Note: This article focuses on how composition royalties are split in most countries, but many societies outside of the U.S. break down writer and publisher shares differently. If you’re unsure of how your country or territory handles them, please check with your society directly.
Publishing is a crucial part of every creator’s career, but let’s be honest: Even the most experienced musicians have a hard time decoding all the details that go along with it.
Let’s start with how music royalties are divided. While performance royalties are typically split into two equal halves — a writer’s share and a publisher’s share — mechanical royalties only generate a publisher’s share.
The following diagram shows this breakdown in more detail:
That’s a lot of information that may be leaving you with more questions than answers, so let’s break it all down bit by bit, shall we?
What Are Publishing Royalties?
Publishing royalties are related to a song’s composition — its underlying music and lyrics — rather than its original recording, which can vary from a live version to a cover song to an alternate take. The difference between publishing royalties and songwriting royalties comes down to the publisher and writer shares, both of which are explained below.
What Is a Writer Share?
A writer share is a portion of performance royalties that are paid directly to a songwriter, regardless of whether they have an outside publisher in place or not.
If several writers contributed to a composition, each person’s share is determined by a legally binding document called a split sheet agreement. Verbal agreements are far more tenuous, and unable to prove who owns what in court. For example, if you wrote a hit single with a four-person rock band and divided your ownership shares evenly on a split sheet, your writer’s share would be 25% of half of the performance royalty pie. The other half is the publisher’s share, which we will explain next.
How or by Whom Is the Writer Share Collected?
Depending on which collection society you are affiliated with, Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) or Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) collect the writer’s share of performance royalties once a song is registered. These societies are typically located in your home country, and will pay your writer’s share directly to you.
Your PRO or CMO will also work with other societies to retrieve your writer share worldwide. For example, let’s say you are affiliated with ASCAP in the U.S. and your music is used in Germany. The collection society in that territory (GEMA) will pay your writer share to ASCAP, who will pass that money onto you after subtracting any fees you’ve agreed to. (To put things in perspective, ASCAP claims “about 90 cents of every dollar we collect is distributed back to our members as royalties.”)
What Is a Publisher Share?
A publisher share is the portion of performance or mechanical royalties that is paid to a traditional publisher, a publishing administrator like Songtrust, or the songwriter(s) themselves if they created a personal publishing entity.
How or by Whom Is a Publisher Share Collected?
Collection societies (those PRO/CMOs we mentioned earlier!) allocate royalties to each songwriter and their publisher based on how you determined publishing splits in your split sheet agreement. A publisher will usually claim the same amount for the publisher’s share of a song as the writer share.
Bringing things back to the four-person band example above, you’d collect 25% of the publisher’s share of your performance royalties and 25% of the publisher’s share of your mechanical royalties.
What Can Impact Receiving Your Shares?
The number one roadblock to receiving your shares is conflicting claims and credit errors caused by an incorrect song registration or something as preventable as registering a recording multiple times.
To help avoid running into any issues, here are Seven Details Worth Getting Right When Registering Songs. Additionally, utilize split sheet agreements every time you collaborate — a crucial part of the creative process that we tackle in our new crash course.
What Does This All Mean for Me as a Music Creator?
Understanding how your ownership is broken down and collected by societies around the world is crucial to a musician’s career. Without that knowledge in place, it’s nearly impossible to know how much money you’re truly earning, and from where (or if you’re actually collecting everything you’re earning!). If you’d need a quick breakdown of how to track and collect everything you’ve earned, check out our Music Publishing 101 on-demand workshop or our crash course on How Global Royalty Collection Really Works.