Publishing Royalties: The Waiting Game

As creators, you may know a thing or two about the waiting game. Sometimes a song just bursts forth on its own, arriving complete, fully formed, and ready to be shared with the world. These are the creative moments we live for, the ones that make the other kind—the hard slogs, the long nights spent groping for the right chords, the sheer grind of it—worth living through.

Unfortunately, the process of actually getting paid for that hard work can feel like a grind too. Even when a new piece of music just seems to just fall out of you, chances are that you’re going to have to wait a long time to see any money for it. Especially in an age of instant connectivity and tracking, why should it take months to get paid?

A lot of reasons, as it turns out. We’ll break some of them down for you, and tell you what we’re doing to try to speed things up. Believe us when we say that getting creators paid for their work in a timely fashion is one of our major priorities here at Songtrust. First, though, let’s do a quick refresher on how creators actually get paid for their songs.

Three Major Publishing Income Streams for Creators

1. Mechanical royalties are paid whenever a song is sold on a physical medium such as a vinyl album, digitally downloaded, or streamed from an on-demand service like Apple Music or Spotify. Starting in 2020, the rate for these plays will be set by an entity called the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), which promises a much fairer rate than that paid historically. Learn more about mechanical royalties and how your song earns these:

2. Performance royalties are paid whenever a song is played on radio (broadcast, satellite, or streaming) or television, performed publicly (live in concert or played in a public place), or streamed from an on-demand service. These royalties are collected by Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) such as ASCAP or BMI in North America and Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) such as GEMA and SACEM ex-US, and then distributed on a set schedule to the appropriate songwriters. Learn more about performance royalties and how your song earns these:

3. Micro-sync royalties are earned whenever your song is used in conjunction with a video asset and is typically paid through ad monetization, such as in a YouTube video when an ad is placed on the video. While each video platform has their own set of rules for how a video is monetized, for those creators that make the most of video streaming platforms, there is a whole set of royalties available to you for the use of your songs. Learn more about micro-sync royalties and how your song earns these:

One River, Many Streams

There are other revenue streams for creators, including syncs, print, samples and more. But just perusing the three major types above should give you a little hint as to why it can take so long to get paid: There’s not just one collection and payment protocol, but many. For many songwriters, the name of the game is to bundle enough of them together to form a single viable source of income.

So we know there are many ways to get paid, but that doesn’t answer why it takes so long for each of them to report on and distribute earnings. That particular question hinges more on historical precedent than anything else.

For one, sales reporting has typically lagged three months behind actual sales. Even when a song is streamed instantaneously, it can take many months for tracking of that discrete stream to make its way to the appropriate collection agency, such as the Harry Fox Agency, a mechanical agency.

And while songwriting may be an increasingly global endeavor—with hit songs jumping across cultures and markets in the blink of an eye—actually collecting royalties on those songs is in many regards still stuck in the last century. In many foreign territories, complicated and confusing requirements govern how those funds are distributed. As a result, many are left uncollected, and those that are can take months (or longer) to find their way to their rightful owners.

Publishing Timeline
Not to mention, and let’s just be transparent here, that the general publishing timeline is already lagged. Upon submission of your song’s registration to the appropriate collection society, you’re looking at roughly six months for that society to fully register your songs, then another 9-12 months before you start to see your first royalty checks. If you have retroactive royalties, tack on another six months before you see those. That’s per society! With over 120 territories and even more collection societies, you can see how that amount of time can rack up...

What Songtrust is Doing to Help

While there are some aspects of the music industry over which we have no control, there are others where we’re seeing definite improvements in the ways songwriters are compensated for their work.

The most impactful one came in 2018 with the passage of the Music Modernization Act (MMA), plus related copyright reforms both here and in the EU. In addition to inaugurating the MLC, referenced above, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) approved a steep late fee for streaming services which unduly lag in their payments to publishers and artists.

Of course, we can’t take credit for the MMA, though we strongly supported and lobbied for the bill alongside a group of other industry leaders such as the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI); Songwriters of North America (SONA), National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), A2IM, BMI, ASCAP and many, many others).

But there’s a lot that is under our control, and the team at Songtrust takes great pride in delivering what we believe to be the fastest, most transparent and most efficient administration system in the industry.

What’s so great about it? For a start, we typically inspect and deliver clients’ songs on a same-week basis; many traditional publishers send them on a monthly or even quarterly schedule. We pride ourselves on submitting as accurate data as possible and spend a good amount of time making sure your songs are properly inputted and tagged for the specific collection society. And because we license those songs directly, we pay creators directly. 

While many publishers send those payments twice a year, we do it quarterly to help keep the money you’re owed flowing into your bank account. And because we’re part of a far-reaching and robust global network, we can get foreign-generated royalties to you with a much faster turnaround than perhaps any other U.S.-based administrator.

Why? Simple, really: We’re songwriters, creators and artists, just like you. We built Songtrust to be an alternative for music makers who wanted to maintain control over their songs while reaping the benefits of a dedicated team of administrators working behind the scenes. If you’re curious about how Songtrust could help you earn more from your songs, just reach out

And if you want to learn more about the publishing timeline, check out our recent webinar --The Publishing Journey-- for a deep dive.

Access what you’re due.