Are you a songwriter making money from your tunes and keen to enlist some help to get them further into the limelight? Or perhaps you’re just starting out and want to release your new music in the public domain for cash.
Music publishers can help you earn money from your songs in a number of ways and will actively look for ways to use your music on your behalf. But can you be your own music publisher or do you need a publisher? This will depend on where you are in your career.
In this article, we’ll help you to understand whether you’re ready to take this step and whether any of the big companies are likely to take you on. Or if your best option is to go it alone for the time being.
Can I be my own music publisher?
Music publishing companies are extremely valuable to the future of recording artists and groups within the music industry. A lot of artists will focus on securing their first major recording deal with a top label. They can often fail to see the importance of working with a publishing company.
There are many record labels that have expanded their services to cover publishing. Nonetheless, publishing companies and record labels fulfil different tasks for the artist.
Music publishers advertise their artists’ songs to record labels, movie and television producers, and any others who may be in the market for a certain sound.
If you do your publishing independently you can often:
- Collect more royalties
- Have more control
- Keep your options open
However, there are plenty of benefits that come with working with a big company. Publishers know how to publish very well. They know how to protect your rights from the start based on their industry knowledge.
Who is the publisher of a song?
The publisher only deals with the publishing right, which is the songwriting side and includes the music and lyrics. Traditionally, a record label will own the master right, which is basically the right to use a particular recording of that song, but if you’re a self-releasing artist or producer then you will most likely own this right yourself.
Through an agreement called a ‘publishing contract’, an artist or composer assigns the copyright of their recordings to the publisher for which they will take a cut of what they collect in royalties when the composition is used commercially.
How to do your own music publishing
You can definitely learn the ropes yourself, but it can take a very long time to completely understand publishing. You’ll have to learn the complexities of publishing your own music including:
- License compositions
- Monitor when and where a composition is used
- Collect any royalties ( Always remember that the publisher signs rights to the song to collect royalties, not you as an artist. So in some cases, the contract may allow offering the song to a different artist, so make sure you check what you are signing.)
- Promote commissions for your compositions to be used in films, television, advertisements, and by other recording artists (a common way that a publisher will use your music on your behalf is by licensing your tracks out to be used in the media, including TV, films, and adverts. This is called synchronisation or ‘sync’).
- Take action on anyone using the music without the necessary license. Of course, if another artist does have success with your song this can open doors for you, as an artist yourself and certainly as a songwriter. But they must pay for the privilege.
There are several publishing licenses that can be obtained, including:
Reproduction (Mechanical) licenses – for music distributed or recorded in physical and/or digital form by another artist.
Public Performance licenses – for music broadcast on radio, live venues and/or other public places.
Synchronisation licenses – for music used in film, television, commercials, etc.
Folio licenses – for music published in written form as lyrics or sheet music.
Do I need a publisher yet?
If you’re a new musician who’s just starting out, it’s unlikely your music publisher will focus all of their attention on you. From a business perspective, they are going to focus on the musicians who are gaining the most attention for their music. So a big deal might not be right for you. Many deals with music publishers can last years, meaning that you could be stuck with nothing happening with your music for years. Being unable to do anything about this is problematic, especially if you have given them the mechanical rights to your tracks. Many musicians add stipulations to the contract saying that they can leave if and when they want to. This often prevents them from getting stuck with a publisher that puts no effort in.
But if you’re going places – namely making decent money – from your records, it is something to consider. Publishing companies will help you get paid – Royalties can often go unpaid to artists. One way to collect monies due is to conduct audits of license holders, such as record label audits. This may sound straightforward enough, but audits are expensive. Some audits can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Publishing companies pay for these audits, meaning you get more of your money without collection expenses.
Do I need a publisher for my music?
Copyrights to compositions are one of the most important forms of intellectual property in the music business. The publishing company’s role is to manage this asset, so you will only need a music publisher when you start copyrighting your own songs.
