Songwriting Advocacy 101: Publishing Deals
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There are many different kinds of publishing deals and you should never sell or give away your publishing without careful consideration of the terms and without having an attorney look at the deal. Realize that if you make a publishing deal, you are selling a percentage of the publisher’s share of your song. Your publisher will now collect all the income your song earns (with the exception of the writer’s share of public performance through your PRO, you will always collect that directly.) Your publisher will keep its share and they will pay you (the writer and the publisher) according the specifics of your deal.
It should be clear to you by now that publishing is a separate thing from authorship. You can sell it if you choose to. And then someone else will own the publishing portion of your song, even though you are still the writer. But until you do, it belongs to you and in order to collect your earnings you must choose and join a PRO, both as a songwriter member and, separately, as a publisher member.
There are basically 3 types of publishing deals:
—-Administration Deal: you retain full ownership in your copyrights and enable a publisher to administer your catalogue on your behalf to issue license, collect royalties, and in some cases to also pitch your songs for uses that don’t already exist yet. The publisher collects all your royalties (except the writer’s share of performance money) and keeps a small percentage as their administration fee, unless they pay you an advance in which case they will keep a larger percentage until you are recouped.
—-Co-Publishing Deal: you usually will assign 50% of your publishing/ownership over to a publisher and retain your writer’s share AND the remaining 50% of your publisher’s share. Often you are paid an advance as an incentive to enter into this type of a deal. So you receive 75% of every dollar and the publisher will receive 25% of every dollar (i.e. 50% of the publisher’s share.) But, if you get an advance, your advance will be recouped from the 75% that is your share (i.e. your writer’s share and your 25% of the publisher’s share). The publisher keeps their 25% of the pie whether you recoup or not.
—Exclusive Songwriting Deal: these generally only exist in Nashville but could still happen anywhere. If you have ever heard the term “staff writer” then this is where that came from. A publisher provides you with some sort of salary or “draw” and in return they are the 100% publisher of anything you write during the term that you are signed to them. So this is a 50/50 split of all income (i.e. you keep your writer’s share.)
MAJOR PUBLISHERS VS. INDIE PUBLISHERS:
—As in the world of record labels, there are the major companies and the indie companies. In publishing, the “majors” generally are considered to be 4 companies: Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, and BMG Music.
—The world of indie publishers is much more diverse. It ranges from large indies like peermusic, Kobalt Music, Round Hill Music, Spirit Music Group, Reservoir Media, and ole, among others; then middle tier indies like PEN Music Group, Inc., Reach Music, Angry Mob Music, and many others; and then one-person companies of which there are countless options.
—Generally when you are looking for a deal, you should take the view that you are looking for a partner and someone or a company that believes in what you do. Find your champion. Different situations have different advantages and disadvantages. In theory, the bigger the company the bigger the advance you might be able to negotiate. But then you are one of potentially hundreds of writers and if no one is paying attention to you and your songs, then you might have a difficult time recouping your large advance. Also, the bigger the company you might sign to, the likelier it is that your champion might be fired or leave the company, and then you may no longer receive the same amount of attention. So you must choose carefully and weigh lots of considerations.
—Then there is the issue of whether you should take an advance or not. Advances are great of course, but they are just giving you your own money up front as you have to recoup the advance from your own earnings before you receive any additional money from them. So it might be worth not taking an advance at all and living off your earnings or take a minimal advance that you know for sure you can recoup. There are lots of stories of people who have been in deals for years that are stuck and can’t leave as they owe an outstanding advance OR they have what’s called a “cut and release” clause in their deal, which means they have to get a certain number of songs recorded and released before the can get their next advance or make another deal. Find your champion, but have a good lawyer who can negotiate for you and talk you through the pros and cons that are in any deal you are considering. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
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