Music Publishing Deals Every Artist Should Know

A man taking a video of a woman carrying a violin: Music publishing deals
Photo by Kyle Loftus from Pexels

The majority of music artists, including the serious ones, find it best to focus on what they do best—making great music. However, it is also necessary to consider legal contracts, especially if you’re in the craft to make big bucks. It is understandable if you feel a bit skeptical about signing the dotted line with a publishing company. Even so, you must understand that music publishing deals are critical elements designed to ensure that your interests, as well as those of your publisher, are met.

In this blog, we will discuss 6 of the most crucial music publishing contracts. We will help you cut through the legal jargon and understand what each contract means for you and for your publisher. Most importantly, we will break down the nuances of these deals’ business and legal sides. Hopefully, this will put your mind at ease when signing pacts and enlighten you if your agreement has you holding the short end of the stick.

Let’s get started!

  • Music Publishing Defined 
  • Understanding the Major Streams of Revenue in Music Publishing Deals
  • Top 6 Music Publishing Deals Every Music Artist and Producer Should Know
  • Pros and Cons of Signing Music Publishing Deals
  • conclusion

Music Publishing Defined 

The simplest definition of music publishing is that it is the art of promoting and monetizing musical compositions. A music publisher’s work is to ensure that you receive royalties for the songs you have written. The expert will also ensure you have access to opportunities that allow your composition’s continual production and performance. Through a publisher, you can break from the boundaries of your bedroom (or wherever you make your music) and start sharing your music for monetary gain.

You can think of your music publisher as a professional responsible for representing all authors of specific musical works. It includes songwriters, composers, and even lyricists. Ultimately, an ideal publisher will ensure that everyone receives proper compensation for the commercial use of their intellectual property.

Understanding the Major Streams of Revenue in Music Publishing Deals

Once you sign up with a music publishing company, you can generate income from your owed royalties. Your publisher will handle both administrative and legal work to ensure your royalties from across the globe can find you with ease.

Some of the duties of a music publisher include:

  • Ensuring your music is registered with performing rights organizations globally.
  • Confirming that your music is registered with all mechanical right collection entities.
  • Keeping track and collecting all performance and mechanical royalties you are owed across the globe.
  • Approaching various establishments to pitch your music and earn sync royalties and placements.

Let’s go straight to expounding on some of the most significant sources of publishing income:

Public Performance Royalties

If anyone wants to use your music or performs it publicly, they should secure a license. In return, this ensures that you receive your dues for your music that is played on television, radio, nightclubs, concert halls, and online. Through PROs (performance rights organizations), songwriters and music publishers can collect public performance royalties. Some of the best PROs in the U.S include:

  • ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers)
  • BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) 
  • SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)
  • GMR (Global Music Rights)

Mechanical Royalties

The Copyright Royalty Board is a tribunal responsible for setting up the rates of mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are monies owned to artists each time their songs are included on records. Currently, the rate stands at 9.1 cents for each song in each copy of each sold record. Note that the rate is different for compositions longer than 5 minutes. In this case, the rate stands at 1.75 cents for each minute.

The abovementioned figures may seem minute, although they are not. Think of it this way, if a record containing one of your songs sells 1million copies, your monies will accumulate to $91,000. Of course, you have to factor in other costs. For instance, consider the expenses allied with posting your music on major streaming platforms like Spotify, as well as the commission for performance rights organizations (typically about 6% of your gross income).

Sync Fees

Another source of income for music publishing deals is sync fees. When your music composition is synchronized into audiovisual work such as TV shows, commercials, movies, and video games. Usually, the money earned from sync placement may vary depending on the song and the project at hand. For instance, you may make yourself clean six figures for a classic pop hit featured in a major movie or advertisement campaign. On the other hand, you may only earn a few hundred dollars if you land on a small-time placement in a short beer commercial.

Top 6 Music Publishing Deals Every Music Artist and Producer Should Know

For a good number of artists, music publishing is simply not their area of expertise. Hence, it is understandable for them to want to focus on beats, lyrics, and the fun, rhythmic side of their craft without worrying too much about music publishing complexities. While this is the case, remember that growing into an accomplished musician or music producer may remain a far-fetched dream without music publishing deals.

The need to know a thing or two about the publishing field cannot be emphasized enough. Music publishing is a complex world with numerous types of deals. The good news is that you can always rely on credible professionals to ensure that your music career grows to its full potential. Here are 6 crucial music publishing deals you should know:

Individual Song Publishing Deals

This publishing deal is the most common and the easiest for artists and producers to understand. It involves giving a trusted publisher the copyrights to one of your songs. In return, your publisher will offer a specified percentage of income generated from that song.

Individual song publishing deals only apply to a specific number of songs. Therefore, this makes everything in the pact easy to understand, not to mention that most details in the agreement are pretty straightforward. Additionally, you don’t have to share all your songs with one publisher. Such an arrangement gives you the freedom to work with other publishers. Most importantly, you have the option of choosing the exact songs you wish to trade rights.

