How To Start Your Own Music Publishing Company
While an established music publisher may have the contacts to get your song placed, your earnings potential may be greater if you control your own copyrights.
By Kevin Zimmerman
Technically you are your song’s publisher once you’ve written a song. While there are undoubted advantages to allying yourself with an established music publishing company to maximize the potential for your song’s being placed with an artist, in a film or TV show, etc., there are also advantages to establishing your own music publishing company.
The most immediate advantage to controlling your own copyrights is, of course, the potential for earning more money from their use; it’s somewhat akin to selling your self-created paintings or jewelry without needing to pay commissions to agents or other middlemen. Success will still be dependent on your ability to represent yourself and your songs to the right people at the right time; as with all other aspects of the business, keeping your ears and eyes open to potential opportunities is key.
To set up your own publishing company, you will first need to affiliate your company with one of the three performing rights societies in the U.S., like BMI. (There is usually a nominal fee involved.) An important note: the societies will only agree to affiliate with you if a record is being released containing a performance of your song(s); or a motion picture, television program, or radio program is being released or broadcast using the song(s).
You will need to provide the society with three potential names for your company; the name can be as simple as your own name (e.g. “John Doe Music”), though if you’re not an established songwriter, the name may not mean anything to potential purchasers of your songs down the line.
Most insiders suggest you come up with something catchy that may be indicative of the types of songs you write. The society will then clear your company’s name; this means they will make sure your company’s name is not the same (or too similar to) an existing company. This will ensure that the monies for the use of your song will go to you and not accidentally to the similarly named company.
Assuming that you have already affiliated yourself with a performing rights society as a songwriter, you will need to affiliate with the same society as a publisher, as the societies mandate that a song’s publisher must be affiliated with the same society as the song’s writer.
If you plan on publishing other people’s songs as well as your own, you should affiliate with each of the three societies, with a different company name registered with each one. (Songwriters can only affiliate with one society at a time.) Approval from each society can take up to six weeks or more.
Once the name(s) have been cleared, you should go to your local city or town hall and obtain the forms to register a fictitious name certificate, also known as a d/b/a (which stands for “doing business as…”). You then should open an account at your bank under the new business’ name. Questions about the required d/b/a forms can usually be found at the website of the Secretary of State’s office in your state.
The next step is to register the songs you’re representing with the Copyright Office in the name of your publishing company. If you have already copyrighted the songs in your name, you will need to file the appropriate forms to transfer the copyright(s) to your publishing company.
For songs being released on recordings, or for songs that will be or have been performed in a motion picture, television program or radio program (whether or not the song is included on a standalone recording), you need to fill out both the writer’s and publisher’s clearance forms from the performing rights society involved. The forms break down what percentage to pay the songwriter and publisher, as well as where to send payments.
As with nearly anything, you should keep a copy of every form you fill out.
Posted May 05, 2004
Great information, I will use it.
super - very concise and easy to understand. much appreciated.
Excellent Info Kevin Great! Thanks Jehovah ” maui star”
Searched Hi and lo, thanks Kevin you have the right INFO. ALLJOY
I’ve been looking for exactly this information for days… finally!
Thank you, Kevin!
That was very informative. You explained it with such ease. Thank you.
I have been looking for information I could understand about music publishing and this 1 page article was it! I am now a solid new member of Songwriter101.com Thankyou Thankyou
Victor N. Vic-Vincent
my name is james. i have a few questions. i live in germany and my home of record is texas. i was told that i need a form 201 to start my own publishing company. but i think i need a doing business as form too..i cant seem to find that form. is that the same form?
Just What I was Looking For
Thanks Sooooooooooo Much!!!!
Oh my goodness, that was such informative information put in such a simple matter to understand!! It’s just the info i’ve been searching for. Thanks so much!!!
How effective is the poor man’s copy of any of my songs?
god is good!
Try a an advanced word search for the exact phrase “publishing administration” - without the quote marks - to learn about keeping your own
publishing and paying a much smaller fee than 50% for business help.
