Music Publishing 101

Handshake - Music PublishersWhat is Music Publishing

In the music world, Music Publishing professionals work hard to promote and market songs written by songwriters. Record label executives and producers of movies, radio and television are not the easiest people to set an appointments with. The music publisher seeks out, finds and develops the songwriter’s talents and connects them to performing and recording artists.

The music publisher “pitches” songs to these influential people and then negotiates the licensing for the right to use those songs. Once the songs are used the music publishing professional collects the fees for the usage of the songs. The fees are split among the music publisher and the songwriter/artist depending upon the deal negotiated between them.

Music publishers represent songwriters in issues of copyright on the songs that songwriters create. Songwriters can also be self-published.


What is a music copyright?

Copyright is ownership of exclusive rights granted to the creator of an original work of authorship, such as a song.


Every Recorded Song Contains Two Copyrights

    • The notes and lyrics of the song
    • The Recording Artist’s recorded version of the song


Song Page - Music PublishersTypes 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 Publishers and Record Labels

Songwriters enter into publishing, co-publishing, or administration agreements with music publishers. In exchange for acquiring the copyright, a portion of the copyright, or a percentage of the revenue earned from the exploitation of the musical composition, the music publisher seeks opportunities to exploit the musical composition, collects revenue from the exploitation, and pays and accounts to the songwriter. The music publisher share is usually 50%.

Recording artists assign their copyrights to a record label in exchange for a negotiated royalty.



Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States

“Congress shall have the power to … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

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