When do I need a Music Publisher?

Advise on when is best to employ a music publisher.

When do I need a music publisher?  A music publisher (or publishing company) is responsible for ensuring that songwriters and composers receive payment when their compositions are used commercially both in the UK and worldwide.

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.

Warning: 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 to offer the song to a different artist, so make sure you check what you are signing.

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.


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.

The publishing company will also:

  • Licence compositions.
  • Monitor when and where a composition is used.
  • Collect any royalties to give to the artist. The publisher takes a percentage of the amount to cover its services.
  • Promote commissions for the artists’ compositions to be used by: films, television, advertisements and other recording artists. They also seek out newer ventures to promote the music to, such as ringtones for phones.
  • They take action on anyone using the music without the necessary licence.

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.


After agreeing to a publishing contract, the publishing company will collect royalties when the composition is used commercially. They may pay the artist an advance up front 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%.



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