Exclusive Songwriter Publishing Deals

If you follow the media on matters related to the music industry, you have probably heard about songwriter publishing deals. Such pacts involve trading the copyrights of all the music you create within a specified duration. Typically, such agreements stretch for several years and involve the publisher paying you a set amount of cash regularly. The best thing about exclusive songwriter music publishing deals is that they assure you of receiving your dues. Irrespective of whether your songs make a fortune or peanuts.

Note that in this case, the money you receive from a publishing deal will be pre-set. Even though a pact may seem sour if you become famous overnight, you will enjoy peace of mind from a steady income. Your money will keep flowing even if your songs don’t gain the expected traction.

Co-Publishing Deals

One of the most complex music publishing deals is co-publishing pacts. This agreement involves a songwriter trading part of their copyrights with a music publisher. A publisher and a songwriter end up co-owning the copyrights of a specific song or set of songs.

If the thought of trading all your copywriters with a publisher doesn’t sit right with you, this is by far the best alternative you could consider. It allows you to safeguard some of your creative output. Essentially, you will gain the most from songs that make it up the music charts.

Administration Music Publishing Deals

This type of agreement lasts for longer compared to all the other music publishing deals we have discussed. In this case, you don’t have to trade the copyrights of your songs with a publisher. Instead, the publishing company you work with will only seek the right to license your work to others.

The pay-out percentage is, in this case, lower. Even so, publishing companies will have a vested interest in making the most returns while they have the right to license your songs. Depending on the pro-activeness of a company, you may accumulate a substantial amount of money from an administration deal.

Foreign Sub-Publishing Deals

If you are interested in licensing your music with foreign partners, foreign sub-publishing deals are ideal for you. Such agreements can be particularly beneficial when your current publisher in the U.S. lacks adequate networks or resources to push your songs to international platforms. With a foreign company, you can make this happen and still ensure that everyone receives their piece of the pie.

Sync Rep Deals

One of the best music publishing deals that are more likely to be encountered by new or emerging artists is the sync rep deals. Unlike the usual publishing pacts that offer up-front pay, or advances, sync rep deals involve companies that “shops” for songs. They target artists or producers with the best lyric versions and instrumentals and use their work in TV shows, advertisement campaigns, and video games.

As aforementioned, sync fees constitute a significant revenue stream in music publishing deals. Unlike other types of contracts, this kind of agreement only involves exploiting songs for audiovisual work. Artists or producers don’t need to authorize other exploitations, such as collecting public performance royalties or audio mechanicals.

Pros and Cons of Signing Music Publishing Deals

If you are a fairly new music artist or songwriter, a publishing company showing interest in your work is as close to the Holy Grail as it gets. It would just illustrate that you are earning your place within the highly competitive industry. Most importantly, it will give you the sense of validation that can only come by knowing that someone recognizes your talent.

Validation by people you consider experts in the industry is good for the soul. However, it is best not to enter a pact based purely on excitement. You must understand what you stand to gain and what you’ll be giving up. Here are the pros and cons of signing music publishing deals.

Pros

  • A publishing deal can give you much-needed financial relief, especially if you are just getting started in your craft. The advance and monthly draws can see you through the most challenging phase of your career. Essentially, they will allow you to have enough money to make songwriting a full-time job.
  • Publishing companies have a vested interest in seeing their clients grow, make great music, and turn into international sensations. As such, financing from a publishing company would come in handy if you have the talent but lack the resources to produce high-quality recordings of your work.
  • Once you have signed a music publishing deal, you will have the chance to work with publishing company song pluggers. These are experts tasked with finding opportunities for your work. They will use their existing relationships with the best artists, record labels, and producers to ensure your music goes as far as it can.
  • By signing up with an established publisher, you will essentially open the door to a whole world of connections and networking. Think of it this way; when you stand as “Jonny from the hood,” you are nobody. On the other hand, you earn instant credibility once you adopt “Jonny from XYZ music publishers.” It can open up industry-wide opportunities to take your craft to the next level.

Cons

  • Even though signing up for a publishing deal will give you access to cash advance and demo budgets, these are loans. Your publisher will still reclaim the money as soon as income from your songs starts flowing.
  • Publishing companies deal with tons of songwriters each year. While the idea of having a song plugger is comforting, your publisher is likely to have more artists than song pluggers. Hence, your music may not always be the top priority.

Parting Words

Music artists gather their income from numerous sources. Through music publishing deals, they can allow their work to be exploited commercially for increased revenue. Even though artists or songwriters can personally take charge of administering music copyrights, this work is better off handled by a producer or administrator. If you’re not business-savvy, it may be challenging to find a balance between the financial and timeline aspects of a deal.

The bottom line is that publishing deals are an integral part of ensuring you milk your music for all its worth. They enable the shifting of copyrights, allowing publishing companies to distribute, reproduce, sync, display, sample, or perform your music publicly. To make the best out of each deal, ensure that you do your homework and due diligence before signing the dotted line.

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