For the last century or so, traditional publishing deals have been a bedrock of the music industry. In their simplest form, they’re a tradeoff: you give up a percentage of your ownership and royalties in exchange for a music publisher collecting royalties and licensing fees, seeking out sync deals for TV and film placement, and often providing cash advances.
The truth is you don’t need an MBA to take control of your music publishing. There are plenty of resources these days, including dedicated publishing administrators — Songtrust being a prime example — who can help you manage everything and eliminate the need for a publisher in the first place.
Here’s how this process typically works, along with the potential benefits of becoming your own music publisher.
Simple Steps to Forming a Music Publishing Company
Forming your own publishing company allows you to take complete control of how, when, and where your music can earn money. Naturally, it takes a little bit of time and extra work, and there is some paperwork and fees to manage, but the rewards can be satisfying for anyone willing to take the reins.
Let’s start with a simple outline of the steps needed to form your own music publishing company. Please note: These steps are U.S.-centric, and will vary based on where you live.
Create a business entity or file a fictitious name statement.
Visit the Secretary of State website in your home state to find the requirements for creating a corporation name or a limited liability company (LLC). If you prefer not to incorporate, you can file what’s called a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) or Doing Business As (DBA) statement.
A DBA statement informs the government and other interested parties that you’re doing business using a name that’s not your own. Without that statement, you won’t be able to open a bank account or cash checks made out to your company. Make sure the name you choose is unique so your royalties aren’t misallocated further down the road.
Set up a separate bank account.
This is a personal choice, but can help differentiate between personal and business expenses during tax season each year. BMI explains that “In most locales, proof of completion of [business entity or LLC forms] is required in order to open a bank account in the name of your business. This is necessary in order to cash checks drafted to your company [such as royalty checks].”
Affiliate your company with a collection society.
This next step should be familiar to working songwriters. You’ll need to affiliate your new company with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) like ASCAP or BMI in the U.S. While you may already be registered as a songwriter, you’ll have to register your company separately.
You cannot collect your publisher’s share at a different society than where you are affiliated as a writer. However, if you’re planning to publish music from another writer, you should consider registering with the collection society they’re affiliated with or creating multiple publishing entities for each. The approval process takes several weeks, and there will typically be an application fee.
Register your company's songs with the U.S. Copyright Office.
If you determine you want to take this step, you need to contact the U.S. Copyright Office next to register Sound Recording (SR) copyrights for any songs under your company’s control. This can be done online, and typically takes a few months to process. If you’ve already copyrighted songs in your own name, you’ll need to transfer those rights to your publishing company.
Hire a publishing administrator like Songtrust.
Owning your own publishing company doesn’t mean you have to handle each and every detail all by yourself. Publishing administrators like Songtrust are equipped to handle administrative paperwork and help you access your global publishing royalties.
The Benefits of Owning Your Own Publishing Company
If you’re a songwriter looking to maintain complete control over your songs until the right publishing deal comes along, starting your own publishing company might be the right step for you. Another option is creating a personal publishing entity for the potential tax benefits of separating publishing income from personal income, and ensuring you collect the maximum amount of your publisher share.
Remember: When you sign an agreement with a music publisher, you often give away rights in exchange for such important services as collecting royalties and exploiting your music through sync placements. Choosing whether or not to sign with a music publisher is a highly personal decision.
Just know that if you choose to have your own company, you don’t have to go about it alone. Songtrust is here to support you if you need help administering your own publishing. When you register with us, we’ll make sure that you’re collecting all the publishing royalties — here and all over the world — that you’ve earned as both a songwriter and a publisher.