The term 'publishing' means that a copyrighted work (such as book or a piece of music) is produced and distributed to the public. Inevitably, in today’s modern world, many aspects of music publishing have changed. Digital technology means that your works can now be sent out electronically, allowing many to distribute their compositions themselves rather than via a publisher.
Musicians often wonder whether they need a record label behind them, and it is no different for songwriters, who wonder whether they need a music publisher on their side. Music publishing deals have pros and cons, but there are definitely more benefits to having the right publisher on your team. If you're considering publishing yourself, working with a music publisher may be a boost for your career.
Through an agreement called a publishing contract, a songwriter or composer "assigns" the copyright of their composition to a publishing company. In return, the company licenses compositions, helps monitor where compositions are used, collects royalties and distributes them to the composers.
Music Publishing can be tricky
Mechanical royalties, licenses, and accounting are some of the things publishers do to help songwriters navigate the complexities of the music industry. You certainly can learn the mechanics yourself, but it can take a very long time to completely understand publishing.
Publishers, know publishing. They know how to protect your rights from the start. Not only do they offer that layer of protection that comes from industry knowledge, they also free up the time you would have spent trying to teach yourself publishing so you can do what you're good at, writing songs.
There are aspects of having your music published by a publisher which may be viewed as a disadvantage:
1) having to transfer the rights to your work to the publisher;
2) having less or no control over the price that your scores/parts will be sold at;
3) having less or no control over what your score looks like as publishers usually have a house style; and possibly;
4) being under pressure to take on commissions you feel might not be right for you.
The right publisher can help you grow creatively
Some music publishers are hands-off with their clients. They do the administrative work associated with the songs in their catalogues, but they don't necessarily get directly involved in the creative process with their clients.
Other music publishers take a very different approach. They have departments focused on helping their songwriters develop creatively. They may offer feedback on compositions, suggest new directions and pair up their songwriters with other writers who they think might make good collaborators.
Continued learning and development in your field is always a good thing, and if you're a new song writer, this kind of guidance and support can be invaluable.
How do music publishers make money?
For music publishers, earning money is all about licensing fees and royalties. Most publishers get a 50% split of profits generated by the songs they represent. In terms of royalties, there are several different royalty streams of which a publisher will get a cut.
In terms of song "ownership," a publisher usually gets that 50% stake in a track. In other words, the original copyright owner (the songwriter) assigns the publisher a portion of the copyright for a song to the publisher. At one time, publishers kept these rights for life, but it is more common now for the publisher to get a portion of the copyright for a set amount of time, after which the full rights return to the original copyright holder - who can choose to keep them, renew the publishing deal or seek a publishing contract.
Making a music publishing deal
As a songwriter, a deal with a good publishing company can significantly increase your earning potential. However, publishing deals can be complicated, and signing the wrong deal can leave you burned for many years to come. Always seek legal advice before making a publishing deal.
Do keep publishers informed of your activities, especially if you’ve had first signs of interest from them and use recommendations from contacts in your networks to get through to key people.
Roy Butcher is a Partner, and head of the creative client sector at Raffingers. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 8418 2673.