As an independent songwriter, you have quite a few different options when signing a publishing agreement. Traditionally, a songwriter would sign over a percentage of their rights to a song - ranging from a small amount to 100% - in exchange for opportunities such as cash advances and the potential for bigger sync deals (TV and film placements).
Enticing as that sounds, it's becoming less likely for most independent songwriters to sign the kind of big publishing deals that create such opportunities. But don't fret! There is an option that is absolutely worth looking into further: become your own publisher!
It is quite common for musicians to become their own publisher and is something you should consider. In next week's article, we'll discuss a step-by-step guide of setting up your own publishing company. Until then, we're going to focus on the major benefits to owning your publishing rights.
1. Collect more publishing royalties
By the very nature of entering into a publishing agreement, you're giving away a percentage of your copyrights - and thus a percentage of your publishing royalties.
If you own 100% of the publishing on your songs, you'll be able to collect all royalties owed to you from public performance, digital (internet radio and on-demand streaming), synchronization (TV, film, and video games), mechanical royalties (sales of physical recordings and downloads).
Reminder: you'll always get the full writer's share owed to by registering your songs with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC) - even if you've signed away all your publishing rights.
2. Maintain creative control
Aside from royalty collection, publishers look to exploit your songs through synchronization licenses. This means, they will pitch your music for placement in film, TV, video games, advertising, etc. These licenses can be a great source of income and in many publishing agreements the publisher will take a cut of all license fees. By owning 100% of your publishing rights, you'll get paid through all of those fees.
The other key differentiator comes from controlling how your music gets pitched and to whom. By owning your publishing rights, you gain the sole right to grant licenses for the use of your music in any capacity. Each time someone wants to use your music, a license (and subsequent fees and/ or royalties) are required to be cleared by you.
Of course, this also means that you have the right to not grant licenses either. This is especially important if you want to avoid certain kinds of association with your songs (e.g. ending up synched to an obnoxious beer commercial or a terrible TV show). Once a song becomes synonymous with something negative, it can be very difficult to convince anyone else to pick that song for their project.
3. Keep your options open
If you're an artist and you sign a publishing deal early, you may limit what opportunities are available on the label side as, increasingly, labels are looking to also acquire publishing rights.
If you want to compose for film/TV, but you have an exclusive publishing deal, you may not be able to do song deals with individual film and television studios to compose for their projects.
All this being said, publishers can be a wonderful addition to a songwriter's team — when it's a good fit. Like everything in life, when considering a publishing deal, it's all about relationships and having a clear and open line of communication between you and your publisher.