As an independent musician, it can be tricky to navigate the music business and especially, music publishing. For most indie artists, music publishing can seem super complicated at first. Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science! It is extremely important to understand the basics so that you can know your music rights and grow your revenues. Music publishing is all about rights and royalties– ensuring that the songwriters, composers, and producers are compensated for the use of their work. In this article, we will discuss what is music publishing, how it works, and why it is important in the music-industry.
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1. What does music publishing do?
Music publishing is the business of producing, protecting and administering copyrights for musical compositions. It involves registering musical works with a Performing Rights Organization and collecting royalties from radio, television, and other sources. A music publishing company also promotes their copyrighted works to the public, ensures that lyrics are properly registered with the Performing Rights Organization, and provides legal advice when necessary. In essence, music publishing is the business of ensuring that composers and songwriters are properly compensated for their creative works.
2. What is music copyright?
Before we get into more details about music publishing, it is important to understand what music copyright is. Copyright law can get complicated quickly, so we are going to keep it simple. Music copyright is separated into two distinct parts: the composition copyright and the master copyright of the sound recording. The composition copyright covers the intellectual property of the songwriter: the composition, music and melodies, and may or may not include lyrics. The master copyright covers the recorded version of the song, which includes the performer’s interpretation, recording, and production. Together, these two parts of music copyright help protect the songwriter and the performer from unauthorized use of their work.
3. Who gets publishing rights on a song?
If you’re an indie musician without a publisher, you automatically retain all publishing rights to your song. Publishing rights refer to the copyright holder’s exclusive right to control the use of the song. When we talk about publishing rights, only the composition copyright is concerned, not the master copyright. Generally, the songwriters are the ones who get publishing rights to the song. There are some instances where the performers, producers, and other people involved also get a stake in the publishing rights. If a record label was involved in producing the song, they could also get a share of the publishing rights. Ultimately, publishing rights can be divided up among multiple people, depending on the situation. This is where negotiations come in; some songwriters choose to split rights equally among themselves, while others negotiate bigger percentages depending on how much they contributed to the track.
4. What is the difference between rights and royalties in music publishing?
The words rights and royalties are often used interchangeably. Let’s answer a simple question to avoid future confusion: what’s the difference? Rights refer to the ability to reproduce, distribute, and perform a piece of music in any way. Royalties are payments owed to the copyright holder for the use of the music. In short, music rights are the legal rights associated with a piece of music, while royalties are the money paid for the use of those rights.
5. What are the different types of publishing royalties?
Publishing royalties in music refer to the payment made to songwriters and music publishers for the use of their compositions. These royalties are generated any time the songs are performed, broadcast, sold, streamed, or reproduced in any form. There are three main types of music publishing royalties that musicians and songwriters need to be aware of:
- Mechanical royalties: the royalties that come from reproducing and distributing recordings. This includes making physical copies of musical works, such as on CDs or vinyls, and distributing them to the public. Nowadays, mechanical royalties are also paid when a user streams your tracks on streaming services.
- Public performance royalties: the royalties that are generated each time your song is performed or diffused in public. This includes playing your songs live at a concert, when your music is diffused on radio stations, played over a supermarket sound system- basically any public space. Public performance royalties are also generated when your song is played on a music streaming service. Unlike mechanical royalties, public performance royalties include streams from non interactive streaming platforms such as Pandora.
- Synchronization royalties: the royalties that are generated when your music is licensed for a synchronization: placed in any visual media, such as film, television, commercials, video games, and more. These rights are typically acquired from music publishers and usually require the payment of a one-time sync fee. The licence and fee are usually negotiated according to the scope and purpose of the synchronization.
All of these royalties are necessary for musicians and songwriters to generate income from their work. Publishers equally benefit as they take a percentage of the artist’s royalties. It is thus in their interest to diffuse their artists music as much as possible!
6. What is the difference between a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) and a music publisher?
You may be asking yourself, who is responsible for collecting the royalties? The answer is two-fold: music publishers and Performance Rights Organizations. A performance rights organization (PRO) is in charge of collecting the public performance royalties. Examples of PROs include ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the United States, SOCAN in Canada, SACEM in France, GEMA in Germany, and JASRAC in Japan.
A music publisher, on the other hand, is responsible for collecting mechanical royalties and trying to get synchronization royalties. In addition, a music publisher is also responsible for registering the musical compositions with a Performance Rights Organization. That way, the PRO can monitor and collect public performance royalties on the publisher’s behalf that will be then split between the publisher and the songwriter. A good music publisher should also be good at negotiation, skilled at rights management, and be aware of any possible infringement on their copyrighted songs.
