Music Publishing Basics: An Overview
What is a music publisher and what services does a publisher provide?
By Kevin Zimmerman
Ideally, a music publisher will help place your song with a recording artist, license third parties for the use of your song, and ultimately collect and distribute money to you. In exchange for these services (called “administration rights”), the publisher normally receives 50% of all such income, with the other 50% going to the songwriter.
Technically you are your song’s publisher once you’ve written a song. Without being an established songwriter, however, it will probably pay to affiliate yourself with an established music publishing company, which can get your song heard and placed as a recording, in movies, television shows and commercials, and so on.
Publishing companies come in all shapes and sizes. There are the industry heavyweights, usually affiliated with the major record companies, such as EMI Music Publishing (http://www.emimusicpub.com), Warner/Chappell (http://www.warnerchappell.com), Universal Music Publishing (http://www.universalmusicpublishing.com), Sony/ATV Music Publishing (http://www.sonyatv.com) and so on, each of whom control literally hundreds of thousands of songs. There are also other large independent publishing companies such as Peermusic (http://www.peermusic.com), Windswept Pacific (http://www.windsweptpacific.com), and so on, as well as a number of smaller publishing companies who handle a smaller number of copyrights.
There is no formula for what makes the “best” publisher. A large, multi-national company undeniably has the power and contacts to help push your song to the forefront, but as they deal with so many copyrights, it may be difficult to get the one-on-one attention that you would receive from a smaller company. (It’s much the same argument as takes place with record companies: smaller indie labels are typically viewed as “quicker on their feet,” while the majors have a much larger staff devoted to marketing, promotion, and so on.)
As is the case with record companies, getting your song heard by a music publisher can be tricky. Many publishers do not accept unsolicited material (songs sent in to the publisher without the publisher’s request) for two main reasons: They are busy working with established songwriters and don’t have time to take a chance on an unknown entity; and the numerous cases of songwriters later claiming that their material was stolen by the publisher and reworked into a new song. Unsolicited material is routinely unopened by the publisher.
Instead, it is necessary to first establish a rapport with someone in a publisher’s creative department. A letter of inquiry—rather than sending in a tape or copy of your song—is a good place to start; often you can find the names and contact information for a publisher’s creative department at the company’s website. Follow up with a phone call. In addition, attending music industry functions and showcases can help in “networking”; once you’ve established enough interest, you may want to hold your own showcase (basically a concert where you demonstrate your songs).
Once you have demonstrated to a publisher your skills and/or potential, they may offer you a publishing deal: usually the 50/50 split mentioned above, along with an advance. After the advance has been recouped by the publisher through royalties (earned by radio airplay, film licensing, etc.), they normally will pay you 75% of additional royalties—calculated by adding your writer’s share of 50% of the overall gross to your remaining half of the publisher share, which is 25% of the gross.
Please remember that, regardless of what size of publisher you affiliate with, you are still the most important piece of the puzzle. Simply sitting back and relying on the publisher to place your song is not a good idea, especially when you are just starting out. You will still need to network with executives and other songwriters/artists and generally work to get your music heard… and your career established.
Posted May 05, 2004
What’s Up big Kevin Your article is informative a a delight to be brought up to speed with the information you have provided thank You! Jehovah” maui star”
I have a question about publishing contracts. Does one commit to all terms of a music publishers contract, if they have never read nor seen this contract? Should I have read through terms and conditions ,as well as clauses?
Dear Kevin, what is The Most Economical Way to Aquire a Record Contract When You don’t Have enough Money to Search Through companies Like Taxi? when You Want To Be Heard as a Performing songwriter Recording Artist?
Next Question when seeking Radio spins This Is Very difficult Without a Record Label, How Can it Be Done without a Record Label? other than once and A while?
Is it Easier to Seek Just Publishing?
heres a question:
should a singer/songwriter who is starting a recording studio/label for herself start a publishing co? or just get the music copyrighted? i don’t understand the advantage of opening a publishing co.
Is this a good deal?
The dude that makes the track wants 50% of publishing and wants $900 for the track. I was thinking alright $900 and 10% publishing…What do you think.
We are going to sign a publishing deal with an overseas publishing company. We are affiliated with BMI, and the publishing company is affiliated with GEMA. Do they have to belong to BMI also?
I recieved a publishing deal for a compilation CD? I have never published anything.. they said I’ll keep all the songwiter rights, will the song forever be controlled by them or can it be published by someone else later? What do I need to be careful of?
any guidance much appreciated,
Im a songwriter composers afiliated with BMI. I work instrumental pieces mainly for video an tv. I am startin in this business, and the process of obtaining and selling licenses confuses me a lot. Currently am in the process of havin my individually owned publishing co.
and still I am finding my way in the process.
The first thing I have done, is to put 10 worthy songs on cd as a collection and sended to copyright office, In order to submit them to BMI as part of my accounts catalog as a composer. Am I on the right track?
After I get my registration number(god kwows when!!!) from the Lybrary of Congress(copyright) the I should submit the to BMI? Its that right?>
Should I submit my work as a Music Lybrary?(thats how i copyright it)
Or shoul I register each song as separate?
(Can I do that?)
As a publisher(when I finally have my own), how do I publish or sell licenses of my works for example(being sonwriter/composer and publisher owner at the same time)?
I am very sorry if am asking lots of questions that probably are a little bit confusing a this time, but so I am…..
I HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT SOME SONGS I PUBLISHED WITH A PUBLISHER. IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO CHANGE MY PUBLISHING COMPANY BECAUSE I FEEL THAT MY PUBLISHER IS NOT TOTALLY INTO HIS JOB? I FEEL MY MUSIC IS JUST SITTING ON A SHELF. CAN YOU HELP?
I wrote songs for a TV series in the 80s (work for hire). I had to give up the publishing share…which is par for the course. They have released several records, CDs, etc. over the years and not paid me my writer’s royalties. After many phone calls and letters, I finally got some money a couple of years ago. But they continue selling CDs, and they do not give me an accounting unless I continually hassle them about it. If didn’t stay on their case, they would pay me nothing. As publisher, aren’t they obligated to pay me my royalties that they have collected? Why do I have to go after them? Can’t I get my publishing back since they obviously aren’t doing what they’re supposed to?
WAS GIVING PUBSHING PER CENT ON A SONG , SONG WAS DONE OVER WITH SAME LYRICS DO I STILL HAVE PUBLSHING RIGHTS TO THE SONG DONE ON DIFFERENT BEAT, DONNA
My father owns a publishing company that he never uses so i am going to try to take over!! hahaha i have a band with 15 songs that they want published through my company how do i publish the songs through the company ??? help tina
I would be interested in hearing the answers to Mysha Caruso’s questions regarding her songs to be published on a cd compilation.
i got a publishing contract and took it to a layer he said it looked ok but music is not what he deals in can any one tell me any thing about duval howitzer publishing co or any thing i need to be carful for to look for in a contract