What is a Music Publishing Agreement?  

It’s a complicated and confusing aspect of the music industry, however is an important one. Understanding how music publishing agreements work will go a long way to helping you to succeed as an artist and is one of the most important steps that you will take.

Music publishing agreements enable you to benefit from royalties that you earn each time your song is played. Make sure you pick the right one for you and ensure you negotiate so you leave the table with a good deal. 

The first thing you need to know is that there are many different types of music publishing agreements, which is why it’s important that you have an understanding of what they are. So, what are the three main types of publishing agreements that you need to be aware of? 

Publishing administration agreement

Music Publishing Administrator

Within every song, the ownership is divided between the publisher and the writer. Your share as a writer belongs to you and it can never be sold. If you were to never sign a music publishing agreement, you would retain 100% of the music publishing revenue and ownership of your songs. 

Sometimes artists want to retain the ownership of their songs, but require help from an outside source to place their music in the public domain through forms of media such as advertisements or film or television placements. 

Music Publishing Administrator

The role of a Music Publishing Administrator is to ensure that you are getting a fair cut of the music publishing revenue from your music being played around the world. Lots of firms will fail to pay the owners of the music and the Music Publishing Administrator is responsible for chasing up on those people and ensuring that payment is made. 

If you were to sign a deal like this, the administrator doesn’t require ownership in the copyright of your songs but simply administers them for a fee, often of around 10-15%. It means you give up a small portion of your revenue to pay for the administrator to do their job.

However, that only applies to the publishing share of the song and not the writing share, which is why it only takes up a small percentage of the overall profit.

Co-Publishing agreement

The Co-Pub deal is the most common agreement in the music industry today. It means that the music publisher and the writer co-own the rights in the musical works and it means that the publisher then administers the copyright in the works.  

This is a different type of deal than the Music Publishing Administrator because it is a much higher level of commitment. It often means that it is equal to the life of the copyright which can be the life of the author plus another 50 years. It usually means that half of the publishing share goes to the publisher meaning that the artist will still get a 75/25 overall split. 

music publishing deal advances

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Buy-out agreement or full publishing agreement? 

This occurs when a significant advance is offered for the artist’s catalogue of music. It means that the publisher owns 100% of the copyright in the music work and has sole administration rights, leaving a 50/50 split of the overall revenue between the publisher and the writer. However, a deal like this is less common today. 

What is the role of a music publisher? 

Buy-out agreement or full publishing agreement? 

Essentially, the role of a music publisher is to help you to promote your music to the wider world. They will also administer, exploit and protect your songs. It’s all related to the royalties that you receive as an artist. 

There are different sorts of royalties depending on the individual’s involvement in the song. Royalties are paid to the writers and publishers of the song.These royalties are paid by the record company direct to the publisher who then pays the writer a share of the royalty.  

There are two main royalties that you need to be aware of: Mechanical royalties – these are what makes up the mechanics of the song. So that means the production of the song. Performance royalties – these are for royalties earned for the public performance of the songs. 

Music royalties are being collected any time a song is played on a public domain such as on the radio, at a football match, in a supermarket. It all means that music publishing revenue is being collected by a music publisher on behalf of the artist. 

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How to negotiate a music publishing contract 

There’s a lot you need to know, so make sure you do your homework. Signing a music publishing contract certainly has its benefits and if you are making your mark in the music industry then it’s probably something you will want to think about at some point. 

However, there are a lot of important aspects of it that can be negotiated and that you will want to think about: 

  • The length of the contract 
  • How long a publisher can hold the copyright to your songs 
  • Royalties and advances 
  • Accounting statements and your right of audit, so that you can accurately check statements 
  • Copyright and your moral rights, which allow you to claim ownership of your work and object to any distortion or modification to it 
  • How damages from copyright infringements are split, and reversion and determination clauses if the music publisher fails to exploit a song or goes bankrupt. 

