Understanding the business of Music Publishing is crucial if you want to monetize your music. Publishing plays a large part in how you generate income in commercial music.
You're a songwriter? What type of a songwriter are you? Are you a singer songwriter who plays guitar or piano, are you a lyricist who only writes the words, or are you a “Beat” composer who puts the backing track together, or maybe you’re a “Top-Line” writer who composes the melody on top of the music track, or how about a string player with a home studio who composes classical pieces?
No matter what type of writer you are, the great news is you can receive income from your compositions.
As a songwriter or composer, you are entitled to receive money whenever a song you have written is purchased on itunes, streamed on Spotify, listened to on YouTube, used in a film, video game, television show or any other commercial presentation.
Music publishing plays a large part in how you receive the income from your work. As a creator of music, having a basic understanding of how publishing works is crucial to understanding how to monetize your art.
The Right To Copy
The first thing we want to look at is the term “copyright”. A copyright is a legal right that is granted to the creator of an original work. It our case it’s the song. As soon as you create your original song you automatically are the owner of the composition’s copyright. If there are more than one composer involved in your composition than you share the copyright with your co-writers.
Under the 1976 Copyright Act, which became effective January 1, 1978, a work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created by it’s author.
There has always been confusion around this. The confusion usually involves the registration of your copyright. You should register the copyright of your song with the US Copyright Office. There is a fee but it’s a pretty simple process. Here is a link to the tutorial from the Copyright Office -
So, again YOU OWN the copyright as soon as you create your song.
Registering it protects you as the copyright owner in case there are any infringement complications. It just acts as proof that you are the composition’s copyright holder.
Owning the copyright gives you exclusive rights to the songs use and distribution. In other words, copyright ownership gives you the right to receive compensation from your intellectual endeavor.
To be able to “exploit” your composition - in the music industry exploiting means putting the song to use generating income – you have to have it fixed in a medium from which it can be reproduced, either recorded or written down in some way.
You as the composer and copyright holder of your composition are granted exclusive rights, which include: right to perform the composition, right to reproduce the composition and right to distribute the composition.
WAV’em Like You Just Don’t Care
Ok, let’s say you have just finished writing and recording your song in Pro Tools, you’ve bounced it to disk and you have a WAV file of your new tune. Now your song is fixed in a medium that can be reproduced.
Now that your song is in a fixed form [WAV file] there are two separate copyrights, the composition itself and the sound recording. In this case you own both, pretty sweet I know.
You recorded it on your Pro Tools so you own the sound recording and you wrote the song so you own the composition copyright. Pretty straight ahead up to this point.
Don’t Make Me Break Out The Pie Chart
Ok, so far you own everything, the sound copyright, and the composition copyright. Now, guess who automatically owns your music publishing rights. You do!!
You are both the songwriter and the publisher. So, that means you are owed income on both shares.
To illustrate; out of a total 100% of all the income your song could receive you are entitled to all of it. 50% from your writer’s share and 50% from your publishing share. It’s still the same 100%, just broken down this way….
To add to the chaos, the publishing share is sometimes referred to as 100% of publishing. Meaning, of course, 100% of the half that is designated as the publishing share. So. If someone asks, “How much of your publishing do you own” you can say all of it, or 100%, which is 50% of the total. Yikes!! I know.
Remember you are the publisher and the writer. So it’s up to you to find ways to exploit the composition - that means finding ways for the song to make money.
Not only are you responsible for finding opportunities to make money with your song but also negotiating the terms and handling all the paperwork and documentation.
Enter the established, often misunderstood, sometimes maligned, professional music publishing company
The pro music publishing company is in business to find ways to exploit songs by securing opportunities to generate income from your compositions.
These are some of the options available whether another artist is recording your song or if you are doing it yourself:
Mechanical Royalties - You are owed a royalty [percentage of revenues owed to the copyright owner] whenever your composition is reproduced for the purpose of selling it. It could be on vinyl, it could be on CD or MP3 or even tape. The current rate is basically equal to 9.1 cents per copy for digital delivery and physical delivery. This amount was set by the Copyright Royalty Board [CRB] in 2008. It doesn’t matter if the amount is sold or not, just reproduced.
Performance Royalties -
You are also owed royalties when your compositions are played in public. Such as plays on online streaming services, network or cable TV etc. And also when your song is performed in live music venues and on terrestrial radio.
Sync Licenses – This is when your song is used in a film, TV show, video game, YouTube video or any time your song is “synced” with a moving image.
Print rights – You are also entitled to royalties when your composition is released in the printed form such as sheet music, artist folios, and fake books. Anytime your song is sold in print.
You can see there are a multitude of options available to monetize your compositions.
Music publishing has the potential to generate considerable financial earnings but only if you can secure the proper opportunities for your song.
Established publishing companies have the infrastructure, the contacts and the personnel to possibly give your song the best chance of making money.
Sign Me Up
As the writer and publisher of your song you can choose to sign a deal with an established publishing company or you can choose to establish your own publishing company.
Signing a publishing deal with an established publishing entity can be in the form of an exclusive agreement: which means the publishing company advances you money and then owns the copyright on all the songs you write. The publishing company receives all the publishing income from the exploited compositions. Which is 100% of publishing or 50% of all income. So the split is essentially 50/50. There are other options available depending on the publishing company; co-publishing deals, single-song agreements etc. All have differing benefits depending on the deal.
Where an established publishing company like EMI, Sony ATV or Universal can be of benefit is - they can “pitch” your songs or compositions to; labels seeking material for their artists, movie and television producers, music supervisors, ad agencies for use in commercial branding, even license your song for ring-tones [not sure if anyone even uses those anymore].
All By Myself
While there are definite advantages to signing with an established publishing company, there are also benefits to creating your own publishing company and self-publish.
By starting your own publishing company, you keep ownership of your song’s copyright. It is not necessary to obtain permission from an external source [the established publishing company] if you want to use your song for anything. You receive all the income, both the publishing share and your writer’s share.
Your success with this option is dependant upon you representing yourself and your ability to get your songs to the right people at the right time.
Call In The PRO's
The last thing we need to consider is affiliating with a performing rights organization – also known as a PRO. In the US the main ones are BMI, ASCAP, SESAC. In Canada there is SOCAN and PRS in the United Kingdom.
The main purpose of the PROs is to be the intermediary between you [the copyright holder] and parties that want to use your song [copyrighted work] in public locations.
PROs collect the royalties from all the sources where your song is played. Restaurants, shopping centers, any venue where you hear music. PROs also collect the royalties from radio airplay and live venues. Any place where music is played. PROs collect the royalties and distribute them to the proper rights holders in the proper amounts. Sometimes writers refer to this as “mailbox money” because it comes in the form of regular checks to your mailbox. Or nowadays direct deposits into your bank account.
If you choose to self-publish, make sure you also register your publishing company with the PRO of your choice so you can receive your publishing share.
Songwriters today have more options than ever before to make money from their compositions. There is more music being played in more places than ever before in history.
It’s important to mention that this is just the very basics so you get the picture and not actual legal advice. You will want to find yourself a real music business attorney to sort out some of the more complicated issues. Make sure it’s an attorney who specializes in entertainment law.
There is a lot to understand with music publishing. In this new Connection Economy it is even more critical that you understand as much as you can about your business. Especially when it comes to generating cash flow with your Art.
Check out the blog at http://tommymcwilliams.wordpress.com
Some additional resources;
- The National Music Publishers Association - https://www.nmpa.org
- BMI - http://www.bmi.com
- ASCAP - http://www.ascap.com/
- SESAC - http://www.sesac.com/
- US Copyright Office - http://www.copyright.gov/