We often get asked by songwriters about the benefits of self-publishing as opposed to entering into some form of publishing agreement. As an independent songwriter, you have a few different publishing options available to you. Traditionally, a songwriter would sign over a percentage of their rights to a song -- sometimes ranging between 10-25% -- in exchange for opportunities such as cash advances and creative services like sync deals (TV and film placements), setting up co-writers, placing their songs with performing artists, or marketing strategies.
Enticing as that sounds, it's becoming less common for independent songwriters and artists to sign the type of big publishing deals that create such opportunities. These deals can be difficult to come by, and also often require a minimum delivery requirement - meaning a certain number of songs, found acceptable by the publisher, that must be written and delivered during the term. Don't fret — There is an option that is absolutely worth looking into further: Self-publishing your own music!
By self-publishing, you maintain the most creative control over your music - you can choose to handle your own sync license pitching, or work with a third party who you handpick to best represent your music. However, as your own publisher, in order to cover the administrative duties that come with registering your songs worldwide for music publishing royalty collection, you must either create your own publishing company/entity or utilize the services of a publishing administrator, like Songtrust.
Whatever your situation, it’s good to know your options. Let’s dive in to see why publishing your own music may work best for you.
Collect more publishing royalties
By the very nature of entering into a traditional publishing agreement, you're typically giving away a percentage of your copyrights and a percentage of your publishing royalties.
If you own 100% of the publishing on your songs and are utilizing a publishing administrator, you'll be able to collect all royalties owed to you from public performance, digital publishing royalties (internet radio and on-demand streaming), synchronization (TV, film, and video games), and mechanical royalties (sales of physical recordings and downloads). Your publishing administrator will handle the global registration of your songs on your behalf, and depending on their network, that can mean registering your songs in over 200 countries that can have multiple pay sources. If you’re curious about the global royalty collection process, check out this deep dive webinar on pay sources.
If you’re publishing your own music without the help of an administrator, you’ll need to know how to get those royalties in your pocket, something the webinar we mentioned above can help clarify. However, some of those royalties may not be available to you without a personal publishing entity or an official publisher in that territory. By self-publishing with an administrator, you can ensure that you collect all of the publishing royalties owed to you in exchange for a small percentage of your earnings.
Maintain creative control
Aside from royalty collection, publishers look to exploit your songs through synchronization licenses. This means, they will pitch your music for placement in film, TV, video games, advertising, etc. These licenses can be a great source of income, but in many publishing agreements the publisher will take a cut of all license fees. By owning 100% of your publishing rights, you'll get paid through all of those fees. However, you won’t have a dedicated team pitching your work for placements as well as negotiating the best rates possible for your work -- that’ll come down to you.
The other key differentiator comes from controlling how your music gets pitched and to whom. By owning your publishing rights, you gain the sole right to grant licenses for the use of your music in any capacity. Each time someone wants to use your music, a license (and subsequent fees and/or royalties) are required to be cleared by you. If you’re controlling the sync rights, you will have the final say over who can use your song, and for what purposes (this oversight is often restricted in traditional publishing deals unless the songwriter has a lot of leverage).
Of course, if you’re self-publishing this also means that you have the right to not grant licenses either. This is especially important if you want to avoid certain kinds of association with your songs (e.g. ending up in a commercial with a product you don’t want to endorse, of a TV show that you don’t like).
Sync licenses can be an important source of income for musicians at all levels, and having the flexibility to handle these yourself or work with a partner you trust can ensure you’re able to maintain oversight over the way your music is used, as well as keep more of the revenue from these licenses.
Keep your options open and read your contract
There are other reasons a traditional publishing deal might be limiting. For example, if you want to compose for film/TV, but you have an exclusive publishing deal, you may not be able to engage in separate agreements with film and television studios to compose for their projects without your publisher taking a cut.
All this being said, publishers can be a wonderful addition to a songwriter's team — when it's a good fit. Like with everything in the music business, when considering a publishing deal, it's all about doing your research, creating and maintaining relationships, and having a clear and open line of communication between you and your representatives. Not sure where to start? Download our free publishing checklist guide to help you better navigate the questions you should be asking your publisher before signing the dotted line.