Self Publishing

by Jason Blume

Unless you have entered into a publishing agreement, thereby assigning your publishing rights to someone else (i.e. a publishing company), you own the publishing rights and the corresponding publishing income, to any song you have written or co-written. When you write a song by yourself, you own 100% of the writer's share as well as 100% of the corresponding publisher's share of any income that song may generate. If you have one collaborator, you each own 50% of the writer's share and 50% of the punlisher's share. Therefore, if you have written a song and haven't published it, you are a song publisher. Maintaining your publishing rights has two big advantages: You earn double the money and you have leverage in the event your song is recorded. Once you have a song to represent (either one of your own compositions or another writer's song whose publishing rights have been assigned to you), it's easy to become a publisher. All you need to do is:

  • Choose a name for your company

  • Decide which Performing Rights Organization to join

  • "Clear" the name you've selected by checking with your PRO

  • Print up some letterheads on your computer

But owning the publishing rights and successfully exploiting the song are two very different things. Before you decide to become your own publisher, you need to honestly assess whether you have the necessary time, personality and resources to properly exploit your song. If your time is limited due to the responsibilities of working as "day job", then the work you do as your own publisher is taking valuable time away from your songwriting. To successfully publish your own songs, on an ongoing basis, you need to:

  • Investigate who is looking for songs

  • Develop business relationships

  • Make tape copies

  • Type cover letters, J-cards and labels

  • Mail or deliver your packages

  • Follow up those pitches with phone calls

  • Handle administrative functions (applying for copyright registration, registering your songs with your Performing Rights Organization, keeping track of royalties, etc.)

In addition to the time investment, publishing your own songs requires an outlay of money. Expenses incurred by song publishers include:

  • The purchasing of tape duplicating equipment (probably a cassette dubbing deck, a DAT machine, and a machine capable of generating CDs)

  • Equipment maintenance

  • Office supplies (mailing envelopes, mailing labels, letterheads, etc.)

  • Blank tape

  • Postage

  • Photocopying (lyric sheets and correspondences)

  • Long distance telephone charges

  • Demo production expenses

A computer and fax machine are also tremendously helpful, if not mandatory. While many of these expenses may be tax deductible, they still add up to a considerable amount. Perhaps the most important factor to consider when deciding whether to represent your own songs, is your personality type. Song publishing (like song writing), requires long-term persistence and the ability to withstand repeated disappointment and rejection--without losing faith in your songs. Successful publishers have the ability to discern which songs are best suited for particular artists. They also have the tenacity and the ability to forge the relationships necessary to get your songs considered by the professionals who call the shots.

Publishers need to have excellent communication skills, both over the phone and in meetings. If you're shy or nervous about making cold calls and "selling" yourself, then self-publishing is probably not for you. Many songwriters publish their own material as a temporary measure, while looking for a publisher to represent their songs. During the period when I did that, I was frequently making tape copies and typing letters and lyric sheets after midnight. I didn't have much success self-publishing, but that was due as much to the quality of the songs I was writing at that point in my career as anything else. Songwriters who love the business side of the music business and fit all of the criteria listed above, may enjoy great success publishing their own material. But those who are self-publishing because they can't find a legitimate publisher to represent their material would put their time to better use by concentrating on honing their songwriting skills. Remember: 100% of nothing equals nothing.

1999 by Jason Blume
From 6 Steps To Songwriting Success by Jason Blume. Published by Billboard Books, an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York.




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