What is music publishing?

Reading time: 5 min

To fully understand the role of a publisher, we must go back to its origins: people who walked the streets to find musicians and asked them for their scores. Then, these same people would knock on music halls' doors to sell them to musical programmers. 

Despite the changes in the market, the particular function of " salesman for artists " has not changed. So if you plan to go with a publisher, we'll tell you everything you need to know to make this collaboration a success.

What is the purpose of music publishing?

Generally speaking, publishing is the step that comes after creating a song. Once you have made your track's lyrics or composition, you can entrust your work to a publishing company that acquires, manages, markets, and promotes it.

The overall goal is to get your music broadcast as much as possible, increasing your (and the publisher's) income. They share three resources with you to make this possible: their professional network, money, and skills as a copyright administrator.

The professional network

The first significant benefit when you are starting is that publishing serves as a way to insert yourself into the industry. People who work for a music publishing company belong to a community linked by their profession, where they exchange about the writing and music composition talents they represent. Through this network, ideas for collaboration flow and result, for example, in beatmakers straight out of YouTube going into artists' recording studios. 


Because you are the first owner of your work as a songwriter, your publisher is your first investor. Within the publishing contracts, you negotiate an advance and generally a complementary flat with it (we detail it below). Usually, if you are also a performer, the label comes in after the publishing job.

The advance goes directly into your pocket at the signature of the contract, in its totality. This budget allows you to live while you are creating. You will have to repay your publishing company during the agreement with the money generated from your tracks. 

The flat fee is paid during the term of the contract, the publisher manages these funds, but you claim or validate how to spend them. They are used to finance your creative and promotional resources, for example, recording equipment and tours. Logically, you don't have to pay it back as it is an investment of your publishing company that must allow you to break through. 

The administration of copyrights

Last but not least, your publisher helps you administer your copyrights. It registers your works with a Collective Management Organization (CMO) or Performance Rights Organization (PRO)/Mechanical Rights Organization (MRO) and soon with Bridger. At the submission phase, it makes sure that all people behind the work agree on the split, and it defends your share of the cake so that it is equal to your work. It also verifies that all your rights are well collected and fights on your behalf if it is not the case. 

In addition to these skills, your publisher places your work in audiovisual products (commercials, series, films, video games, etc.) and manages the resulting synchronization rights.

Music publishing companies represent the interests of the people who compose a song, for example beatmakers, or write their lyrics. They find, buy, administer, market and promote their creations thanks to three resources: their professional network, financial resources, and expertise in copyright management. 

How do publishing companies get paid?

Publishing companies finance their activity through contracts where you grant them a part of your copyright, knowing that typically you share the income like this: 25% for the authors, 25% for the composers, and 50% for the publishers. The more your tracks are commercialized, the more rights they generate and the more money they make (and you too!).

Contracts signed between songwriters and publishers:

  • The exclusive songwriter agreement: it's the primary contract that links the artist to his publishing company. It determines, among other things, who signs, how the parties share the copyright, the duration of the pact, the amounts and terms of the advance and the flat, as well as the model of the assignment contracts and how the licensing agreements are managed. 
  • The co-publishing agreement: this contract has to be discussed in addition to the exclusive songwriter agreement if there is more than one publisher. It allows to clearly define who takes care of what and gets how much.

The contracts signed with the CMO or PRO/MRO at the time of depositing the tracks:

  • The buy-out agreement: takes up the clauses of the exclusive songwriter agreement and the co-publishing agreement, if necessary, to specify the sharing of the copyright or split, as well as the distribution of the publishing roles.

The contracts which apply to the artists who have their own publishing company:

  • The administration agreement: the artist subcontracts the publishing of a track to a publishing company, on an exclusive basis and for a specific period. 
  • The sub-publishing agreement: the artist subcontracts to a third party to promote his work in a particular territory and for X amount of time.
Often, you entrust the authorizations of diffusion and interpretation to your publishing company. Typically you share the income like this: 25% for the authors, 25% for the composers, 50% for the publishers. The more your tracks are commercialized, the more rights they generate and the more money you get.

How to get published? 

The job of publishers is to find talent. To catch their attention, you can develop your presence on social networks. Because the pros monitored them more since the pandemic with the lack of concerts, don't hesitate to stream lives on Instagram and YouTube. Don't forget that your online presence goes through neat profiles. You can also participate in venues, festivals, and open stages dedicated to new talent.

In the opinion of some publishing pros, it's better to wait for someone to come to you, but it's not the only way. There is, for example, the suitable old method of sitting down at their offices with your demo in hand. This technique can work, but it is better to have a solid fanbase before using it to reassure the people you are soliciting. Alternatively, you can use platforms to get in touch with professionals, including publishers. For example, Groover's goal is to share your tracks with them in exchange for their advice at any time in your career.  

The last tip - you will work closely with your publishing company. This collaboration is crucial in your career because it's the first one. The important thing is that you feel comfortable about it. It may sound banal, but good vibes count!

To get published, you need to work on: your online presence with neat profiles and an activity representing your artistic DNA; open stages and contests for new talent; your network through networking sites like Groover or by knocking on the doors of publishing companies' offices.

What do I need to remember?

The publishing comes after the creation of a song. Once you have created the lyrics or the composition of your track, you can entrust your work to a publishing company. Its objective is to broadcast your music as much as possible, thus increasing your income (and theirs). Its three resources to achieve this are: its professional network, financing capacities, and expertise in copyright.

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