Your music is your product and you have the right to sell your product, well, sometimes. This concept used to be easier to grasp before streaming, jacked beats, 360 deals and all of the other "grey areas" in today's music industry. This article will give you a general idea of how music publishing works although there is a lot more to it than this. Lots of great entertainment lawyers out there will no doubt be happy to give you the fine print.
As a songwriter, you should have a payday whenever the music you've written is purchased, streamed, covered, performed in public, payed on the radio, heard on YouTube and especially if used as a soundtrack for film, TV shows, commercials or video games. Songwriters can make anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands if their song is chosen for a project.
What is music publishing?
Music publishing is owning and utilizing songs in the form of musical copyrights. Technically, it is the contractual relationship between the songwriter or music composer and the music publisher where the writer assigns part or all of his or her music copyrights to the publisher in exchange for the publishers commercial exploitation of the music. In this relationship, both parties share in the income that is generated from the songs.
You can make money in several ways through publishing:
- mechanical royalties
- performance royalties
- licenses for synchronization
- licenses for sampling
- print rights for sheet music
Music publishing is governed by U.S. Copyright law, but most of the ins and outs of the contracts are negotiated through private agreements between the artist (or owner of the music) and the publisher.
A copyright is the designation of intellectual property like a patent or trademark. Once the composition is put into a physical form which can be reproduced (recorded, written down, etc.), the composer is granted exclusive rights to that piece of music which includes:
- the right to reproduce it
- the right to distribute it
- the right to perform it
- the right to create derivative works
The important thing to understand here is that you don't have to get a lawyer, file paperwork or send anything to yourself to own the copyright. Once you record it or write it down, you own the copyright. Having a lawyer help you with the copyright can, however, help with other things. We will get to that later.
Every piece of music has two seperate copyrights. This is important!
1. The sound recording - this is the recorded version of the song. The artist or record label owns this copyright.
2. The composition itself- this is the amazing lyrics you wrote and the music you put it to. Not the recorded version-just what you wrote. This copyright is owned by the songwriter and/or the publisher (depending on what you've negotiated and contracted).
Music publishing involves just the composition, #2 above.
Who owns your publishing rights and how does the money play out?
If you wrote the song and have not signed a deal with a publisher, you own the rights. For now, you are considered both the songwriter and the publisher. Therefore, you are entitled to both shares (50% for the songwriter, 50% for the publisher) of any mechanical royalties, performance royalties or licenses that your song earns. If you don't go with a publisher, it's up to you to collect royalty payments and find opportunities for your song. Good luck with that one.
Publishing companies can help you make more money off of your song, but of course, there is a price to pay. 50% to be exact. A typical royalty split between songwriter and publisher is 50/50.
Let's talk about all these royalties so you can learn where the money comes from.
As the songwriter, you are entitled to a royalty every time your composition is reproduced. The mechanical royalty if general equal to 9.1 cents per copy. This is true whether or not the song is sold.
This is also true whether it's you or someone covering your song.
As a songwriter/publisher, you earn a royalty when your compositions are performed in public. This can be in the form on satellite radio, usage on television, internet radio, streaming, live venues, etc.
When a recording is used for television, film, commercials, video games, etc., a royalty is owed to the songwriter and publisher AND the copyright owner of the master recording. Think of it this way...when a recording is "synced" with a moving image, we call it sync licensing.
Both copyright holders (see above) earn money when another artist uses a sample from a recorded song. Another words, if you take a piece from an existing song and use it in your song, you need to get permission and it will cost you.
PRO's (Performing Rights Organizations)
In the United States, we use ASCAP, BMI and SESAC primarily as our performing rights organizations. Other countries have similar organizations. Performance royalties are paid by radio stations, venues, television networks, etc. who then distribute the money to their songwriters and publishers. You must register your song with just one of these. You need to register as the publisher and the songwriter or else you will only get 50% of the publishing royalties.
This just touches the surface on music publishing. Feel free to comment on topics you would like to learn more about and add any content you think is pertinent. I hope it helps!