Picture a traditional recording studio scene: there’s the artist or band, their manager, maybe an A&R rep, audio engineer or tight-knit team of songwriters all working out tracks together.
Now forget all of it, and consider what one musician can accomplish with nothing but a MacBook. Armed with an artful DAW (digital audio workstation) like Ableton or Fruity Loops, a few royalty-free sample packs, and some cheap plugins, laptop producers now have all the tools they need to create commercially viable music.
Between that level playing field and a growing number of digital music distributors for getting self-released songs out into the marketplace, open-minded creators must wonder what it all means for them.
One paradigm shift is clear and crucial: Producers are also songwriters. And securing music publishing rights as a producer is one way to boost your bottom line by focusing on what you do best.
But First, Some Context
Let’s back up for a minute. Publishing is one form of music ownership — the act of composing a song. If that song is released, it generates publishing royalties. If you composed it, you now own the publishing rights and can start collecting royalties.
There is no rule saying what percentage a producer and artist gets of the royalty pie. It’s all negotiable; the important thing is understanding what publishing rights are involved. This enables you to have an honest and open conversation with your collaborators about publishing percentages, and properly registering your agreed-upon shares with a collection service like Songtrust.
Music composition in its most basic sense is sound and silence organized over time. Producers are creating music just as much as a traditional songwriter composing on a piano or acoustic guitar. If you created an original piece of music and it is released on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, then it will generate publishing royalties. If you understand your ownership of that release, then you can register your percentage of publishing ownership and collect recurring royalties for the rest of your life.
Music is such a volatile market; you never know when a song will flourish or flounder. Why risk-taking a one-time work-for-hire fee for a few hundred dollars when you can have lifetime ownership? At the end of the day, registering a publishing percentage ensures fair compensation for everyone involved if the release sells well.
Don’t Overlook Publishing
To all the beat-leasing producers out there, make sure you maintain and register publishing ownership when you let other artists use your work. Otherwise, you run the risk of never getting properly paid for it.
It’s also easy to distribute your music as a standalone product. After all, people like well-made instrumentals too. Spotify recognizes when listeners like your music and will help you discover your core audience — algorithmically if not personally. So dig up that hard drive and finish up your full-length (finally!) with LANDR or Audiomaster.
Make sure you’ve covered all your bases if you’ve sampled other people’s music, too. Reach out to the original songwriter(s) and master owner to discuss splits and obtain a legal sample license, then register and administer the percentage that you both agree upon.
The Dawn of a New Day
Now more than ever, independent musicians can create, release, and earn a living from music while maintaining full ownership. The days when a handful of tastemakers and big businesses decides who’s in and who’s out are coming to a close.
Producers and songwriters now have the ability to place their music on digital shelves where real consumers can support the creative process directly. This opens the doors for new subgenres, communities, sounds, and movements among streaming platform subscribers and listeners.
It is time to shed our dated assumptions of “how things work” and start taking advantage of how you work. Remember: Producers make compositional decisions with every click. Make sure to negotiate publishing percentages whenever you can, register your splits properly, and collect what you are due.
Songtrust is here to help. If your music is already on Spotify, go ahead and start estimating your earnings here.