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Music Publishing Administration 101

Picture of Seth Lorinczi
3 minute read

As a songwriter, you probably spend a majority of your time refining, reworking and iterating your work until it’s perfect. It’s not easy, especially when you’re just starting out, and your time can be measured in long days writing and even longer nights spent facing the crucible of a live audience.

In one sense, the work doesn’t truly begin until your music is ready for release. There’s more—much more—to sharing it with the world than just uploading it to Spotify or YouTube. In order to collect royalties for your work, you need to make sure it’s properly registered and that you’re leveraging all the possible opportunities for your music to earn you money. 

In a nutshell, that’s what Songtrust does: We make sure that your songs are properly registered and that you’re accessing their full potential so that you can focus on making more. It’s called music publishing administration. Here’s how it works.

The Foundations of Music Publishing Administration

You deserve to get paid for all your hard work. This means collecting royalties, or more specifically publishing royalties—payments made from one party to another for the use of a composition—in every capacity, all across the world. This is where music publishing administration, the proper registration and collection of your publishing royalties, comes in. There are other forms of music publishing -- traditional or co-publishing deals for example -- and each has their own benefits for songwriters.

Music Publishing Royalties

The best place to start is understanding that there’s more than one kind of publishing or composition royalty. In the music industry, royalties are broken out into performance royalties and mechanical royalties, and each is paid out by a variety of organizations. 

Performance royalties are earned anytime your composition is publicly performed or streamed. This includes yourself or someone else playing the song live, the song being played on the radio, or a digital performance, such as having your song played in a store or a restaurant or on streaming platforms like Spotify. 

Mechanical royalties are earned anytime there is a reproduction of your work. This is the case whether it’s physical reproduction, like a vinyl LP or a CD, or a digital one, like when your song is streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms such as YouTube.

Global Royalty Collection

To collect royalties on a composition, you need to have some or all of the legal control—the “rights” or ownership—to it. When you finish a song, you automatically own the copyright to that song, although you can also choose to file for a formal copyright. 

Just as with royalties, there are more than one type of rights you earn and ownership of a song. Ownership shares are broken out into the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. If you’re the only writer, you own 100% of both, and if there are multiple writers, the percentage gets broken down according to how all the co-writers agree to split it up. 

Additionally, royalties are collected by many different organizations, depending on factors like where in the world your music is being played and where you live. 

Traditional Music Publishing Deal vs. Music Publishing Administration

Music publishing is often a messy and potentially confusing landscape, and some royalties—like mechanicals—are simply harder to access for individual artists working without a publisher or publishing administrator. This isn’t to say that you have to be signed to a label or have a manager; rather, it means that you have to do your homework, educate yourself on the publishing landscape, and register your songs with pay sources such as PROs (Performing Rights Organizations) all around the world. 

When you sign with a traditional music publisher, the publisher typically assumes some ownership of some of your rights (remember this is the publisher’s share!), sometimes in perpetuity. They assume this ownership in return for exploiting your songs through sync placements, marketing and promotional services, and handling the administration of your songs. By comparison, in a publishing administration deal, such as what Songtrust offers, the songwriter keeps complete ownership of their copyrights (including creative control) in return for administration services. Instead, songwriters pay an administration fee for a set time limit to the publishing administrator. These fees can vary; Songtrust asks for 15% admin fee, for a one-year term. And again: Most importantly, a publishing administrator doesn’t take any ownership or control of your copyright.

Don’t want to give up your ownership or handle the tedious task of handling your own publishing? That’s why Songtrust exists. We handle the nuts and bolts of song registration, worldwide. Our goal is to simplify the often lengthy registration process, to expand the territories you can access royalties in, and ensure you’re getting the most of these royalties while maintaining 100% of your ownership.

It’s important to know that a publishing administration deal isn’t a one-stop, full-service offering. Publishing administrators won’t distribute your music to the public or offer creative services. Instead, they focus on making the business side of your music as tight, effective, and productive as possible, ensuring your worldwide registrations are complete and up-to-date, and that you can collect all the royalties—including the notoriously difficult-to-access mechanical royalties—that you’re due. In short, a publishing administration deal offers you support, resources, and a stress-free way of collecting all the money you deserve.

In the end, if you’re given the choice for a traditional publishing deal or working with a publishing administrator, the choice is yours.


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