Module 2: Music Publishing and Licensing

In the world of music, there are two key sides of a song:

  1. The Composition: The underlying musical work – the lyrics, melody, and musical structure.
  2. The Sound Recording: The specific version of the song that you hear (the artist's performance fixed into a recording).

Music publishing focuses on managing the composition, while record labels generally handle the sound recording.

What is Music Publishing?

  • Definition: Music publishing is the business of managing and exploiting the copyrights of musical compositions.
  • The Publisher's Role:
    • Registering songs with copyright offices and collection societies.
    • Issuing licenses for the use of compositions.
    • Collecting royalties generated from those licenses.
    • Actively promoting songs to secure placements in movies, TV shows, commercials, etc.

Why Music Publishing Matters to Independent Artists

  • Income Generation: Publishing is a significant source of income for artists. Every time your song is played, licensed, or used, it generates royalties.
  • Protecting Your Rights: Publishers help track the use of your music and ensure you're being paid fairly.
  • Career Growth: Good publishers use their industry connections to open doors and increase exposure for your music.

Types of Music Licenses

Here's a breakdown of the most common licenses you'll encounter:

  • Synchronization Licenses (Sync licenses):

    • Used when someone wants to pair your music with visual media (movies, TV shows, video games, ads, etc.).
    • Typically negotiated directly between the publisher and the party seeking to use the music.
    • Fees can vary greatly, from small amounts to substantial sums depending on the project's prominence.
  • Mechanical Licenses:

    • Required when someone wants to reproduce and distribute your song (physically on CDs, vinyl, or digitally for downloads).
    • In the US, there are statutory mechanical royalty rates. However, negotiated mechanical licenses are common.
    • Often managed through mechanical rights agencies (e.g., Harry Fox Agency).
  • Public Performance Licenses:

    • When your music is played on radio, TV, streaming services, or in live venues, public performance royalties are due.
    • Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC collect and distribute these royalties to publishers and songwriters.

Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)

  • Their Purpose: PROs act as intermediaries between music users (radio stations, businesses, streaming services) and copyright holders.
  • How they work:
    • Businesses pay blanket license fees to the PRO.
    • The PRO tracks music usage and distributes royalties to songwriters and publishers.
  • Joining a PRO: As a songwriter, joining a PRO is essential to collect public performance royalties.

The Publisher's Cut

  • Industry Standards: There are no universal standards, but publishers typically take a significant percentage of the royalties they collect (often around 50%).
  • Negotiations: Indie artists with leverage can sometimes negotiate a smaller percentage. However, the services a publisher provides are important to weigh against the cut they take.

Music Publishing Options for Independent Artists

  • DIY Publishing: You can handle the administration of your own compositions. This demands time and knowledge but offers greater control and a larger share of royalties.
  • Traditional Publishing Deal: Signing with an established publisher gives you access to their resources and industry connections.
  • Administration Agreements: A less restrictive option where a company handles the administrative tasks of publishing but doesn't take ownership of your copyright.

Practical Tips for Independent Artists

  • Register with a PRO: Choose the PRO that best fits your needs and join as soon as you start performing or releasing music.
  • Educate yourself: Understand the different types of licenses, royalty streams, and how publishing income works.
  • Start small: Consider self-publishing initially, or explore administration agreements if you want support.
  • Know your worth: As your career progresses, be prepared to negotiate better terms with publishers.