All of these are important aspects and it’s a good idea to seek advice from a musician’s trade union to ensure that you are getting a good deal and that it is considered to be fair and comprehensive, and that you aren’t getting ripped off.  

What is an Exclusive Song Writer Agreement (ESWA)? 

This contract is often when the songwriter grants the entire publisher’s share of the income to the music publisher. Any songs written within a certain period of time which will be specified in the contract will belong exclusively to the music publisher. 

Often, these deals are only offered to writers with a track record of writing hits as that will make the publisher feel confident that they will see a profit from signing a contract with the songwriter.  

The writer will negotiate a deal with the publisher for an advanced deal which will be based on future royalties for all or some of the writer’s songs. In return, the writer grants exclusive rights to those songs to the publisher. This is when negotiating is key as the songwriter can negotiate the advance amount which will normally be paid on either a weekly or a quarterly basis. 

How do I collect royalties for my songs?

You need to sign up to two organisations: The Performing Rights Society (PRS for music), which collects royalties for songwriters, composers and publishers, and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) which collects royalties for performers and record labels. 

Both of these organisations will dish this money out to you in various instalments. 

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What is sub publishing?

Often, music publishers will hire other publishers in other countries around the world to help them do their job. They will be working to exploit your songs and to collect revenues on your behalf. 

Sub publishing is beneficial because it means there are people in other countries around the world who have the necessary contacts to promote your music and to then collect the royalties, therefore creating greater exposure. 

What is a single song agreement?

The single song agreement is probably the most basic publishing agreement that a songwriter can get into. If you have written a song and you have a publisher that believes it can be put on an artist’s album or used in an advert, film, or television programme, then the two parties can sign a single song agreement. 

In a contract such as this, the songwriter will assign 50% (or sometimes 100%) of the publishing rights of a song for a certain length of time, often somewhere between one and two years. 

If after this period of time the publisher hasn’t placed the song then the agreement will be terminated and all rights will be returned to the songwriter.

It is very common for single song agreements to be signed for songs to be placed within films or television programmes because there is then no commitment to publish any other songs by that artist.  

In this case, it’s possible that the publisher will insist on 100% of the publishing rights of the song because the song might be considered to be unknown or less commercial and could be more difficult to place. If this does happen then the songwriter will still receive the writer’s share of the income. 

Single song agreement

Another example of a single song agreement is when a song has already become a hit or is on a hit album and the writer is awaiting funds. In this case, the writer can sell part or all of the publishing rights for a price which is based on the projected income of the song. 

If publishing companies know that the song is already a hit then they are likely to be fairly happy to purchase a song in this way as they know there will be a guaranteed income at the end of it. 

This is an example of a definite exception to the single song concept. If a publisher loves one song they will to buy the publishing rights to transform the song into a valuable copyright.  

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How do I find a music publisher? 

This is another aspect that will require a bit of research. A good starting point is to send a demo of your music to a variety of publishers. This enables you to get your name out there and more importantly, gets lots of people listening to your music.  

Search google for music publishers for your genre of music. Once you have found them, it’s a good idea to ask them what format they would like your music in to make it easier for them to listen to your music. 

You need to convince the potential publishers that you are worth working with. Although you are keen, they may not want to work with you. For them to want to work with you, they need to see that there are already income streams coming in or something to indicate that they will in the future. 

Ready to sign with a music publisher? 

So that’s either showing that your music already has made money or that you are producing good music that they believe will be hit songs and will see them make a return on their investment. 

Music publishers need to feel that they can bring something to your career but equally that you can make them some money too. Other than making great music, the best way to do this is to create attention online and give yourself a profile so that you are starting to build a fanbase. 

Another important thing to remember once you have signed with a music publisher is not to sign the same song with more than one publisher. They will want to be exclusively representing you and if they aren’t then you could see yourself being blacklisted.  

By now you should have lots of information about how to get into the complex world of music publishing agreements. Have you done this already? Do you have any advice? Leave any tips and suggestions below. 

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