The Ultimate Guide to Music Publishing for Musicians

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Tobias Witt
June 10, 2024

The Ultimate Guide to Music Publishing for Musicians

Making money from your music is crucial, and understanding music publishing is a key part of that. However, it can be a bit complex. This guide will help you grasp the essentials of music publishing so you can better monetize your creations. Let's dive in.

What is Music Publishing?

Music publishing involves managing the copyright and royalties related to music compositions. Publishers work with songwriters to ensure their compositions are used, performed, or reproduced legally, ensuring the songwriter gets paid. Examples of well-known music publishing companies include Sony Music Publishing and Kobalt.

Music licensing is the process publishers use to grant and manage permissions to use compositions.

Key Definitions

  • Music Composition: The core elements that define a piece of music — structure, melody, harmonies, rhythm, lyrics, etc. These are credited to and owned by one or more songwriters.
  • Music Master: The original recording of a music composition, credited to and owned by one or more recording artists.

Note: Music publishers focus on composition rights, while master recording rights are handled by labels and distributors.

How Music Publishing Works

Music publishing requires administrative work, professional expertise, and industry connections. Publishers take a commission on the royalties they collect for the songwriter and often partially own the rights to compositions. Depending on your career stage, working with a publisher may or may not be beneficial.

Types of Music Publishing Deals

  1. Co-Publishing Deals:
    • The publisher and songwriter(s) co-own the composition rights.
    • The publisher takes a larger cut of royalties for more extensive services.
    • These deals often include advance payments to songwriters.
  2. Admin Deals:
    • The songwriter retains full ownership of their compositions.
    • The publisher handles copyright management and royalty collection.
    • The publisher takes a smaller cut of royalties.

Do You Need a Music Publishing Deal?

Established artists might benefit from a co-publishing deal. Independent artists, however, can release music on their own, maintain full ownership of compositions and masters, and collect royalties through organizations.

Types of Publishing Royalties

  1. Performance Royalties: Earned from live performances or public playback of music.
  2. Mechanical Royalties: Earned from the production of physical and digital copies of music.
  3. Sync Royalties: Earned from the use of music in audiovisual media, like films, TV, and ads.

Tip: Sync royalties are collected over time as the media content is aired.

Collecting Societies

These organizations register and maintain music composition rights and collect royalties for their members:

  • Performing Rights Organizations (PROs): Manage performance rights and royalties (e.g., ASCAP, BMI).
  • Collective Management Organizations (CROs): Similar to PROs outside the US (e.g., GEMA, SACEM).
  • Mechanical Rights Agencies (MRAs): Manage mechanical rights and royalties (e.g., Harry Fox Agency).

Calculating Publishing Royalties

Calculating royalties can be complex and varies by context. Performance and mechanical royalties are determined by collecting societies using various formulas. Sync royalties are negotiated based on the song's use and its value.

Splitting Publishing Royalties

Publishing royalties are divided 50/50 into the publisher's share and the songwriter's share. Without a publishing deal, songwriters can collect both shares. With a deal, the commission comes from the publisher's share, while the songwriter always receives their full share.

Is a Music Publishing Deal Worth It?

A music publishing deal is worthwhile if your music's popularity necessitates professional royalty collection and copyright management. For emerging artists, focusing on creating quality music, self-releasing it, and building a following may be more beneficial. Registering with a PRO or CRO to collect performance royalties is a good step for beginners.

Exciting News from Octiive

At Octiive, we're excited to announce that we're putting the final steps in place to offer music publishing administration directly via our platform. This means our artists will soon be able to manage their publishing rights and royalties more easily and effectively. Stay tuned for more details!

Understanding music publishing is vital for musicians looking to monetize their work. Whether or not you opt for a publishing deal depends on your career stage and needs. For new artists, it's often best to concentrate on producing great music, releasing it independently, and promoting it consistently. And with Octiive's upcoming publishing admin services, managing your music career will soon be even more streamlined.