Music Publishing 101:

Music publishers are essentially songwriter promoters. They work to pair talented songwriters with artists which results in exposure to the public and income for the songwriter. Music publishers “pitch” songs to record labels, movie and television producers and others who use music, then license the right to use the song and collect fees for the usage. Those fees are then split with the songwriter.


Types of Licenses Issued by Music Publishers

  • Reproduction (Mechanical) Licenses: Music distributed in physical and digital form. The royalties are generally collected and paid by the Harry Fox Agency.
  • Public Performance Licenses: Music broadcast on radio (terrestrial and satellite), in live venues, and other public places. The royalties are collected and paid by public performance societies (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). Each broadcaster receives a blanket license from each performing rights society, in exchange for a royalty fee.
  • Synchronization Licenses: Music used in film, television, commercials, music videos, etc. Publishers enter into direct licenses with users.
  • Folio Licenses: Music published in written form as lyrics and music notation either as bound music folios or online lyric and tablature websites. Publishers enter into direct licenses with users.

…Music Publishing Broken Down… 

As a songwriter, you’re owed money whenever the music you’ve written is purchased, streamed, covered, played on the radio, performed in public, heard on YouTube, sampled, sold as sheet music, or used as the soundtrack to a film, TV show, commercial, video game, or presentation Today, songwriters have more opportunities than ever to make significant income from their songs. Music publishing plays a large role in that equation, but it’s also one of the least understood aspects of the music industry.

What is music publishing? “Music publishing is the owning and exploiting of songs in the form of musical copyrights.” – Randall Wixen

The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing In most aspects of life, “exploitation” is a bad thing, but in the music industry, exploiting musical copyright is very, very good! It means that the owner of a particular composition (the music and the lyrics) is putting that song to use in a way that generates money in the form of:

• mechanical royalties

• performance royalties

• licenses for synchronization

• licenses for sampling

• and print rights for sheet music

So what is a musical copyright anyway? Copyright is a designation of intellectual property similar to a patent or trademark. Once an original composition has been fixed in a medium from which it can be reproduced (having either been recorded or written down in some fashion), the composer is granted exclusive rights to that piece of music, including:

• the right to reproduce the song

• the right to distribute the song

• the right to perform the song

• The right to create derivative works

One of the keys to music publishing is the fact that every recorded piece of music has two separate copyrights (which are not always owned or exploited by the same persons or parties). These two separate copyrights are:

1. The composition itself — a song’s music and lyrics, apart from any particular recording of that composition. This copyright is owned by the songwriter and/or publisher.

2. The sound recording — a particular recorded version of a musical composition.

This copyright is owned by the recording artist and/or label. Music publishing involves the exploitation of the first of those forms of copyright. Who owns your publishing rights and how does the money get split? If you’re a songwriter, and you’ve not signed a deal with a music publishing company — you do! You are considered both the songwriter AND the publisher. You are owed both shares (50% for the songwriter, and 50% for the publisher) of any mechanical royalties, performance royalties, or licenses that your songs generate. However, it’s up to you to exploit the copyright to your compositions, and it’s up to you to collect the royalty payments. The second part of that equation is decidedly easier than the first, so it is often beneficial to work with an established music publisher who can (either for a fixed period of time or in perpetuity) help you find opportunities to earn money from your songs. What does the publisher get out of the bargain? As mentioned above, a typical royalty split between the songwriter and the publisher is 50/50 — but 50% is a small price to pay if they’re using their publishing expertise to generate big income from the exploitation of your copyright. Where does the money come from in music publishing? Ever wonder why the main songwriter in one of those megastar bands from the 70’s could afford three mansions when the other guys in band could only buy one house? Well, music publishing has the potential to generate big money for songwriters.

Here’s how:

Mechanical royalties — As a songwriter/ publisher, you are owed a royalty every time your composition is reproduced (on vinyl, tape, CD, MP3, etc). The mechanical royalty is generally equal to 9.1 cents per reproduced copy (regardless of whether those albums or singles are sold). This is true whether another artist is covering your song or if you’re recording them yourself. (Though if you’re acting as your own label, you’ll basically be paying that royalty to yourself).

Performance royalties — As a songwriter/ publisher, you are owed a royalty whenever your compositions are performed “in public.” This includes: • plays on terrestrial and satellite radio (Sirius, KEXP, etc.) • usage on network and cable TV • plays on internet radio • online music streaming (Spotify, Pandora, etc.) • performance in live venues

Licenses for synchronization — When a recording is used as the soundtrack for a TV show, film, commercial, video game, presentation, or YouTube video, a fee is owed to the songwriter, the publisher, AND the copyrighter owner of the master recording. In industry-speak we say that a recording is “synced” with a moving image, thus the term sync licensing!

Licenses for sampling — Both copyright holders (the owner of the master recording and the owner of the composition) are owed money when another artist uses a sample from a one of your recorded songs.

Print rights for sheet music — As the songwriter/publisher, you are paid whenever your composition is duplicated in print form, including sheet music, lead sheets, fake books, etc. What is a Performing Rights Organization? Performance royalties are paid by radio stations, venues, and TV networks to Performing Rights

Organizations (PROs) such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or SOCAN, who then distribute the money to their affiliated songwriters and publishers. Many songwriters affiliate themselves with PROs like ASCAP or BMI, but fail to register as a publisher as well. If you’re only registered as a songwriter, you can collect the 50% songwriter share of publishing royalties. But you’d be leaving the publisher’s share on the table. To collect ALL the money that’s owed to youand we’ll collect the publisher’s share of your publishing royalties for you!

Want help collecting the publishing money you are owed? As you can see, there’s a lot to understand about music publishing. This guide merely skims the surface, but one thing should be clear: There’s serious money to be earned from your songs, and we can get it for you!