It’s worth noting that 2019 has already been a year of marked growth among creators, and even here at Songtrust, we’ve seen a significant increase in the type of songwriters we’re interacting with, as well as the level of knowledge they have about music publishing. This tells us that you are all taking more ownership of your work and viewing the time you spend creating music as a viable, long-term career. This is huge -- it suggests a change in the music landscape that we’ve eagerly been waiting for and sets the table for big things in the upcoming year. While all this ‘leveling-up’ is reassuring, we understand that not everyone is at the same stage of their career, which means it’s still our responsibility to provide resources, share our experiences, and lend a helping hand to those just getting started or just starting to pay attention.
With that in mind, there are a few points we want to share with you to make sure you’re on the right path to having a successful creator career.
Back to Basics
Let’s get back to the basics -- whether you label yourself as a producer, composer, beat-maker, singer-songwriter, artist, or mover & shaker, at your core, you’re a creator. And if you’re creating music, be it writing the actual composition, collaborating on a beat, or just laying the drumline, you are a songwriter. So many people we meet seem to forget this or never consider it to begin with. Why is this important? In our line of work -- that’s music publishing, if you forgot -- it’s arguably the most important step to being successful. If you don’t see yourself as a songwriter, you don’t see the possibilities of earning royalties from the use of your music.
So, nice to meet you, songwriter, what’s your next step?
Get Your Cut
Since we’ve established that you’re a songwriter, the next step is figuring out what part you play in any physical work you put into a song. Are you writing all the lyrics, supplying underlying beats, or recording instrumentals? Whatever work you’re putting into a song needs to be identified and immediately discussed with any collaborators so you can figure out the splits for proper royalty collection of your placement.
“Can’t I do that afterward -- shouldn’t I focus on finishing and distributing the song first?” Sure, but let’s set the stage for this all-too-common scenario: you and your co-writers finish a song, release it through your distributor, and it goes viral, building a fanbase faster than you can follow the fans back on Instagram. Let’s say that you helped on the composition side via a beat placement, but only one of the co-writers actually recorded and sang on the song, so they assumed the ownership of the master recording, which is handled by whichever distributor they chose.
By now, that co-writer could be making bank from all the master recording royalties they’re earning, but, as we all know, publishing takes a while to actually come through. Then, you learn that instead of registering the publishing side evenly amongst the writers, they simply awarded themselves 100% of the ownership. This means, once the publishing royalties start coming in, they’ll collect them all. Alright, not the worst scenario -- maybe you’re best friends and you feel comfortable that they’ll do you right once the checks come in.
Now let’s say there’s a falling out and you no longer talk. Because a split sheet was never filled out for your placement, no agreement was made on who receives what, and your co-writer is in the wind enjoying the song’s immediate success, there’s a hot chance that you won’t see any of those royalties without some legal action. This is why discussing splits is so important. Not every situation is like this, but there are situations exactly like this out there. Have an honest discussion with every co-writer and person that works on your song -- make sure you decide who gets what percentage, who might be paid a one-time fee for their work, and get it in writing. Don’t wait and be reactive, be proactive.
“To me, making sure you get paid for your music is just as important as creating the music. Get your split sheets done after every song you make or have your terms and ownership clearly outlined in your license agreements if you sell beats online. Don't leave any room for uncertainty with this kind of stuff because you don't want to get the short end of the stick (or no stick at all) when it comes time to getting paid.”
-Kato On The Track
No Need to Stay Traditional
Maybe you read the scenario above and went “that’ll never be me! I get paid upfront for all my work!”. Totally an option -- there’s no reason you have to go the traditional route when working on songs. Whichever way you get compensated for your work is up to you, and every creator knows what’s best for their career.
That might be in the form of a work-for-hire -- an agreement to supply work for, generally, a one-time negotiated fee. Be mindful that this also means you generally give away any rights to copyright ownership, but if you don’t care about the potential future earnings, make sure you negotiate for an acceptable amount that your work is worth.
Another form could be creating beats and selling or licensing them out to beat sites, like Tracklib. Some creators spend all their time working solely on creating melodies, foundation beats, or short tunes that they work to get placed in another songwriter’s work. This can be a lucrative business -- that has its pros and cons -- so make sure you read the fine print, terms of service, and don’t sell yourself short. Shop around and interview the companies -- it’s as much an opportunity for you as it is for them.
Being Successful Through Publishing
Listen, we’re a publishing administrator, and not to be all ‘broken record’, but we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t talk about music publishing. Surprisingly, much of what we’ve already mentioned is tied directly to publishing and, if you heed our words of caution, you can learn a lot to help you be more successful as a creator. Since everyone loves a good list, below are the four main things you need to do to collect all of your royalties worldwide:
- Choose a distributor -- you can’t expect much if you don’t get your music in front of people and a distributor will make sure that’s taken care of
- Affiliate with a collection society -- affiliating with your home-territory collection society (such as ASCAP or BMI in the US) will ensure any songs you’re registering are tracked for royalty collection
- Get a publishing administrator -- you need someone in your corner to help globally register your songs and collect all the royalties your songs are earning. Remember, using a publishing administrator, like Songtrust, does not replace your collection society.
- Sign up with SoundExchange -- if your songs are getting non-interactive digital radio play (such as Pandora and SiriusXM), signing up with SoundExchange ensures that the digital performance royalties you are owed on the master recording side are properly collected
FOUR STEPS TO COLLECT
ALL YOUR ROYALTIES GLOBALLY
Download our free Royalty Checklist to make sure
you are fully covered for global royalty collection.
Lastly, if you’re at all confused, bewildered, or hesitant about your career as a songwriter, know that you’re not alone. Reach out to local creators in your area to get advice and learn about their experiences. Always remember to:
- Be smart -- do your homework, treat your career as a business, and never sell yourself short
- Be honest -- don’t let the uncomfortable or awkward nature that comes with discussing money get in the way of you determining splits and having an honest conversation with co-writers about the worth of your time
- Be creative -- don’t put yourself into a box by saying you have to go the traditional route. Figure out what ways of collaborating with others works best for you and move forward.
- Royalties Checklist -- must-see list for all the royalty types you should be collecting for your work
- Estimate Your Streaming Royalties -- Have songs on Spotify? Have over 10K streams? Find out how much you’re due and how we can help you collect your royalties around the world
- Modern Guide to Music Publishing -- Set yourself apart from the rest by learning everything you can about music publishing with this extensive guide
- Music Publishing Crash Course -- Want to learn about music publishing, but in bite-sized pieces? Sign up for our five-day crash course to get the fundamentals straight to your inbox
Take control of your publishing. Maximize Songtrust for your songs and business.
We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.