Most songwriters know that having great songs and a great sound is only the first step to making music a full-time career. The next step is to assemble a team of professionals to distribute your music and make sure you collect all your royalties. Even songwriters with a distribution deal in place should understand what a publisher does and how they can help you succeed. Working with both is the best way to make sure you effectively manage the business side of your career and collect all the money you earn. Below are the major differences between what a publisher will do for you and what a distributor will do - make sure to know the difference.
Music Distributors Deliver Your Work To The Masses
Music distribution is the business of getting your albums into shops, onto streaming services and other digital platforms. Distributors have systems in place to supply music to a variety of different platforms with a variety of different submission requirements. Distributors make money by charging either a flat fee or taking a percentage of artists’ royalties. Fees average around $10 for single submissions or one or two tracks to around $40 for an EP or an album with six songs or more, depending on the distributor itself. Distributors can also take an average royalty of 15 percent and some also charge an annual fee to keep content available with each outlet. Remember - their prime goal is to get your music into the hands of people, but often don’t work the publishing side meaning it’s still your responsibility that your songs are registered with a PRO/CMO so you can collect your royalties.
How Distribution Deals Work
Music distributors have no guarantee 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. If you are an indie 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 distributors will offer you the right to terminate your agreement with 30 or 60 days notice. Smaller aggregators may ask for a fixed period such as one to three years to cover their investment in your music. (As always, it’ a good idea to have a lawyer look over any legal agreements you are asked to sign.)
Some distributors, such ad Distrokid or CD Baby, also give you the chance to opt-in for publishing when setting up the distribution of your songs, but not every distributor does this. Make sure you know what services they do offer AND which of those you want to take part in. As with every deal, you’re signing an agreement, so take the time to read it over, make sure it’s what you’re looking for and in your favor before signing.
Publishing Makes Sure Your Distribution Doesn’t Go To Waste
As a songwriter, you earn money from your songs from both the master recording side and from your composition. Often times, your distributor will facilitate you earning the royalties collected from the master recording but don’t always help with the composition copyrights and those royalties you earn. 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 already have a traditional publishing deal, another option is using a publishing administrator like Songtrust.
No Publishing Yet? No Problem - Get A Publishing Administrator
A publishing administrator is empowered by the songwriter to manage their copyrights and account for the income they earn. Publishing administrators make sure your songs are registered with every available society and making sure all those royalties - mechanical, performance, and micro-sync - are collected. They go out on behalf of the songwriter to collect royalties from Publishing Rights Organizations (or PROs, such as BMI, ASCAP and SESAC) and Collective Management Organizations (or CMOs, such as APRA, PRS, and GEMA) 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 selling or streaming your music works hard on your behalf, they can’t always guarantee that you’ll receive all the royalties you’ve earned from both the writers share and the publishers share OR the recording and composition side of your song. If a songwriter is not registered in a particular area the royalties may be collected but held until the songwriter can be located. Many times the songwriter can’t be located and the even though the royalties have been collected, they are never distributed to the songwriter. A publishing administrator such as Songtrust works with these agencies not only to make sure it’s clients are properly registered and identified, but they can also find and distribute blackbox or orphaned royalties to the songwriter.
Don’t Get Lazy
Remember that the work doesn’t stop as soon as your song is finished and distributed to the masses. It’s your responsibility as a songwriter and a business person to continue the work to make sure more people engage with your music and that you’re collecting 100% of the royalties you earn from your music. Do your homework - find the right distributor to fit your needs and determine which publisher you want supporting 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 - they can help you affiliate and collect money from PROs and mechanical rights 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.
To make sure you’re collecting all of your mechanical and performance royalties globally, register for Songtrust as your publishing administrator today!
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.