Do I need a music publisher?

Reading time: 4 min

Music publishing usually is the step that comes right after music writing. Once you’re done with writing your lyrics or composing your track, you can sell your work to a publishing company, in charge of managing, marketing, and promoting it. As an independent artist kickstarting your career, it’s something you probably should look into: music publishing does not only relieves you from copyright-related tasks, it can boost your music promotion and creativity.

What is a music publisher?

A music publisher can be a company or an individual. It typically assists songwriters, composers, and other music creators with legal and administrative matters related to music copyright and licensing.

In short, your typical relationship with a music publisher would consist of four steps. First, they acquire your copyrighted musical works. Second, they protect it by licensing your work for use in various media such as ringtones, commercials, films, and video games. Third, they promote your copyrighted musical works to sell these licenses. Fourth, they collect the royalties - generated thanks to these licenses - to distribute them to you.

A music publisher buys your copyrighted works, protects and promotes them through licenses, to collect your royalties and distribute them to you. It can also assist you with creative and financial services to better promote your works.

The role of a music publisher

A music publisher’s role is to help you sell your music. To do so, it can offer you creative and financial services, on top of its legal and administrative skills. There is a wide range of such services.

One of your publisher’s main strengths is probably its connections in the music industry, from television production companies to music producers to label managers to PR agents. This comes hand in hand with your publisher’s marketing and promotion skill (e.g. DSP official playlists, social media marketing), as well as with the sync placement opportunities it will give you.

Moreover, music publishing can include songwriting and production support. For example, your publisher can help you arrange artistic collaborations, fund your demos and recordings, provide you with access to professional studios, or simply give you insightful feedback on your works.

Finally, if you are working with a publishing company, it probably has an Artist and Repertoire services department (A&R). Its role is to offer you guidance and support to help you develop your musical identity and find your niche.

On top of its legal and administrative skills, your music publisher can offer you creative and financial services such as: songwriting and production support, networking opportunities with industry professionals, Artist and Repertoire services (A&R department), marketing and promotion, and sync placement opportunities.

How does a music publisher make money?

If your music publisher helps you sell your music, it’s also to pay for his own services. As your business partner and in exchange of its representation, it earns a share of the royalties generated by your work. From mechanical royalties to performance royalties to sync licensing to print music, the deal is that the more your music is used, the more it generates funds, and the more money both of you earn.

However, there are two main types of music publishing contracts:

  • Co-publishing contracts: where the songwriter (you, the independent artist) and publisher split ownership of the copyrights for your tracks. You will typically get a larger share of the royalties, usually 75%, while the publisher will get what remains. Here, the music publisher is responsible for pitching the songs to potential users.
  • Administration contracts: where you retain ownership of the copyrights while your publisher handles the administrative tasks of collecting and distributing royalties. You will typically receive a higher percentage of royalties (about 85-90%), but in exchange your publisher may charge a commission for its services. This contract is more flexible, allowing you for example to work with multiple publishers and to retain greater control over your work.
A music publisher's income is largely dependent on the success of the songs they represent and its ability to secure placements and licenses for those songs. There are two main types of music publishing contracts: co-publishing deals and administration deals.

Is a publisher essential to my career?

A music publisher can be especially valuable to independent artists like you as you might not have access to some key resources and connections that could enable you to reach new audiences. Here, we give you three main reasons why a publisher is helpful to indie artists, but it’s up to you to decide whether you feel like you need to go in that direction.

First, your music publisher has connections with music supervisors, ad agencies, and other media professionals. Through these relationships, he/she can provide you access to licensing opportunities for your work. Not only will this get you money, it could help you reach a wider audience.

Second, music publishing is a role that requires expertise as it involves knowledge in areas such as copyright registration, royalty collection, and licensing negotiations. If you are repulsed by administrative tasks or get stressed by legal questions, a music publisher will help you with that. 

Third, music publishers have connections in the music industry that you haven’t developed yet. That can lead to opportunities for artistic collaborations or even featurings, and other valuable professional connections that could become members of your team (agents, labels, etc.).

Moreover, collaborating with a music publisher will allow you to focus on creating music and recording music rather than dealing with the business side of the industry.

A music publisher provides valuable support and resources to help independent artists. He/she can professionalize your musical works, strengthen your network within the industry, monetize your music, and help you reach a wider audience. If you don’t have the administrative skills, the legal expertise, or resources to handle the business aspects of boosting your music, it’s probably time to find a music publisher.

What do I need to remember?

If you feel overwhelmed by the administrative tasks, legal questions, or simply lack the resources to handle the business side of the music industry, a music publisher can be useful. He/she can help you professionalize your musical works, strengthen your network within the industry, monetize your music, and reach a wider audience. It's important to remember that you don't have to do everything on your own, and collaborating with a music publisher can allow you to focus on creating and recording music, while they handle the rest. Ultimately, the decision of whether to work with a music publisher is up to you, but it's worth considering the benefits they can provide as you kickstart your career.

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