Should You Sign a Music Publishing Deal?

If you write your own songs, at some point in your career you will want to consider whether signing with a music publishing company makes sense.

Music publishers are sort of like record labels, but for your compositions rather than your master recordings which embody your compositions.

The right music publisher can take your career (and your earnings) to the next level. The wrong publisher can do the opposite. As with choosing a record label, choosing a music publisher is one of the most important decisions of your career, and should be treated as such.

Here are some things to consider when looking at signing with a music publishing company:

Is it the Right Fit?

In essence, all music publishing companies do the same thing: they license your songs and collect your music publishing revenue. However, every music publishing company does this differently. Some publishers work very closely with their writers, arranging co-writes, providing feedback on compositions, and generally guiding the direction and growth of their writers’ careers. This sort of “proactive” publisher often has a creative team that works directly with the writer, and actively pitches their songs to music supervisors, corporate clients, and labels.

On the other end of the music publishing spectrum are more “reactive” companies, that focus more exclusively on administration. These publishers are happy to approve a placement that lands on their desk, but won’t actively pursue it. This music publishing entity is essentially an accounting firm that assesses the value of a potential client’s catalog and earning potential, and buys a piece of it for a price. This “price” is known as a publishing advance, and can be quite sizeable. Seven figure music publishing advances still exist in 2017. Indeed, music publishing is one area of the music industry that continues to have serious value, despite the downturn in music sales.

When is the Right Time?

For most songwriters, signing a music publishing deal is a question of “when” rather than “if”. So: when is the right time? The answer is different for every songwriter, but something I have learned over my years as an entertainment lawyer is this: you will know when the time is right.

Sometimes a deal comes in the first year, sometimes it takes a few decades and a thousand songs. Last year I negotiated a million-dollar music publishing deal for a client who at the time had only written and released seven songs. The hype and excitement around this particular writer was exceptional and of course atypical, but it was quite clear based on the offers being tabled that the time was right to strike a deal.

Most of us aren’t so fortunate, so it’s really a matter of doing your thing until the right offer is presented. It might take one year; it might take twenty.

Do You Want a Major or an Indie?

Many of the largest publishing companies are directly tied to major record labels. Warner Chappell and Warner Music; Universal and Universal Music Group; eOne Publishing and eOne Recording; Nettwerk Music Group and Nettwerk Publishing.

Many indie companies contract a major to administer their catalog. Then there are the “fully indie” companies that do it all themselves.

As with the record label discussion, it’s really up to you to determine what size of publisher is best for you.

While the smaller publishers might be more personalized and focused on you as an artist, they might lack the connections of the big time players.

And while the majors have the connections and the resources to take you to the top, you might get lost in the shuffle of the other clients on their roster, when your songs are competing against those by Beyoncé, Coldplay, Adele, etc.

Why Do They Want You?

As mentioned earlier, all music publishing companies essentially do the same thing. One question I always pose to my clients: why does this particular publisher want to sign you? You’re giving up 25% to 50% of all your publishing revenue streams, so they better be worth it. Why are they excited about your songs? What do they plan to do with them? What placements or endorsement deals do they think fit your brand and artistic vision?

Before you sign away a significant chunk of your music publishing revenues, make sure someone at the publishing company is excited about your music and has a plan for it going forward. You also want to make sure that this person will be available and responsive to your questions and concerns after the deal is signed.

Do You Need a Publisher at All?

Many songwriters self-publish, and avoid signing with a third party publisher at all. Songwriters who retain their publishing rights and earn 100% of the publishing income generated by their songs. In addition to earning twice the revenue, self-publishing ensures that you control all creative and business decisions regarding your songs.

The major drawback to self-publishing is similar to that of self-releasing your music: you miss out on the benefit of the connections and clout brought by a publisher (or record label).

In other words, as a self-published artist, you will have to secure placements and generate income yourself, while handling the accounting and administration. Some artists are good at it; many are not. Ask yourself whether you have the knowledge and time to be an effective publisher, and what sort of demand your catalog is generating.

Signing with a music publisher can take your career to the next level, but be sure you do your research, pick the right one, and know what to expect going forward. As always, send me questions along the way.

Music Industry Collectives – Why Are They So Important?

Music Industry Collectives

Most musicians I talk to are slightly confused by all the music industry collectives out there and how they can collect money from them. This is understandable: there is a lot to digest. Let’s look at the main music industry collectives and how you can get paid from them.

1) Performing Rights Collectives (PROs)

Every time a recorded song is played or ‘performed’ on television, on radio, in a restaurant/elevator/nightclub/elevator/airline, played live by a band, or otherwise performed in public in any form, that performance generates revenue for the copyright owners. No one may perform, reproduce, sell or otherwise use a copyrighted work without permission from the creator and/or legal owner.

