What Do Music Publishers Do and When Do I Need a Music Publisher?
What does a music publisher do? Do I need a publishing company for my music? As an artist, understanding what a music publishing company does and when you might need one is hugely important for you to understand.
Understanding music publishing companies is one of the keys to success in the music industry. Having discovered hundreds of hugely successful artists, such as Birdie and Lucy Spraggan, we know what it takes to succeed.
Music publishing: If you don’t know how to use music publishing to your advantage, you’re going to struggle to succeed in the music industry. Below are some of the best ideas for how you can succeed.
Music publishing 101
In this article we will cover:
- What is music publishing?
- Major music publishing companies
- What is a publishing deal?
- Why is music publishing important?
- What are publishing rights in music?
- Do you need a publisher for music?
- The benefits of a music publishing company
- The drawbacks of a big publishing company
- How can a music publisher help me?
- How do music publishers make money?
- What percentage do music publishers take?
- Self-publishing music
- How do I get a music publishing deal?
- A list of music publishing companies
- Independent music publishing companies
What is music publishing?
Music publishing explained: The notion behind music publishing is all about the development, protection, and value of music.
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.
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’.
Your publisher will also be responsible for issuing licenses and making sure you get a good deal.
Major music publishing companies
The three major publishing companies are in association with the three major record labels, these are:
- Universal Music Publishing Group
- Sony/ATV Music Publishing
- Warner Chappell
What is a music publishing deal?
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:
- License 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 license.
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.
Why is music publishing important?
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.
Different publishing licenses 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.
What are publishing rights in music?
Copyright is split into 2 main sections:
- Copyright of the song (publishing rights)
- Copyright in the sound recording (master rights)
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.
Do you need a publisher for music?
Do I need a publisher for my music? You definitely need to consider how important music publishing is as part of your music career, however, this publisher doesn’t necessarily have to be a big company.
If you do your publishing independently you can often:
- Collect more royalties
- Have more control
- Keep your options open
Do I need a publishing company? Again, no, but there are also plenty of benefits that come with working with a big publishing company.
Benefits of a music publishing company
- It saves you from learning the complexities of publishing your own music – Mechanical royalties, licenses, and accounting are some of the things publishers do to help songwriters navigate the music industry.
You can definitely learn the ropes yourself, but it can take a very long time to completely understand publishing.
Publishers, on the other hand, know how to publish very well. They know how to protect your rights from the start based on their industry knowledge.
- You can focus on your music – Whilst being a songwriter, it’s easy to get side-tracked if you have to manage your songwriting business and take care of the administrative tasks too.
With a publishing deal, you can outsource the work of issuing licenses and collecting royalties, all of which is time-consuming work. It’s cost-effective to get this administrative work done by somebody else.
- They can help you get your foot in the door – For a song to be visible, it needs to find its way to an artist who can perform it in the way it needs to be performed.
Signing with an established publishing company
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.
- They can help your creative process – Some music publishers do the administrative work associated with the songs they’re working with, but 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.
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.
- 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 dollars.
Publishing companies pay for these audits, meaning you get more of your money without collection expenses.
The value of publishing
On top of this, publishing companies understand the value of publishing. They know how to price your work and can demand a price for your music that you may struggle to achieve on your own.
- They can have a higher budget to produce music – It can be a struggle to make high-quality recordings of your music on a low budget and when it’s not your full-time career.
This is where a music publisher comes in. Your music publisher can put money towards producing your music professionally. Remember, it’s in their best interests for you to produce the best music possible.
Every musician knows that it’s important to ensure that your music is high quality and professional, unfortunately, this can be hard without having a lot of money up front.
Drawbacks of a big publishing company
- You may not be their top priority – If you are a small musician who is just starting out, it can be hard for your music publisher to 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. That may be you, but it also may not be.
- 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.
Many musicians add stipulations to the contract saying that they can leave if and when they want to. This often prevents musicians from getting stuck with a publisher that puts no effort in.
How can a music publisher help me?
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 offering 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.
How do music publishers make money?
What royalties do publishers get paid? 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%.
What percentage do music publishers take?
Music publishers generally charge on a commission basis, which usually works in your favour, as they’ll only receive income if you do.
This gives them the incentive to secure you as much income as possible. The percentage that they take depends on your contract with them and you should always seek legal advice when negotiating an agreement.
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.
More on self-publishing music here:
How do I get a music publishing deal?
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.
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.
Publishing deals: 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.
A great strategy: Network! Get to know people in the music industry. Go to events where there might be publishers and introduce yourself.
Never go straight in and ask for a deal there and then, treat them like a human being (because they are). Always remember, you need to bring value to them in some way before they will even take any notice of you.
Loads more specifically on how to get a music publishing deal here:
List of music publishing companies:
The big three’s certifications. Here’s an example of the rough size of each of the major music publishing companies based on how successful their artists’ singles have been. This particular set of data is from April 2018.
Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG): 94 certifications
Sony/ATV Music Publishing: 77 certifications
Warner/Chappell: 76 certifications
N.B: Now, with the advent of streaming, tracks can be certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum through verified play counts on these streaming services.
Independent music publishing companies:
Here are the smaller music publishing companies’ stats for the month of April 2018:
Kobalt Music: 29 certifications
BMG: 23 certifications
Spirit Music Group: 12 certifications
Sea Gayle Music: 10 certifications
Primary Wave Entertainment: 10 certifications
Wixen Music Publishing: 7 certifications
Reservoir Media Management: 5 certifications
The Administration MP, Inc.: 4 certifications
Big Yellow Dog Music: 3 certifications
Have you ever had a music publishing deal, or have you managed your music publishing yourself? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!