by Dale Kawashima
Music Publishing is the owning of song copyrights. If you write a song, you are automatically considered the legal owner of that creation, and therefore, you are also the publisher. You will eventually have to file your song with the United States Register of Copyrights to protect your rights, but you are legally deemed the owner/publisher as soon as you create the song.
You can write and publish hundreds of songs, but from a business standpoint, the value of publishing only becomes meaningful when your songs earn royalties. The main sources of publishing income come from record sales, broadcast performances (radio & TV), licensing for films, TV & commercials, and from sheet music.
If you have the industry contacts to effectively promote
your songs and generate income, you may elect to remain your
own publisher. However, many songwriters welcome the opportunity
to work with an established publishing company to further
promote their music.
Usually, your writing skills must be developed to an advanced level whereby the publisher believes that he/she can either secure a record deal for you as an artist or place your songs with other artists to be recorded on their albums. If a publisher believes that you are at that level (or have tremendous potential), then you will most likely be offered a publishing deal.
These days, most offers would be for a co-publishing deal, where you would assign half (50%) of your publishing rights to the publisher, and empower the publisher to collect all royalties earned from your songs (including your writer's share of the royalties from your songs). When your advance has been fully recouped, the publisher would pay you 75% of all additional royalties collected (your writer's share, which is 50% of the overall gross, plus your remaining half of the publisher share, which is 25% of the gross), and the publisher would keep the remaining 25% share of the gross.
Got it? I know it gets a bit complicated, but the bottom
line is that you receive a nice advance from the publisher
and eventually still keep 75% of the profits. There is one
exception: If you are a country songwriter without any kind
of track record, you may have to give up 100% of your publisher's
share to sign a deal and get an advance. Why? I'm not quite
sure, but country music is still extremely song-oriented,
and a good publisher has the clout to place your song with
a major artist, thereby launching your career.
A publisher will usually offer you a one-year deal with an option to renew your contract for up to two more years. If you are an unsigned artist, you might receive an advance of between $10,000-$40,000 for what is called a Publishing Development Deal. The publisher is advancing you money so that you can record high-quality demos (for your own CD, perhaps), buy some new equipment and maybe pay some living expenses so you can concentrate on getting your record deal.
However, many artists/bands elect to hold off on making a publishing deal until they first secure a record deal. The reason is that, as a signed artist, you can command a much higher advance. Publishers are willing to pay a premium for an act that is already signed and supported by a major label. Many signed bands can secure an advance of at least $100,000 for their first album, and "buzz bands" can attract as much as $200,000 or more. Great money, if you can get it!
If you are a songwriter who is not an artist, or, without
a proven track record, the advance is usually in the $20,000-$30,000
range unless you have songs already placed with established
acts and are willing to include those songs in your deal.
Then, the advance could be more lucrative because the publisher
now sees potential royalties from which to recoup.
Responsibilities of Publishers
Publishers will copyright your songs and collect your royalties on a worldwide basis. But beyond that, there are no guarantees. Publishers will attempt to shop you for a record deal, pitch your material to other artists and place your songs in films and TV shows. However, your chances for success are mainly up to you. Publishers will tell you all of the great things they can do for your career, but they are only salespeople, and as such, only as good as the music they're selling. If a writer delivers great, commercially-viable music, the publisher will work his butt off and everyone wins.
Dale Kawashima recently launched an independent A&R/Management company and is representing several new bands. He was previously an A&R exec with Mercury Records and before that, President of Michael Jackson's ATV Music. He is also a member of the TAXI A&R staff.