share of royalties which is payable under an agreement with the publisher.
For most artists that are just starting out, or not making much money on their music, owning your publishing puts more royalty revenue in your pocket.
Even though a publishing company may have a staff ready to plug your music, they have many artists that are in the same position. You are in a big competition field even when the pluggers are pushing your song.
Be aware that your demo or draw are loans. This is money that the publisher will take back from you as soon as you start to generate income.
“Unlike a loan paid back to a bank, even after you’ve made back the money to pay the publisher for the money they’ve invested in you, they will continue to own the publishing on your song and make income from it. In most cases, this is an arrangement that lasts for the rest of your life and then some (a copyright lasts for 70 years beyond your death). Also, in most cases, that recording that the publisher split with you or loaned you money to make is entirely their property. This translates into no master fee payment for you, the songwriter, if that recording ends up in a film or on TV (other than royalty income that you are entitled to by your contract).” - (BMI,2015)
What should I be aware of before signing a Publishing deal?
If you want to start the process of working with a publisher, the following are tips to take into consideration at the beginning of this process:
For example, ask them "what creative opportunities have they opened for you and have they followed through. Do they pay your royalties on time? What are the pros and cons that you’ve experienced working with this company? How do you feel they’re unique?"