Disclaimer: This article contains music publishing processes that may be specific to Non-European countries and territories. In Continental Europe and elsewhere, these examples may vary.
For an aspiring professional songwriter, there are few experiences more exciting than hearing your music played on the air or streamed online for the first time. It’s proof that the act of creating music is a reward unto itself. However, that shouldn’t be the end of the story. It’s really more like the beginning, because at the end of the day, every songwriter needs to eat. Getting paid for your hard work is the crucial leap for any working songwriter and setting up music publishing is an essential step towards getting paid. Here’s why:
Publishers Plug Your Work
Music publishers perform different kinds of services for songwriters, depending on the type of publisher they are and the type of deal you have with them. In addition to managing the nuts and bolts of administering your catalog, a publisher can promote your songs in various ways. This can include pitching them to other, more established musicians to cover, and it can also mean plugging them for other entities to license, netting you coveted sync placements in films, commercials, and television. However, these services come at a price. For example, a standard arrangement is that a publisher, that provides these additional co-publishing services, may take 50 percent of a given song's copyright, and possibly your entire catalog.
There are other ways to go about it, of course. Publishing administrators, like Songtrust, don’t provide creative services such as pitching their clients’ songs, but they take care of all the complex administrative tasks while taking a percentage of the royalties you earn for your compositions rather than a percentage of ownership in your copyrights for a period of time.
To Collect Mechanical Royalties
Mechanical royalties are a form of compensation earned when your copyrighted work is mechanically reproduced or digitally downloaded. It doesn’t matter whether your songs are streamed online via Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube or elsewhere, downloaded from digital stores like iTunes or Amazon Music, or encoded in a physical medium such as CDs or vinyl: If you’re in the U.S., you’re still entitled to what’s called the “statutory mechanical royalty rate” of $0.091 for songs 5 minutes or under, and $0.0175 per minute for those over 5 minutes, for physical media and downloads. Streaming is calculated differently.
The problem is that—unlike with performance royalties—mechanical royalties can be notoriously difficult for independent artists and songwriters to collect, especially overseas. A music publisher (or a publishing administration service like Songtrust) will help you collect these royalties, making sure your work is registered with all the appropriate pay sources so that you collect this important source of royalties.
To Collect Your International Publishing Royalties
Royalties generated overseas are an increasingly important source of income, but there’s a catch. Because each territory has their own customs and laws around royalty collection, it’s impossible to craft a “one size fits all” solution. When working independently, songwriters can’t really ensure they aren’t leaving money on the table unless they register with each and every local pay source (including PROs, MROs, and CMOs) where their music is streamed or publicly performed.
With over 200 countries or territories around the world, and most having their own pay source or collection society, taking on the task of affiliating and registering with every pay source is an enormous undertaking. Using music publishing administrators, like Songtrust, can reduce this workload by only requiring you to register your song once with your administrator.
How important are these royalties?
Even if they’re registered with a domestic PRO such as ASCAP or BMI in the US, most professional songwriters only earn 30% of their overall publishing royalties from these two sources. In other words, if you only register your songs with your local pay source or collection society, you'll be unable to collect domestic mechanical royalties and international performance and mechanical royalties, and you may also miss out on some types of interactive streaming royalties here in the US. While some countries have collection societies that collect both performance and mechanical royalties in their local territory, you’re still restricted when it comes to royalties earned outside your home country.
What’s the solution?
A publisher or a publishing administration service will navigate the complex web of international royalties for you, meaning that—among other things—you won't have to learn another language just to collect the money you’re owed! Currently, Songtrust maintains direct relationships with over 50 pay sources in over 215 territories around the world, providing the widest coverage available in the music publishing sphere, and we want to put it to work for you.
Less Time Hunting, More Time Writing
Whether your songwriting is a fulfilling sideline or your main gig, it requires a solid investment of time to learn the ins and outs of music publishing. On top of this, the hard truth is that—as we pointed out in the case of mechanical royalties—not all royalties are available to individuals who self-manage their publishing, unless they've committed to running a fully-fledged publishing company. The question is: What kind of publishing deal makes the most sense for you?
As we hinted at earlier, the upsides of having a traditional publishing company on your side—handling the business end of managing your catalog and potentially pitching your work—come with some drawbacks when it comes to retaining full ownership of your work. Many publishing contracts stipulate that publishers retain an ownership stake for many years after your contract has concluded.
That’s why we suggest giving a publishing administration company, like Songtrust, a second look. With Songtrust, for example, you pay a one-time registration fee plus a small administration fee for a limited term, while keeping 100% of your copyright. With the hefty and time-consuming job of tracking down all your money taken off your plate, you're free to do what you do best: Writing great songs!
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.