Wow..thank you so much! =)
Much appreciated..thank you twice!
Thanks!Not only was that informative,but valuble to know.I have been trying to do all the homework before starting a publishing company.I didn’t know that you were allowed to affiliate with all 3 companies as a publishing company!
This was very straightforward, you made it simple, thanks tons!
good article. very interesting and good to know
Excellent article. Two of my songs are on major charts in Europe and I needed to find out how to have my royalties collected by ASCAP, which I am associated with as the writer. This information gave me all I needed to know to get my company started, and prepare to receive my checks.
It is very straight forward and very easy to understand. I just have one question…. Once my own publishing company starts getting checks… how can I cash them in? (Since the check will be made out to the company’s name). Do I only need to endorse it with my name on the back? Do I need to open an account under the company’s name? I just need to clarify that.. thank you so much!!!
Hi there…my names peter walsh i wish to start my own publishing company but i live in the uk how do i go about getting all the right forms to do so as the article was aimed more at american based publishing?? cheers!!
Much Thanks for the great information
very educative,but unfortunately dream with dream dreamers like me dont stand much chance coming from ghana in west africa,most of the shots are directed to people in the west,wonder if theres any of these inddies working with people all around.
Finally something really helpfull. Thank you so much.
Great Information. Thanks
Thanks for the taking time out to give this information.
Thank you for this great article. One question, I am leady incorporated and the music is part of the business. I am not incorporated under the name, will it be covered by the “mother” corporation? Any response greatly appreciated.
Good information. However, I personally am having trouble deciphering the process of transferring my own writer copyright to my own publishing company. Could use more detail on the copyright process and transfer process.
This information has been very helpful. i am in the process now of doing this. Thanks.
This helps very much. I’m ready to jump on the (hundred plus year old)bandwagon. Question, is it good or safe to release some of my songs on my bands album, before I copyright or publish them with anyone, or for my self? The album should be released late spring 2007.
What is form 201?
thanks for the info. very simple to understand and let’s me know it’s not as difficult as it seams.
I wonder if some or all of you who have responded to this article would come to the BUSINESS SIDE in the FORUM and tell us what’s happened since you posted. What have you learned? Did you get answers to your questions? Do you have more questions? Do you have answers for us all? I just posted a link to the article there for you to comment under. This discussion could be very beneficial for you and all who read it. Thank you.
very clear and concise I know exactly how to infultrate the industry now….Thanks!
Thank you so much for this valuable information.
is there any advantage to making your publishing company an llc? i see music publishing llcs all over the place, but there are plenty of the sole proprietors as well. any advice? i plan to have a production and record company too…and would like them all to be different arms of ONE BUSINESS..
What is the advantage of having a publishing company if you dont plan on publishing other writers music? As an affiliate of BMI, if my song is recorded I recieve 100% of the writers and 100% of the publishers as it is. Isnt this correct? This is the question I need answered. Thank you
Great information, easy to understand,
just what I’ve been looking for!
Visit [url=http://www.bmi.com]http://www.bmi.com[/url] and see if you can find out how you get paid publishing royalties. Songwriting royalties will be paid to you, “Pay to the order of” your name. The publishing royalties need a name to pay to too.
A corporation is a fictitious ‘person,’ a corpora ficta. It can be sued all by itself. You, and your assets, can be separate from the corporation, and not subject to liability, should anything happen. LLC stands for ‘Limited Liability Corporation.’ Your lawyer can consult on how to set things up to your advantage. BMI may consult also. Your state’s Secretary of State probably has a web site to consult.
That’s all the information you’re providing??
That’s pretty basic ‘stuff’ here, was hoping that you were offering a little more ‘beef’.
Your questions might help elicit more answers. What ‘beef’ are you looking for? Usually articles like this are posted but not followed up on by the authors or other site Moderators. Which is a shame since this is where the art AND craft of songwriting cross over into publication and profit-taking.
