The music industry didn’t just enjoy its seventh straight year of growth in 2021. According to the BBC, international revenue increased at the fastest rate in more than two decades. So fast, in fact, that it hit nearly $26 billion and boasted the first CD sales bump of the streaming era alongside 523 million paid subscribers on services like Spotify.
If you want a sustainable career as a musician, you need to know how to collect publishing royalties properly. Follow these four simple steps: select a distributor, affiliate with a PRO or CMO, sign up with a publishing administrator like Songtrust, and join an organization that collects neighbouring rights and/or digital performance royalties for your sound recordings. Please note that doing all these steps does not guarantee your song will earn money — that entirely depends on the amount of work you put into marketing your song and earning more streams or performing live shows. However, all these steps will help ensure that when your song does start earning money, you are covered to collect those royalties.
It’s important to remember there are two halves of a song, too — the recording itself and the composition (its underlying lyrics, beat, and melody). Both earn their own distinct royalties whenever a song is distributed or played publicly. As an artist, songwriter or composer, you are entitled to these earnings, but collecting them from every organization that uses your music would be a full-time job.
Step 1: Select a Music Distributor For Recording Revenue
At its core, a digital music distributor enables you to place your music on streaming and direct download platforms. Some distributors are simply a pipeline, taking a small fee or commission on sales to make your songs available around the world.
CD Baby and DistroKid are two distributors that are accessible to all music creators. Other full-service platforms may also sell your physical music and merch, provide creative or manufacturing services, or help with promotion to press and radio.
It’s important to note that in order to make any money off your songs, they must be distributed! Just releasing your song on Soundcloud isn’t going to cut it…
Step 2: Become a Member of a Collection Society For Performance Royalties (at least)
Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers when their music is publicly broadcast (such as on the radio) or performed (such as live in concert). BMI and ASCAP each represent hundreds of thousands of songwriters, composers, and publishers in the U.S. It’s important to know that if you are with a PRO, they are not collecting your mechanical royalties.
However, sometimes your home territory will have a collection society that collects both. Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) are organizations that track and collect performance and mechanical royalties on behalf of copyright owners globally. Some examples of CMOs throughout the world include SUISA in Switzerland, PRS in the UK, and GEMA in Germany.
Registering with a PRO or CMO is the first step that songwriters need to take after they distribute their music to collect their global publishing royalties. Once you join a PRO or CMO, you will be assigned an IPI, a unique identifier used at global royalty sources to identify your works.
Check out a deep dive into performance royalties here.
Step 3: Associate With a Publisher to Collect All Your Global Publishing Royalties (That Your Society Isn’t)
Publishing administrators (like Songtrust) register, collect, and track performance, mechanical, and micro-sync royalties on behalf of their songwriter clients around the world. Associating with a publishing administrator lets artists maintain 100% ownership of their songs while ensuring their royalties are collected wherever they are earned.
Traditional publishers also collect performance, mechanical and micro-sync royalties for their clients, but they often require that a songwriter relinquish control of part or all of their song(s), generally in exchange for an upfront advance and creative services like potential sync placements, A&R, and pitching songs to performing artists.
Why do you need a publisher of some sort if you’re already with a PRO/CMO? Great question! Depending on your situation, your society may not be collecting all the royalties your song earns. This might be because they only collect one type of royalty (PROs), they may be territory-specific (i.e they only collect royalties earned within that territory), or they may not have reciprocal deals in territories where your song is being heavily streamed. Every music creator’s situation is different so do a little research and choose what is best for you.
Step 4: Make Sure You Are Collecting Neighbouring Rights or Digital Performance Royalties
A source of royalties that is often overlooked is neighbouring rights. They are similar to performance royalties in the U.S. but paid to recording owners and performing artists (everyone listed on the official recording credits, not only the primary artist) when songs are broadcast on terrestrial or streaming radio, or in clubs or venues.
Terrestrial radio broadcasts do not earn royalties in the U.S. as they do with “neighbouring rights royalties” elsewhere in the world. Streaming and satellite radio earn sound recording royalties around the world instead. In the U.S., SoundExchange is responsible for collecting digital performance royalties, whereas outside of the U.S., many regional organizations handle neighbouring rights administration (like PPL in the U.K.).
To collect all of your neighbouring rights and digital performance royalties, you must confirm that the agency you select has global reach and partnerships with organizations in other countries. Make sure you know they’ll be able to register and collect for you on these rights before you sign anything.
A more detailed guide to neighbouring rights and digital performance royalties can be found here.
How to Get Royalties from Music Globally
The bottom line: Registering your music with a PRO or CMO alone is not enough to generate royalties and collect all the revenue your music earns. Once you work with a music distributor to make your songs available online and start releasing music, every stream, download and view earns royalties for both the sound recording and composition owner. If you are a self-released artist, all of these types of royalties are your responsibility to manage and collect, directly or with your partners.
As a publishing administrator, Songtrust ensures that you are collecting all your performing, mechanical and micro-sync royalties all over the world wherever your song is earning; we cover 98% of the global music market for collections. For a one-time-only registration fee and a small commission on our collections, you can keep 100% ownership of your copyrights and maintain creative control while ensuring that you are collecting all the revenue you earn from your music publishing.
If you’re a music creator that has their music distributed on major streaming platforms, is already earning royalties, and is actively creating music (or performing live), we’re a great fit for you to check out.
Download our free Royalty Checklist for on-the-go information about what steps you need to take to collect all of your global royalties.