The phrase “music publishing” gets thrown around a lot in the music industry, but publishing also seems to be the least understood branch amongst artists trying to figure out the business of their craft. So, what does music publishing encompass and what does a music publisher do? Finding the right fit is key, and it depends on the publisher and what you’re looking for.
A publisher can be deeply involved in your career or act as more of an administrator or business manager. You can even be your own publisher, though this isn’t always the best option for some artists. At its core, music publishers deal with the administering of rights on behalf of a songwriter or composer. They issue licenses, register your copyright, collect money, take care of the accounting, and help artists get paid for their work. They can help you register your works and collect domestic and international revenues, which can get tricky when you start dealing with foreign performing rights societies (PROs). On the creative side, many publishers will also act as song pitchers; negotiating, and handling paperwork on sync licenses.
We picked the brains of a music publisher to get the expert tips on finding the right fit and striking a publishing deal.
Often times music supervisors will narrow their work flow down to the handful of publishing companies, agents, and labels that they know and trust to get deals done fast & efficiently.
Maybe you feel like you’re already well connected and getting in the room to pitch your songs. Or you’re an accounting wiz who loves a good spreadsheet. Well then, you might not need a publisher! In some cases, it is totally possible to manage your own publishing (or hire someone to work for you to do this), but there are a lot of things a publisher can do for an artist that may not be possible for them to do themselves.
A good publisher, who’s not just well connected but also a creative thinker with a keen musical sense, can make sure you’re writing and working with the kind of people who won’t just pay you, but will amplify your career. They can work to get you in the room with the future Chance The Rapper, the next Father John Misty or the current Glitch Mob.
Outside of that, they are experts in their field and can provide collated royalty statements, key statistics, and other useful data that you can then take and apply to strategically figure out your next moves on what to make and places to go. Depending on your deal, they can also provide you with advance money to get your next album going (or pay your bills).
A lot of artists believe they can manage their own publishing. And technically that is possible, but how much time do you want to spend on spreadsheets and registrations versus making new music?
Much like the label landscape has been re-invented in the last decade, the publishing landscape also has multiple variations of deals to fit most people’s comfort level. So with all that in mind, here are four things to consider when figuring out what to do with your publishing and who to put your trust in.
– 4 THINGS TO CONSIDER –
1. Figure out where you are.
Ask yourself if you’re at the place where you need a publisher right now. If you’re making highly sync-able music, have decent streaming and sales revenue and are actively touring, finding a good publisher should be high on your to-do list. Even if you don’t tick all those boxes though, if you’re active and writing and see big potential growth for your music, find a great publisher can be the next piece in the puzzle that moves your career ahead.
2. Find the right publisher for you and your music.
Not all publishers are made for all artists and there are a range of different kinds of publishers that fill different musical niches. Asking the right questions of a potential publisher and knowing what to look for is key in finding the one that will help you the most. The publisher we spoke with advises to look for someone who already handles artists you like and respect. People who deal in the kind of music you make will usually understand the music you make and affiliating yourself with their roster allows you potential access to those artists via your publisher.
What music supervisors they like dealing with (not just the ones they have to deal with)? Figure out where their good relationships are and what doors could be opened.Where is their funding is coming from and who’s keeping the lights on?
Are they an established indie publisher with a vast back catalog of highly sync-able hits or are they an old school major who’s too big to fail?
Are they a small operation looking to be sold down the road or a hedge-fund backed operation run by a crazy rich guy who just really likes music?
No matter the situation, you want to know if they’re going to be financially stable enough to pay you your royalties when it comes time for checks to be cut.
Get your music discovered before sealing the deal. Check the guide on the best & worst practices for artists to win a music supervisor’s ear.
3. Figure out what kind of deal you want.
Just like a record label, different publishers offer different kind of deals with different splits, different coverage of territories, and all kinds of advances. Advances, to be clear, are basically loans (this is also true of record label advances). Whatever money they’re giving you will eventually have to be recouped and that money comes out of your future earnings.
A big advance can show a strong commitment from your publisher, but it also lends itself to less negotiating power when it comes to splits and terms. So, while it can be good to have some money on hand up front, it’s always worth weighing that against the other terms in your deal.
Check out the publisher’s international presence as well. What territories do they have a presence in? You may need to source multiple deals around the world if your publisher can’t cover all the territories you want (or find a publisher that has a stronger international presence).
4. Read the fine print.
There is no such thing as a “standard agreement.” No two agreements or contracts are the same, so it’s important to carefully read through everything before signing away your publishing. We talked about advances and splits, but how does that all fit in with the bigger picture of your deal structure. Well a big advance can be exciting and helpful, especially for a struggling up and comer, but keep in mind that all of that money will eventually need to be recouped by your publisher. If you don’t end up being a high earner, it has the potential to lock you into a deal that you may not want down the road for longer than you wish.
Check the splits, the length of the term and the delivery requirements. And finally, if you can, ask to see an example of accounting and/or online accounting access to see if the information they’re giving their clients is useful and transparent. It’s worth your time and money to sit down with a lawyer or someone you trust who has a decent understanding of contract law to make sure everything in your agreement lines up.