So, essentially you only need a music publisher when you have written your own songs, you have got them copyrighted and are distributing them out to be used commercially. If you are still in the early stages in your music career a music publisher may not be necessary.
Although a songwriter can certainly handle their own publishing, a good publishing company can help them take their career to the next level. The good thing is that publishers only get paid on what money (royalties) they collect.
Music publishing companies
Searching publishers may not be as easy as you would originally think. A wise thing to do is to search published artists of the same genre as you and find out who they’re published by. We’ve also compiled a list to shortcut the process for you.
The three major publishing companies are in association with the three major record labels, these are:
- Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG)
- Sony/ATV Music Publishing
With these big three, you’ll be a small fish in a big, commercial pool.
If that’s not going to work for you or you’re not getting noticed, here are some of the smaller, independent music publishing companies. These might be a better option if you’re climbing in your career, but not quite at the big time yet.
- Kobalt Music
- Spirit Music Group
- Sea Gayle Music
- Primary Wave Entertainment:
- Wixen Music Publishing
- Reservoir Media Management
- The Administration MP, Inc
- Big Yellow Dog Music
These companies often help your creative process. Although some music publishers do the administrative work associated with the songs they’re working with, they don’t get involved in the creative process or the songwriting. Other music publishers take a completely different approach. They might have entire departments devoted to helping their songwriters develop creatively. You can ask their policy before signing up.
They may offer feedback on compositions, suggest new directions, and pair up their songwriters with other writers for collaborative partnerships. This type of guidance and support is great to allow a developing songwriter to maximise their potential.
Self -publishing music in the UK
It’s important to join PRS for music as a songwriter. They will assist with collecting royalties and protecting your copyright. If you’re not ready for a publisher, you can do it yourself or find other platforms to help you. A great platform is Music Gateway – it allows you to store music and files, find people to collaborate with through projects and also find sync deals. You can also get your music onto Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp and YouTube, among other sites.
Distributors are also really useful and sometimes remove the need for a publisher. CB Baby, Tunecore and DistroKid are all well worth checking out. It may also be a good idea to get your tracks onto a music library. Examples of these are:
Where to publish music
Once you’ve found a group of publishers you’re interested in, it’s best to contact them to find out what format they want your demo to be in and who to send it to. Like artist management, signing to a publisher is a two-way process, you may want to work with them but they might not necessarily want to work with you.
For a publisher to want to work with you they are most likely going to want to see income streams already coming in or a strong indication that they are likely to. So either they will want to see music sales so they can collect money straight away or see the potential in your music, without this they are unlikely to sign you.
Never go straight in and ask for a deal there and then, treat them like a human being. Always remember, you need to bring value to them in some way before they will even take any notice of you. Instead, network! Get to know people in the music industry. Go to events where there might be publishers and introduce yourself. And get your music on YouTube, as well as streaming platforms, so they can find it easily.
If you don’t know how to use music publishing to your advantage, you’re going to struggle to succeed in the music industry. An established publishing company has the means and connections required to get your music into the hands of top performers or record labels looking for new musical talent. But you can do some of the work yourself and DIY is always the best bet for musicians without a budget. It’s far better than doing nothing. You’ll be surprised how far you can get on your own.
- What is an example of music copyright?
Copyright is split into two main sections: copyright of the song (publishing rights) and copyright in the sound recording (master rights). Your publisher will also be responsible for issuing licenses and making sure you get a good deal.
- How do music publishers make money?
Most charge on a commission basis, which usually works in your favour, as they’ll only receive income if you do. This gives them an incentive. The percentage that they take depends on your contract with them and you should always seek legal advice when negotiating an agreement.
- What royalties do publishers get paid?
The publishing company will collect royalties when the composition is used commercially. They may pay the artist an advance upfront if they can see there are royalties to collect and then take a percentage of the royalties, sometimes as much as up to 50%, but it’s usually around 20%.
Have you landed a music publishing deal, or do manage your music publishing yourself? How do you find it? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.