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Basic Music Publishing

Guest post by Wendy Day, @RapCoalition and YouTube.com/ThisIsWendyDay

Wendy Day is a label consultant who helps build successful careers for independent artists and record labels, teaching them how to make money with music and be profitable in today’s music business.  As a 25-year veteran of the music industry who has managed to do the impossible and remain relevant, Wendy also runs the not-for-profit artist advocacy organization, Rap Coalition.

A large portion of income for an independent artist (rapper or musician) comes from publishing, of which there are multiple streams.  A song is broken into two shares—the writer’s share, which is the artist’s written share of ownership, and the publisher’s share, which is the ownership of the composition.  When an artist writes a song, the music and/or the words, he or she owns 100% of the writer’s share and 100% of the publisher’s share.  If there are two contributors to a song, they may decide that they each own 50% of the writer’s share and 50% of the publishing share. For example, in hip hop the producer typically owns 50% of the writer’s share and 50% of the publisher’s share, and the rapper owns 50% of the writer’s share and 50% of the publisher’s share; together, they own 100% of the song.  These percentages, known as “splits,” are negotiated by all of the contributors to the composition of the song.

Some artists choose to sell part of their publisher’s share which is known as a co-publishing deal.  A solid understanding of publishing is necessary for everyone in the music industry, and further research is suggested.  A great resource is Donald Passman’s All You Need To Know About The Music Industry.

Here are some of the more important revenue streams from publishing:

  • Royalties from sales 

    When a CD or download sells, the distributor takes their cut (usually 20%) and passes along the rest to the artist. For example, with iTunes, the largest retailer of music, for every 99 cent single that’s sold, iTunes keeps 30 cents and passes the remaining 70 cents to the distributor.  Some distributors, such as Distrokid, pass along 100% of the money and charge a monthly or yearly fee to keep your music on digital services.  Other distributors, such as CDBaby, charge only an upfront fee to distribute your music, and keep a percentage of sales and pass along the rest—most likely they keep 20% (14 cents) and pass along the remaining 80% (56 cents).  The splits differ based on the services the distributors offer, and who has the leverage in the negotiation.  Separate from these artist royalties, for every digital download or physical sale of a song, a mechanical royalty is due to the songwriters.  In the US, this mechanical royalty is a statutory rate, set by law, of $0.091.  That must be paid by the artist/label/distributor to the songwriters based on their percentage share of the song.  Outside of the US, this mechanical royalty is typically paid via the mechanical collection society in the territory where the sale took place.

  • Royalties from on-demand or interactive streams 

    When a song streams at a digital streaming platform (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Google Play, Deezer, etc), a songwriter is paid per stream. The rate differs by platform and whether or not it was ad supported. These royalties are paid to publishers/songwriters by the platforms, usually via a mechanical collection society or royalty administrator.  In the case of Spotify, the publisher’s share is paid via the Harry Fox Agency.

  • Royalties from a broadcaster 

    Radio stations pay writers and publishers through membership in a Performing Rights Organization such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. The payments come from licensing fees paid by the radio stations.  Live shows (performances) are paid through the same PROs from licensing fees that the venues pay.

  • Royalties from video streams 

    YouTube pays performance and mechanical royalties for songwriters via MCNs (Multi Channel Networks), or direct relationships with publishers. When the artist allows a distributor to collect YouTube royalties, they are signing up with that MCN which does take a percentage of revenue.  As an aside, YouTube is under fire from the industry for having the lowest payouts of all music streaming platforms.

  • Sync fees 

    Synchronization fees are the monies paid for songs included in films, TV, video games, commercials, etc. The writers receive a share and the publishers receive a share of the payments. This is often a one time, upfront payment, though a placement in a show or commercial that is broadcast on television will generate performance royalties (collected by PROs) each time it is aired.

This brief overview of music publishing should be seen as just that: an overview.  More research and understanding is necessary, and suggested, to master this highly lucrative part of the business.  Owning publishing is ownership of the music that directly coincides with revenue streams.  The music industry is a business where artists can make a living with great music provided they monetize their music properly.  Newer artists will usually see a return on investment first in performance income, merchandise sales, and royalty income.  Building a buzz and a fan base is necessary for success to occur once you make great, marketable music.

Songtrust can help you collect all of the royalties you are owed from your songs.  Join now using the code “WendyDay” to get 15% off the sign-up fee.


