Music Publishing Deals in 2018

Administration vs. Co-Publishing Deals

Which is Right for You?

You’ve heard the story before - about the budding songwriter who dreams of making it big by getting an offer for a publishing deal from a big, reputable company that then makes them famous. It’s what any artist aims for, but with the rising numbers of independent artists coming into their own, a traditional publishing deal isn’t the only option anymore. Now songwriters have to ask themselves a variety of questions including - How much ownership are you willing to give up for the benefits that a traditional publishing deal will give you today?

The moment you decide that the song you’ve poured your soul into is finally finished, you own the copyright and 100% of your publishing for that composition. This 100% is divided into two very important pieces: the publisher’s share (50%) and the writer’s share (50%). It is important to note that most publishing agreements only take a percentage of ownership from your Publisher’s share. In a co-publishing or administration deal, you will never lose any ownership of your writer’s share. Let’s talk about the two main types of publishing deals you might come across.

Administration Agreement

In an admin deal, you - the songwriter - keep 100% ownership of your copyright and give away 15-25% of your publisher’s share in the form of an administrative fee for a term of usually 1-3 years. Publishing administrators do not own or control any percentage of your copyright at any point in the agreement. Administration agreements ordinarily do not include any creative services and focus solely on administrative duties such as properly registering your songs with collection societies around the world as well as collecting royalties on your behalf. Admin deals can occasionally include an advance, which must be recouped in the same way as in a co-publishing deal, meaning that before you are paid out any royalties, all of your advance must be paid back.

Publishing administrators have relationships with performance and mechanical collection societies around the world that make royalty collection much simpler than it would be for a single songwriter to do on their own, and this leaves you time to focus on writing as well as to work on pushing your songs creatively.

Pros Cons
  • You keep 100% ownership and creative control of your copyright.
  • No creative team actively pitching your music or setting you up on co-writes.
  • You can collect your domestic and foreign royalties easily, for only a small fee.

At Songtrust, we’ve created a platform to help you collect all of your royalties worldwide, while retaining 100% of your copyright ownership. Reach out to learn more.

Co-Publishing Agreement

A co-publishing agreement has been the most common publishing deal for major songwriters. As the songwriter, you typically give away 50% ownership of your publisher’s share ("co-publishing") when you sign. This means you still keep 100% of your writer’s share, but only 50% of your publisher’s share - 75% of your total publishing royalties. During your term, which typically lasts a year, you have certain obligations, such as writing a minimum number of songs that are commercially satisfactory or that the songs must be recorded and released by an artist on a legitimate label.

Because the publisher takes partial ownership, they do have more of an incentive to support your compositions and generate royalties from them. They’ll do this in a number of ways: pitching them to music supervisors for synchronization in television, film, and advertising, as well as to labels and artists to be recorded and released by major artists, and by setting you up on co-writes with artists and other songwriters. In addition to this creative work, your publisher will also be doing all of the necessary administrative duties.

Another enticing aspect of a co-publishing deal is the advance. Publishing companies will customarily offer you a sum of $25,000-$250,000 upon signing the contract. This can be alluring for a songwriter, because it offers a potential form of freedom such as maybe quitting your day job and focusing all of your energy on writing. However, it’s important to know that this advance must be recouped in full by the publisher before you are paid out any royalties from your compositions. Also, though you retain 50% ownership of the publisher’s share, you are often giving away 100% of control over the song itself, meaning you have little say in how it is used.

Pros Cons
  • A creative team with a network of music supervisors, artists, labels, and other songwriters to actively pitch your music.
  • You give up a percentage of your copyright and publishing revenue, as well as creative control over your compositions--sometimes forever
  • Administrative services.
  • These deals are difficult to secure; you’ll need to have already had some success in the songwriting world, and/or have relationships with music industry people who can put your work in front of a publisher. And even then, your songs have to be good enough for the publisher to invest their time and money in you. 
  • An upfront advance.
  • You can’t collect any of your publishing revenue until your advance is recouped in full. The time frame of this depends entirely on the success of your songs. 
  • You also have obligations to fulfill in terms of the success of your catalog. If you don’t meet your minimum song requirement or achieve a certain number of commercial releases, you may get “stuck” in your first contract year, and your next options will generally not be executed.

Making the right choice

Music publishing companies (especially successful ones) are passionate about your music and career, but are ultimately in the business of profit. They would not stay in business if they didn’t format their deals in a way that generates large amounts of revenue in their favor. They are experts in making predictions and analyzing financial risks over profit, and experienced in making these deals.

An up front advance may sound like an abundance of wealth, but don’t forget that the team that helped make this deal happen needs to get paid as well. You will have to subtract a manager’s 15-20% fee, a business manager’s 5% fee, and potential $10,000+ or 5% to a lawyer for negotiating the deal (and you definitely want a good lawyer). After all of this is deducted, you also need to pay taxes on what’s left. On top of that, remember that your advance needs to be recouped in full by your publishing company before you are truly in the green. If what you are earning at this point is enough for you to justify the cons of giving away a percentage of your copyright, then maybe a traditional co-publishing deal is right for you.

But in 2018, there are vast amounts of opportunities to promote yourself as an artist and/or songwriter independently and generate real publishing royalties without a creative team behind you. The TL:DR - make sure you consider the benefits of an administration deal when figuring out what’s best for your career and making taking that next step.

Songtrust aims to provide songwriters and artists with educational resources to further their professional skills but does not intend for these resources to provide any form of legal advice.

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