What is Music Publishing?

Music PublishingIf you are a songwriter, or want to become one, chances are good that as you become successful you will need the services of a music publisher. Music publishers develop, protect and value music. Music publishers play an active role in the business side of music allowing the songwriters and composers to stay engaged in the creative side of the process. Think of a music publisher as a necessary middle man who works on your behalf.

What does a Music Publisher Do?

According to the Music Publishers Association’s FAQ the role of a music publisher includes:

  • Finding new and talented songwriters and composers and encouraging and supporting them as they develop their skills, whether through helping with their living expenses, providing them with the facilities they need to produce music or offering advice and guidance in writing for particular markets
  • Securing commissions for new works and helping to coordinate work flow
  • Registering the works of songwriters and composers with all appropriate collecting societies and agencies
  • Producing demo recordings and, in the case of contemporary classical music, performance materials (score and parts etc);
  • Producing and licensing the production of printed music
  • Producing promotional materials, including sampler CDs, study scores, brochures etc
  • Promoting composers and songwriters and their music to performers, broadcasters, record companies and others who use music on a commercial basis, both nationally and internationally
  • Licensing the use of music, whether directly in the case of individual and special usages (eg synchronization deals) or via the collecting society network
  • Responding to new licensing opportunities that flow from technological developments
  • Monitoring and tracking the use of the music they own and ensuring that proper payment is made for all licensed uses
  • Making royalty payments to songwriters and composers in respect of the usage of their music
  • Taking appropriate action against anyone using music without the necessary license


Copyright, Music Publishers and You

As much as you might enjoy the process of songwriting, the assumption here at Selling Songs is that you are interested in doing just that, selling your songs. In the world of music publishing a copyright serves to protect the financial incentives that we have as songwriters and composers.

The business of music publishing depends on a strong copyright framework. If that framework is in place the music publisher can control the recovery of investments made in the creative work. In other words, it allows the music publishers the authority to collect royalties on your behalf for your published creative works. This paradigm is true in any creative process not just songwriting or composing.

Without the copyright framework there would be no financial reason for a music publisher to exist and further, no financial reason for a songwriter or composer to create.

The copyright framework is the underlying basis that allows creative people to make a living from their creativity. If you are interested in diving further into copyrights and why they are important, please refer to the post: 14 Best Music Publishing Resources.

What Makes a Good Music Publisher?

The MPA’s definition of a good publisher:

A good publisher seeks out great music and great composers and songwriters; supports composers and songwriters in the creative process; promotes their catalogues across a variety of platforms; manages the business exploitation of the catalogues (including the registration of works and the collection and onward payment of all due royalties); and generally seeks to protect and enhance the value of their works with passion and professional commitment.

So, a good music publisher is one who works hard for you, the songwriter. Their goals are to:

  • seek out your creative work
  • promote your songs in every way possible
  • protect your creative works
  • take care of the business side of registering your songs
  • track and collect royalties
  • and do it all with a professional attitude and passion

Partnership with a Music Publisher

The relationship between a songwriter or composer and a music publisher may at first seem like a parasitic one. But once you realize that the true nature of that relationship is more like a mother and child relationship, you will be in a better place to find the right publisher for your songs. One of the main purposes of having a publisher is that they will make sure that you get paid for your creative work and that no entities take advantage of you. Much like your mother might have liked to do in elementary school if it would not have made your life a living nightmare for the rest of school days.

At the core of the relationship between a songwriter and a publisher is the publishing contract. The publishing contract puts in writing the rights and obligations of you and the publisher. The contracts will usually assign the copyright of your songs to the music publisher. Think of it like a power of attorney allowing the publisher to work on your behalf. The publisher acting under that power of attorney commits to promoting, exploiting and protecting the songs they now represent.

Payments are also outlined in the publishing contract. Payments of royalties usually will take the shape of a percentage of the income earned by the creative works. As in any contract, you should always know what you are signing and who you are entering into the contract with. If you have any doubts whether you should sign a contract, seek the help of a qualified contract attorney. It might cost you a little money now, but it could save you a lot of money down the line.


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