Wendy Day has helped discover, build leverage for, and shop and negotiate deals for No Limit Records (Master P, Mia X, C-Murder), Twista, Cash Money Records (BG, Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Turk, Hot Boyz, Big Tymers, and Mannie Fresh), Eminem, David Banner, Trouble (from DuctTape), and many others. She has worked with Do Or Die, Lil Boosie, Webbie, Ras Kass, Slick Rick, BloodRaw, Young Buck, C-Murder, Young Jeezy, MGK, Think Its A Game, and others.  She wrote her first book, How To Get A Record Deal, and established a social media marketing company called A Scratchy Throat to boost artists’ Internet presence and to increase their one-on-one interaction and engagement with fans. Wendy is currently writing her second book, “Making Money With Music,” for folks who want to profit from putting out their own music. Wendy is about to launch SlavesNoMore.com, an educational website for artists who want to learn how to build successful careers independently in the music industry.

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Weekly Music Publishing Update: Friday, July 14, 2017

By Julia Pernicone, Songtrust Account Associate

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The talk of the music industry this week has been in regards to the “fake artists” that have been popping up in playlists all over Spotify.  These artists have seemingly no web presence outside of the songs that appear on Spotify, though the songs have garnered hundreds of thousands of streams and more from inclusion on Spotify’s official playlists with millions of followers.  Music Business Worldwide has done some vigorous investigative journalism into the matter and come up with some interesting insight.

Earlier this week, MBW posted a list of 50 names of the fake artists they had identified, along with a statement from Spotify denying that the streaming service has anything to do with these ghost artists’ presence on the platform.  A spokesperson said, “We do not and have never created ‘fake’ artists and put them on Spotify playlists. Categorically untrue, full stop,”

“We pay royalties -sound and publishing – for all tracks on Spotify, and for everything we playlist.

“We do not own rights, we’re not a label, all our music is licensed from rights-holders and we pay them – we don’t pay ourselves.”

MBW looked further into the artists it identified, with help from people who reached out with more seemingly fictional acts, finding a few common threads between them.  First, it found that swedish production duo Andreas Romdhane and Josef Svedlund (better known as Quiz & Larossi) were behind a number of the tracks.  But after an even closer look, it found that an even larger number of the artists were connected to another Swedish company: Epidemic Sound.  Epidemic Sound is a library of royalty-free music that buys copyrights outright from the composers with which they work.

MBW speculates that Spotify and Epidemic Sound have a direct agreement that allows Spotify to pay less than its typical rate in exchange for placement on its top playlists.  Because of the way Spotify pays royalties, (on a ‘service centric’ basis, where royalties are distributed based on artists’ percentage of total plays on the platform), this would allow Spotify reduce the total amount they are paying out to labels and publishers of legitimate artists/writers.

While none of this is confirmed, and oth Spotify and Epidemic Sound have denied that they are working together to put these non-existent artists’s music on Spotify’s playlists, it is certainly an interesting developing story.  Chris Castle, of MusicTech Solutions, gave his take on the issue, touching on the idea of “scale.”  Facebook, for example, has been struggling with the spread of fake news on its platform.  An issue it only put effort into resolving after it realized its likely effect on the Presidential election in the United States.  He says that the only way to truly address problems such as fake artists or fake news is to keep services clean by not allowing that content in the first place; but this isn’t achievable at scale.  

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Weekly Music Publishing Update: Friday, June 23, 2017

By Julia Pernicone, Songtrust Account Associate

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At the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) Centennial Annual Meeting in New York this month, Sony/ATV CEO Martin Bandier was awarded the Life Service Award.  In his speech, he spoke about how songwriters and music publishers are not given their fair share of revenue and recognition in the wake of the streaming revolution.

“Far too often the songwriter’s contribution is overlooked or even forgotten. I have no doubt that this lack of public recognition has played a major part in why songwriters are not treated on an equal basis as the recording artist.”

“When I look today at the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, I ask: where are the names of the songwriters?”

Bandier noted than in any given week, 95 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart are written in part by someone other than the recording artist.  He mentioned that “without the songwriters coming up with the words and the music in the first place, there would be nothing for the artist to record and no music to stream.”  He proposed that all streaming services start displaying songwriter names as prominently as the artists who have recorded the songs.  He thinks this small step will remind everyone of the immense value songwriters provide the music industry, and hopefully ensure more equal compensation for songwriters and publishers in the future.