7. What is the difference between music licensing and music publishing?
Music licensing and music publishing both involve the licensing of music and the distribution of royalties, but they are two distinct processes. Music licensing involves the process of obtaining permission from a copyright holder to use a song in a specific product. This is just another way to talk about synchronization royalties: when music is licensed to be in a movie soundtrack or a commercial. The licensee pays the copyright holder a fee and agrees to certain conditions, such as crediting the composer and publisher. For example, a luxury brand wants to use your song in their new ad campaign commercial. They will have to negotiate with your publisher to get a sync license, and depending on the usage, they will pay a one time fixed fee that is split between the publisher and the artist.
Music publishing, in relation to licensing, involves pitching songs for possible synchronization deals for example. The music publisher is responsible for finding the right songs for the right projects, negotiating deals, and collecting the sync royalties. Publishing companies also can have a catalogue of music that other societies can choose from to place music in their TV shows, commercials, or movies. Music licensing and music publishing really go hand in hand. When successful partnerships are formed, it can be very lucrative for both the publisher and the songwriters.
8. What are the most common music publishing contracts?
Music publishing contracts come in a variety of forms, ranging from traditional deals with major labels to independent publishing contracts. These contracts can involve exclusive rights, joint ventures with other labels, and co-publishing agreements. Typically, music publishers and artists will split the composition copyright 50/50: 50% for publishing rights and 50% for writer’s rights. This means that the publisher will receive 50% of any royalties and the artist will receive the other 50%. Here are the three most common music publishing contracts today:
- Co-Publishing Contract: Under a co-publishing agreement, the music publisher and the artist share ownership of the publishing rights, usually 50/50. This means that overall, the songwriter gets 75% of the royalties: 50% of the writers share and 25% of the publishers share.
- Administration Contract: An administration contract requires less commitment from the publisher. The publisher is solely in charge of collecting and auditing royalties. They usually only get 10-25% of the revenues instead of the publisher’s traditional 50% share.
- Exclusive Writing Contract: An exclusive writing contract or full music publishing deal grants the music publisher exclusive rights to the songwriter’s compositions and gives them the right to exploit the compositions commercially. The publisher agrees to actively promote and exploit the songs. This includes pitching them to recording artists, television and film producers, and other outlets. In exchange for these services, the publisher usually gets the traditional 50% of the composition copyright.
Each of these contracts has its own advantages and disadvantages and should be carefully considered before signing a deal.
9. How does a music publisher get paid?
A music publisher typically earns money through royalty payments that are generated from an artist’s songs. Depending on the type of contract signed, a music publisher earns a fixed percentage of the mechanical royalties, public performance royalties, and synchronization license fees. An artist should never have to pay money to a music publisher upfront to sign a deal. On the other hand, music publishers can pay artists a publishing advance when entering into a contract. However, this sum usually needs to be fully reimbursed by future royalties to the music publisher. For example, if a music publisher pays an artist an advance of 5,000 euros, the artist may not receive any royalty money until the advance has been paid off by the generated income on their music.
10. Can I release music without a publisher?
Yes, you can release music without a publisher. In fact, with the rise of music distribution services for independent artists like CD Baby or TuneCore, it is easier than ever to release music and receive royalties. More importantly, these third party digital services that get your music on Spotify and other streaming platforms will collect royalties on your behalf and then pay you a share. Make sure that you register your music yourself with a Performing Rights Organization so that public performance royalties can be collected. You can even take it one step further and set up your own publishing company for releasing your music. However, if you choose to release music without a publisher, you may not have the resources or connections to land synchronization deals.
11. The pros and cons of releasing music with a publisher
Releasing music with a publisher can be a great way to take your career to the next level. Like with anything, there are pros and cons to consider before making the decision.
Pros of releasing your music with a publisher:
- A publisher can help with marketing and distribution, giving your music more visibility and reach.
- A publisher can negotiate sync licenses and royalty rates on your behalf, helping you get the best deal possible.
- A publisher can handle the administrative tasks associated with releasing music, such as registering your work with a Performance Rights Organization, collecting royalties, and filing out paperwork.
Cons of releasing your music with a publisher:
- A publisher will take a portion of the royalties as compensation for their services.
- If you sign with a publisher, you may lose some control over how your music is used and where it is distributed.
- You may have to give up some of your rights to the publisher, and some contracts last a long time.
As you can see, it is important for artists to understand what is music publishing. Not only does it provide artists with the opportunity to make money from their music, but it also helps to ensure that their rights are respected. Some songwriters have mastered the world of music publishing and are making money exclusively off of royalties received and placements in TV, movies, and ads. Want to send your project to a music publisher and get guaranteed feedback within 7 days? Check out the music publishers you could sign a potential contract with on Groover.