Music Publishing Explained for Singers 

If you are looking to make some extra money from your songs and widen your audience, you’ve come to the right place to find out all you need to know about music publishing.

Music publishing deals with mechanical rights, that is the song lyrics and composition, NOT sound recordings. These are two separate rights and what music publishers do for artists is license and monetize songs through synchronisation and public performance. 

Music publishers help you to earn money from your songs whilst looking for ways to use your music in order to reach a wider audience and get you deals. Read on for a class in music publishing 101 and why you should be seriously thinking about it.

What is music publishing?

How to get a music publisher

Music publishing can be explained by the administration and licensing of the copyright of your song. This is separate from master rights because recordings are the manifestation of a single song. However, one song can have multiple recordings.  

For example, if you write a song and it gets covered and recorded by 10 different recording artists, all of those artists will need to get a mechanical license from you and pay you royalties from any money those recordings make. 

As a musician, your biggest main source of income from in a music publishing deal will be something known as sync fees. This is where your music is synchronized for use in audiovisual work such as a movie, TV show, advert or video game.  

The amount of money obviously varies widely depending on the nature of the project and style of the song. For example, a pop classic in a major movie or TV advert could get over six figures! Obviously, this will depend on how established your career is.  

Another source of publishing income using a music publisher is public performance royalties. If you have written an original song (in the UK), your publisher you will automatically own the copyright, which will entitle you to royalties whenever it is performed in public. These royalties can be collected from radio, TV, the internet, nightclubs and concert halls. 

What do music publishers do?    

It’s important not to confuse the role of music publishers with record labels. They both may have the same goals but publishers deal with mechanical rights to songs and labels deal with master rights to recordings. 

Music publishers are also entirely different to music managers. They work on the business side of earning money from your songs, rather than a manager who will help you manage your time and book gigs etc. 

Music publishers mainly use your music by licensing your songs to be used in TV, films and adverts. These media companies will pay to use your song and you will earn money from it, plus more people will hear your music. 

What does a music publisher do for a singer?  

Another role of a music publisher includes finding other singers and songwriters you can collaborate or co-write with, this helps you to network within the industry and gets people to start talking about you and your music more. They make your songs ‘work harder’ so they can go a lot further than you might be able to do yourself, saving you time and allowing you to focus on creating music more.   

They will also make sure that any royalties that you are owed from uses of your music and various licenses will get to you and on time. Basically, music publishers take care of making sure you aren’t taken advantage of and promote your music as widely as possible!  

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How do music publishers make money?

Music publishers will tend to work on a commission basis. This means that they will only receive income if you do, taking a cut of the earnings. This is great because it means you aren’t paying consistently unless your music publisher is doing a good job of gaining clients that are willing to pay to use your music.   

Again, how much music publishers make really depends on how much work they get using your music. So, it’s in their best interest to do an amazing job of promoting your songs.  

Music publishers completely take care of the business side when it comes to collecting money from clients. They will make sure that you are both paid on time for the licenses to your music and they will also make sure that the amount is correct.  

The percentage of a cut a publisher takes from your earnings solely depends on your contract with them and so it’s worth seeking legal advice before agreeing to any contracts, you want to get the best deal that you deserve!  

List of music publishing companies 

There are an extremely wide variety of music publishers out there and loads of directories to help you find out more. It can be incredibly daunting and knowing where to start can often be the most difficult part!  

Thankfully, we are here to help show you some great music publishers and directories that will help you gain a better understanding of the publishing industry.  

  • Sony/ATV – This is the largest publisher in the world after it took over over almost all of EMI Music Publishing 
  • Universal Music Publishing – Universal’s publishing arm is the second largest in the world and is also the first to be run by a woman, Jody Gerson 
  • Warner/Chappell Music – Although it is smaller than Universal, it has a wider global presence with offices in over 40 countries.  
  • Beggars Music – As one of the worlds biggest independent music groups, Beggars’ publishing division gives its writers access to some of the leading independent labels. 
  • Kobalt Music – Kobalt music publishing is a fantastic place for independent artists to find their first deal. They offer more control over your work so that you still call all of the stops! 

Google is most certainly your friend when on the lookout for music publishers. The Unsigned Guide and CMU are also a fantastic directory resources for music industry contacts. 

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How to get a music publishing deal

Before looking to get a music publishing deal, you need to ask yourself if your music is ready. It’s worth looking for critical feedback to determine your songwriting standard before you start your search 

A great way to do this is to include your songs in a playlist with other popular music from your genre and get others to see if does it stands up to the quality? Does it flow with the Is it as catchy and attention-grabbing as other music? If the answer is yes then you might be able to get radio play through BBC Introducing, which can get the attention of a music publisher!   

It is important to educate yourself before rushing into a deal, make sure you learn the rules of publishing and who different publishers work with so you can find out more about the standard expected.  

Google is your friend, anything you want to know about your publisher, you can simply search for it. However, don’t believe everything you read and always look at the information and its source critically.   

The main thing to keep in mind is that you need to demonstrate your value to this publishing company, what can you offer that will benefit them? Whether it’s a large social following, great online sales or thousands of views on your videos, make sure that you promote sell yourself!  

Above all else, don’t give up! Of course, there are going to be rejections, it’s just part of the business but it will only make you stronger. If you believe in yourself, develop an amazing songwriting catalogue and create music you are passionate about, then publishers won’t be able to resist you! 

How do music publishing deals work? 

So how do these deals actually workYou will give the publisher permission to use your music, handing it off to them. Your music will then be on a large music library where supervisors and editors can search and possibly pay to use your music. 

Your music publisher will also consistently be looking for ways to promote your music and gain interest from media companies. Their main aim will be to get your music in adverts and films etc. which will help shoot your exposure through the roof!  

Music publishers tend to get you to sign exclusive deals so whether you get a deal or work with other songwriters, make sure that everyone comes forward with any contractual obligations before a songwriting session. 

How long does a music publishing contract last? 

Music publishing contracts can work in terms of years, songs or albums. This means that it’s hard to judge exactly how long the average contract will last. Your music publishing contract can last from anything as low as one year all the way up to eight years. Or, it could be a shorter agreement that is just for one song or album.  

It’s important to decide on what works best for you and your publisher in order to get the most out of the relationship. 

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The Pros and Cons of Music Publishing 

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Related questions 

  • Will a music publisher own the copyright to my music? 

Your music publisher will own the publishing mechanical rights, which includes the lyrics and music. If you assign your publisher the publishing copyright, this gives them the ability to use and license your songs, but not your recordings 

  • Can you be your own music publisher? 

If you have the time and resources to start your own music publishing company then, of course, you can! It is a very competitive industry and you will need to gain contacts in radio, film and TV to pitch songs to. A lot of small publishers get set up alongside an indie label. 

  • When should I start looking for a music publishing deal?  

You need to make sure you have a catalogue of great songs, ideally that have been playlisted or gained radio play. Find other artists and songwriters to work with and focus on improving your skills. 

  • Will I still have creative control in a music publishing deal?  

You will certainly still have creative control in a music publishing deal but you are more likely to be writing with other songwriters within the same publisher. Your music publisher may have some suggestions if certain songs are being received better than others, but these suggestions will only help you in the long run! 

Hopefully, that covers everything you need to know about music publishing. Tell us in the comments what you would like to know more about.

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