A newsworthy catalog to hit streaming services this month was Taylor Swift’s.  She and her label chose to withhold the catalog from all streaming services except Apple Music in November of 2014, citing piracy and Spotify’s free tier.  But since then, the streaming market (and revenues) have grown exponentially.  In the first week of the songs being available, Billboard estimates that the catalog generated about $418,000 in the US alone.  Only $64,000 of this was generated by the compositions and will be split between all co-writers and publishers of the songs.  The discrepancy between the revenue generated on the master and composition side is immense and quite unfair.  In sync licenses, masters and compositions are typically licensed at the same rate for both sides; so why is the difference so large in royalties from streaming?

Streaming has clearly become the main format for music listening.  Spotify recently reached more than 140 million active users and is integrating a collaborative playlist tool into Facebook Messenger.  As we continue through this “streaming revolution,” as Bandier said, “the wider world – and most especially streaming companies – must start to fully acknowledge the essential contribution that songwriters make to music and to the success of the music business…Ultimately, it will play a part in ensuring that these will become the best of times for everybody, including the songwriters and music publishers.”

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Weekly Music Publishing Update: Friday, May 12, 2017

By Anna Miceli, Songtrust Royalties Coordinator

Wikimedia Commons / https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NYC_Times_Square_wide_angle.jpg

For the first time in more than a decade, the Grammy Awards will be returning to New York City for the airing of the 60th anniversary ceremony. The Grammy celebration had previously rotated its location in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, until 2004, when it resided in LA for the next 14 years.

The award show will be held at Madison Square Garden, the site of many legendary moments in New York City and music history. Madison Square Garden hosted the Grammy’s twice, in 2003 and 1997, and will be home to the 2018 ten day production.

The fight for the Grammys to return to New York City began in 2014, and flourished shortly after Julie Menin was appointed commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment last February. Julie Menin and her department worked hard to bring the celebration of music back to New York, and defray the costs associated with moving productions to the East Coast. Costs were successfully offset by the forming of a host committee, of which includes local unions, Adidas, and Downtown Music Publishing.

The 2018 New York Grammy location is an important part of the city’s new initiative to celebrate its diverse musical culture. The city announced that June will be the first-ever New York Music Month, celebrating with 30 days of concerts, workshops, and programs for music creators and appreciators alike. New York Music Month will be produced in partnership with New York Is Music, co-founded by Downtown Music Publishing and Songtrust CEO, Justin Kalifowitz.

Julie Menin stated, “Music has never been housed in any city agency before, so this is a real seismic change. We think people know the work we’ve done to negotiate to bring the Grammys back; we feel that, with our music industry report and New York Music Month, we’re going to continue to support the music industry.”

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Split Sheets: Collect Your Music Publishing Royalties


Musicians, producers, artists, songwriters, composers, and everyone in between have the opportunity to own publishing rights to their songs and collect royalties. Here is a quick and easy way to make sure that you get your share of the music publishing rights to the music you help create:

First, click here to see a Split Sheet Template.

A split sheet establishes in writing who owns what percentage of the composition, or the publishing rights. (The ownership of the recording is a different matter.) Publishing splits can be negotiated as a cowriter, producer, band member, etc. Click the link above to see what a split sheet looks like. You can even download this template and use it for yourself. Note that if you are the only writer, you automatically own 100% of the copyright.

Deciding on who gets what percentage of a song is completely negotiated between writers.  Sometimes co-writers will splits works evenly regardless of who wrote which part(s) of the song. Other times they’ll assign percentages based on each individual’s contribution to the final product.  Either way, it’s best to decide on splits and get them in writing as soon as you’ve finished a song, as negotiations may get messy the longer you wait.

As a song is released and used around the world you, the owner of your copyright(s), are due publishing royalties. Having a percentage of publishing ownership can be a great source of recurring revenue.

Note that if you include a sample of someone else’s composition in your work, it is expected that you clear those samples with those who own that recording and/or composition. You can offer that person or organization a percentage of the publishing, negotiate a fee, or simply acquire permission to use that sample.

Once you’ve decided on songsplits and you plan on releasing your music, go ahead and register your publishing splits with a publishing administrator like Songtrust to get set up to collect music publishing royalties.

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