This performing right is a major source of income for music creators. It would be impossible for every individual composer or lyricist to keep track of the millions of music users and public performances of their works around the world.

Similarly, it would be impossible and extremely costly for music users to obtain the permission of each of the hundreds of thousands of copyright owners each time they wished to perform or authorize the performance of music.

For this reason, performing rights collectives act as clearing houses that license the use of music and ensures that the creators of the music are compensated fairly.

In Canada, SOCAN is the sole performing rights organization. In the USA, ASCAP and BMI offer the same service.

These music industry collectives keep track of who is performing songs, charge users a licensing fee and then pay the owner their share of performance royalties.

These three music industry collectives alone administer performing rights in millions of musical works created by their North American members and the members of foreign affiliated PROs through its affiliation with over 40 foreign societies representing the music of over 100 countries. They issue blanket licenses for the performance of the musical works that are within its repertoire.

music industry collectives

2) Mechanical Rights Collectives

Once a recording has been made available for sale, the songs contained on that recording can be recorded by other musicians, so long as they obtain a mechanical license from the appropriate music publisher(s). This mechanical license grants permission to reproduce the copyrighted music on record/tape/CD/digitally, or for use in a film/TV/commercial or other program. Mechanical royalties due from the use of music on records, tapes and CDs are one of the key sources of revenue for songwriters and music publishers.

The Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) and the Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada (SODRAC) are the entities that grant reproduction licenses in Canada. The Harry Fox Agency offers similar services in the USA.

These music industry collectives represent their members for the purpose of granting mechanical licenses. In return for this permission, music users agree to pay mechanical royalties. Rates for mechanical licenses are set by negotiation between the record industry and the music publishers and a single, standard rate applies to most reproductions. Currently, the mechanical rate in Canada is $ .083 per song per copy sold or otherwise distributed, where the playing time is five minutes or less with each additional minute (or part thereof) earning another $ .0154 cents to the rate. In the US, the rate is prescribed by the U.S. Congress, and is currently $.08.

For example, if a new Canadian band wanted to record a 10-song album of Neil Young covers, they (or their record label) would pay $0.83 per album sold or otherwise distributed in Canada.

music industry collectives

Reproduction licenses must be applied for and agreed upon prior to the manufacture of a sound recording or the synchronization of the music to the other media. Locating the owner of a copyrighted work would be incredibly difficult without centralized organizations like CMRRA and Harry Fox, as there are hundreds of thousands of titles controlled by multi-national publishers or by thousands of individual songwriters with small catalogues.

3) Retransmission Collectives

These music industry collectives came into being from a statutory enactment allowing copyright owners to receive royalties from cable television systems for retransmission signals. Retransmission tariffs are regulated by the Copyright Board through powers granted via the Copyright Act. Currently there are eight retransmission collecting bodies representing various copyright owners including SOCAN. For the purposes of collecting retransmission royalties, SOCAN collects and distributes royalties to copyright owners of music that is integrated in the programming carried in retransmitted radio and television signals.

4) CONNECT Music Licensing

This music industry collective administers licences in Canada for the reproduction of sound recordings, and the reproduction and broadcast of music videos on behalf of the copyright owners (usually record companies).  A licence from CONNECT music licensing ensures that owners receive compensation for the use of their sound recordings and/or music videos.

CONNECT is the licensing agent of all the major record companies in Canada and many independent labels, artists and producers. CONNECT’s members own or control the copyright of over 95% of all musical audio recordings and music videos produced and/or distributed in Canada.

music industry collectives

5) Streaming Royalties

This is one of the most important music industry collectives of the modern age. Digital royalties are generated when music is streamed through services such as Pandora and SiriusXM, and collected by an agency called SoundExchange. SoundExchange has paid out billions in royalties since their first distribution, and their website has a search function to see if you or your band are owed money.

6) RE:Sound (Formerly the Neighbouring Rights Collective of Canada)

This music industry collective collects money and compensates the performers on a recording rather than the songwriters (session players, singers, performers and record companies). Radio or TV broadcasters pay a tariff to collection agencies in order to compensate the performers and the labels that own the sound recordings. Note: neighbouring rights do not exist in the USA, but exist in many other countries such as Canada and most of Europe. In Canada, register with ACTRA to start receiving these royalties.

7) The Canadian Private Copying Collective

This music industry collective is an umbrella organization whose member collectives represent songwriters, recording artists, music publishers and record companies.  The CPCC is the non-profit organization responsible for collecting and distributing private copying levies on behalf of its member collectives.

As always, email me with questions!