If you click on the ARTICLES link you will see a small rectangle in blue with various subjects mentioned. By clicking on any one of the blue subjects you get a list of all articles on that subject. There may be more beef to be gleaned there.
The BOOKS link at the top of the home page may also have titles that go more into depth on publishing. Your library can get any book. And [url=http://www.amazon.com]http://www.amazon.com[/url] may have good prices. Keep studying. That must be why they call this the 101 of Songwriting.
I am a lyric writer and i have a lot of lyrics a few that have been put to music. i was working with a lady to get them pitched but she passed away i sent in for the copyrights over a year ago and still have’t got a cert yet i’ve heard of the poor boy copy right is that efective will it be safe to pitch my songs that way?
Thanks 4 the info, i will put it 2 good use.
What are the pros and cons for having and maintaining your own publishing, as opposed to letting someone else have the publishing and deal with the paper work? I am about to have some cuts on a major bluegrass label, (first major cut). The artist has chosen my songs. He has no publishing company. I, at the present time, have no publishing company. Should I let the label handle the publishing, giving them half of the 8.5 , or start my own publishing company. I am hoping this is just the beginning of a second career for me, so I have a tendency to bite the bullet and start my own company. On the other hand, I still have a full time job I can’t afford to quit and I’m not sure I want the hassle and time involved. Long question I know! Can anyone shed some light?
I don’t know what you mean by half of the 8.5.
Is the label asking for the publishing?
If the artist has chosen the songs does that mean he will cut them?
Does he have the pull to tell the label what he will cut? Or will they have control?
If you have already done the work of publishing the songs and have an artist cutting them what’s left for a publisher to do? Why should anyone else get paid publishing royalties? What are they going to do to earn them?
It sounds like you only need to start a publishing company to separate the publisher’s liability, should any arise, from your personal liability, and to collect the publishing royalties, if any are earned by airplay or other uses.
The CD is in the process of being recorded. I understand it could take months to get a publishing company started and registered. What if the publishing company is not established by the time the CD is ready?
All the publishing company is going to do immediately is sign a contract licensing the artist to record the songs. You may want to do that through http://www.harryfoxagency.com , by registering the songs with them and telling the artist he can buy the license there.
The next thing the publishing company is going to do is receive Publishing Royalties paid through your Performance Rights Organization (I think you said BMI was your PRO). That won’t happen for a long time, unless you get a number 1 with a bullet and suddenly every radio station is playing your song. Even then, it would be months before they calculate your royalties and cut a check.
You may want to explore http://www.johnbraheney.com and his book, “The Craft and Business of Songwriting”. Owning the book can give you a textbook to refer to as you learn how the biz operates, or used to.
You should consult a lawyer about setting up your Pub. Co. It’s not as difficult as you think, or have been told. http://www.bmi.com may have some info on it too.
Thanks for the help Gary! Good info.
I had a question that perhaps somebody might know the answer—I was thinking of collaborating with another songwriter—we both own our own publishing companies via DBA—would we go forward by co-publishing the material we write together? If so, how would we do this?
We thought of forming an LLC but neither of us can afford the start up fees & accountant fees. Please comment if you have any ideas—thanks, JP
It is common for publishers sign contracts for co-publishing, with publishers in other countries for example. The other publisher knows their country, is there in that country, and can do the legwork of publishing the song, and registering it for collection of royalties. I don’t know but I guess you’d split the Publishing Royalties 50%/50%, unless a different split was agreed upon. If you’re registered with the same Performance Rights Organization you’d register the song, specifying that split. If you’re with different PRO’s you’d each register the song with your respective PRO’s, and specify the split of Publishing Royalties and Songwriting Royalties.
Thanks for the response Gary—appreciate the info!
I was interested in this article, but I’ve already done everything listed.
what I want to learn about are the various contracts between publishers and music directors, between publishers and artists, between publishers and producers, etc. also, how to negotiate between publisher and music directors with respect to how big the film release is going to be, etc., all the ropes, or if you can recommend a good book on the subject. I have a couple, but they are music biz for songwriters, not newbie publishers.