Five Questions to Ask Your Publisher

For many songwriters and musicians, the idea of signing a publishing deal sounds like reaching the pinnacle of success. In fact, some music creators find it so exciting that the only question they ask is: "Where do I sign?" 

Does this sound like you? Traditional and co-publishing deals are highly lucrative and have a lot of benefits, but they are also big decisions that should be carefully reviewed and understood before signing. Ask further questions -- ones that will ultimately have a major impact on your royalties, possible sync deals and licensing opportunities -- because, let’s face it, this could impact your entire career! Below are the top five questions we think you should ask any potential publisher before signing a deal with them:

What kind of agreement is this?

Typically, there are a few different kinds of deals you can sign with a publisher:

With a traditional publishing agreement, income collected by the company is split between the publisher and writer, though the publisher generally retains copyright ownership on the song. These types of deals are becoming increasingly competitive as are the barriers to entry for songwriters. 

In a co-publishing deal, the songwriter would retain their writer’s share and split the publisher’s share, generally, 50/50 with the publisher in exchange for an advance and partial ownership. 

In a sub-publishing agreement, the original publisher, which can be an individual, uses an administrator but retains their ownership. These deals are also more typical for mid to large-sized catalogs looking for coverage in certain territories.

With an administration agreement, the publisher collects revenues for a percentage of the profits while the songwriter maintains full ownership of their copyrights, as well as creative control, such as finding and negotiating their own sync placements. If you’re just starting out, administration allows you to get a better sense of the value of your catalog, in a commercial sense, and use that as leverage when negotiating a more advantageous publishing deal in the future.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to each. If signing a traditional publishing deal threatens to deprive you of either too much of your music's earned profits or the rights to your music, another deal might have more favorable terms that suits your needs. Songtrust offers a different solution, an administrative deal, letting creators retain 100% of their rights and collect global royalties on their music for a low-cost administration fee. We make sure that you’re completely covered—collecting the publisher’s share of mechanical, performance, and micro-sync royalties—while you’re either waiting for the perfect publishing deal to come along or focusing on growing your own business and career.

How long is the contract, and is there a minimum delivery commitment?

This will vary from deal to deal and the type of agreement you’re looking to get into. Some deals, like traditional publishing, require a songwriter to deliver a set number of songs over the course of the contract, with the standard sometimes being about 10 per year. However, if you co-write any of your music, understand that this may impact that minimum deliverable number. For instance, if you write only 50% of your songs, you'll need to deliver 20 songs instead of 10. Also, be crystal-clear about how long the contract runs. The length of the term could be just a few short months or it could last decades. An administration or sub-publishing deal term tends to be shorter than a publishing or co-publishing deal and within that, the more modern administration deals, such as Songtrust offers, allow for the shortest deal term available.

What will a publisher do for me at this point in my career?

As exciting as it sounds to be offered a traditional or co-publishing contract, it's worth taking a moment for a clear-eyed assessment of where your career is and what you can reasonably expect from a publishing deal. A songwriter who’s had some commercial success, for example, is going to have different needs and expectations compared with one who’s just starting out. 

What are your songwriting goals? If you don't think your music is going to find success in commercial sales, you'll need to find a publisher with a great track record getting syncs (see below), while someone writing Top 40-ready tunes will want a publisher who can help pay for demo recordings to land a record deal. At the end of the day, you’ll want a publisher who is going to support and advocate for you and your needs—whatever they may be—and that means determining what your expectations are before you sign on the dotted line.

What’s the publisher’s track record in terms of getting sync deals?

Increasingly, songwriters are seeing a growing amount of their income come from sync deals, meaning music licensed for television shows, video games, and advertisements, for example. And in the music business—just as in the rest of life—connections are everything. Make sure any potential publisher can show a proven record of success in placing their clients’ music. Alternately, check if their contract allows you to keep 100% of your copyright—like Songtrust does—so that you’re free to pursue any creative opportunities that come your way, as well as the commission for synchronization.

How big is the publishing company?

Both small and large publishers come with their own pros and cons. Yes, large multinational publishers have the muscle to enforce copyrights and can sometimes find it easier to get sync deals. But, you’ll be just one of many, many artists they're handling; if there are many others on their roster who create music similar to yours, how much time and effort will they really put behind advancing your career? 

On the other hand, while a smaller publisher may be quicker to return your calls, there can also be drawbacks. Do they have the capability to handle international usage and royalties or the network to help with sync placements? Increasingly, larger and larger shares of US songwriters’ royalty streams come from overseas licensing.

Want to learn more about publishing deals and the fundamentals of music publishing? Register for one of our bi-weekly, virtual Music Publishing 101 webinars. These free sessions cover the basics you need to know to get your publishing in order and allow you to ask questions to our publishing specialists. Choose the date and time that works best for you today

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