Publishing vs. Distribution

Most songwriters know that having popular songs and a great sound is only part of making music a full-time job. Another part of building out your career is assembling a team of professionals to take care of the important business side to your work: distributing your music and ensuring that you’re collecting all the royalties your song starts to earn. Working with both a distributor and a publisher is the best way to make sure you effectively manage the business side of your career and collect all the money you’re owed. Below you’ll find the roles and responsibilities of your distributor and your publisher, or publishing administrator for clarification - you’ll need them both to release your music and collect your various types of royalties, so it’s important to understand the difference. 

DIY Music Distributors Deliver Your Work To The Masses

Music distribution allows you to get your songs and albums into shops and onto streaming services and other digital platforms. DIY distributors have systems and relationships in place to supply music to a variety of different platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, and many more, that each have different submission requirements. Distributors make money by charging either a flat fee and/or taking a percentage of artists’ royalties, also known as the master recording royalties. Fees average around $10 for single submissions of one or two tracks to around $40 for an EP or an album with six songs or more, depending on the distributor. Distributors can also take an average recording royalty of 15 percent and some also charge an annual fee to keep content available with each outlet. 

How Distribution Deals Work

Music distributors can’t guarantee that anyone will make any money. If the music doesn’t sell, neither the artist nor the distributor will get paid. This is why many distributors choose to charge an upfront fee -- to cover their initial costs. As with any business arrangement, you’ll be asked to sign a contract permitting the distributor to sell and distribute your music and collect royalties on your behalf. If you are an independent artist hoping one day for a label deal, read the contract carefully to make sure that there is a termination clause that won’t prevent you from signing the deal. Most large DIY-focused distributors will offer you the right to terminate your agreement with 30 or 60 days notice. Smaller distributors may ask for a fixed period such as one to three years to cover their investment in your music, but it honestly depends on which distributor you’re considering. 

Some distributors, like CD Baby, also give you the chance to opt in for publishing administration when setting up the distribution of your songs, but not every distributor does this. As with every deal, you’re signing a legal agreement, so take the time to read it over, and make sure you know what services they do offer AND which of those you want to take part in.

Publishing Makes Sure You’re Collecting Everything You’re Owed

As a songwriter, you earn money from your songs from both the master recording side and from your composition. As mentioned above, your distributor will facilitate the earning and collection of royalties from the master recording but doesn’t always help with the composition registration and those royalties earned. As the writer of your song, you are automatically the owner of your composition copyright, which in essence makes you a publisher. However, not all performing rights societies or collection management organizations recognize an individual songwriter as a publisher without some sort of publishing company entity. If you don’t plan on creating a publishing entity or don’t already have a traditional publishing deal, another option is using a publishing administrator like Songtrust. 

[Term] Music Publishing.R


No Publishing Yet? No Problem - Get A Publishing Administrator

A publishing administrator empowers the songwriter to manage their copyrights and access the income they earn. They do this by making sure your songs are properly registered with every available society globally and making sure all those royalties - mechanical, performance, and micro-sync - are collected. They register songs and collect publishing royalties on behalf of the songwriter from Performance Rights Organizations (or PROs, such as BMI, ASCAP and SESAC), Collective Management Organizations (or CMOs, such as APRA, PRS, and GEMA), and mechanical agencies (such as Harry Fox Agency (HFA) or Music Reports in the US) all over the globe. Songwriters pay a fee for a publishing administrator’s services, but they do not give up any ownership in exchange for their services.

While a music distributor works hard to sell or stream your music, they first and foremost focus on the collection of your master recording royalties. If they offer a publishing add-on, it’s also good to know what other royalty types they’ll collect for your composition. Another important point to know is that being affiliated with only a collection society, such as ASCAP or BMI in the US, does not ensure that you’re collecting all the royalties that your songs generate. These collection societies differ in the type of royalties that they collect depending on the territory (for example, ASCAP in the US doesn’t collect mechanical royalties whereas GEMA in Germany collects both performance and mechanical royalties) and can’t always guarantee that you’ll receive all the royalties you’ve earned from both the writer’s share and the publisher’s share, depending on the terms of that society. If a songwriter is not registered with a society in a particular country where they earn money, these royalties may be collected but held until the songwriter can be located. Even though the royalties are being collected, if the songwriter can’t be located and those royalties remain uncollected for a number of years, they may end up becoming black box royalties. A publishing administrator such as Songtrust works directly with these agencies and societies, not only to make sure their clients are properly registered and identified but also, hopefully, to find and distribute royalties to songwriters so they do not end up in the black box.

[Term] Publishing Administrator.R


Keep the Momentum Going

Remember that the work doesn’t stop as soon as your song is finished and distributed to the masses. Do your homework - find the right distributor to fit your needs and determine which publisher or publishing administrator you want to support your composition. Traditional publishing deals aren’t available to everyone at will - but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be collecting in the meantime. Use a publishing administrator can help you affiliate and collect money from collection societies globally, saving songwriters precious time and money. If your music is earning money anywhere, make sure you have the right team behind you to collect it.

If you have additional questions about the differences between distribution and publishing, or about setting up your publishing with Songtrust, send us an email at To keep organized for a successful creator career, download our free Royalty Checklist by clicking the button below.

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