A Nashville music publisher says she hears the words “I want a publishing deal” more often than “Let’s grab some coffee.” A traditional music publishing deal might seem glamorous to new songwriters, but when do you really need one and do you need one to manage the business side of your career? The answer might actually be no, or at least not straight away. In fact, many top music publishers say they’d rather work with writers who already understand how the business works, and their favorite clients bring them industry knowledge and experience along with great songs.
New songwriters aiming for a career in music can get their feet wet in the industry by working with a publishing administrator before looking for a traditional publishing deal. With a publishing admin, it’s possible to manage your own career, keep all the rights to your songs and collect all your royalties from all sources - domestic, international, mechanical and performance, without giving away your copyright or tying yourself down to a long term contract early in your career.
Traditional Music Publishing Pros and Cons
A traditional publishing deal has risks as well as rewards. A good traditional music publisher will promote your songs, collect your royalties, arrange licensing agreements and in most cases even front you an advance against future royalties. However, their services are not free: they do all this in exchange for a percentage of your royalties - usually somewhere between 25 and 50 percent. They could potentially retain this ownership for the life of your copyright, even after your deal with the publisher has been terminated.
Another important risk to consider: While the idea of signing with a well-known publisher and getting an advance to help with the rent while you build your career seems tempting, an advance is not free money and it is not a salary. It’s a loan. You won’t receive any additional royalties from your song until it’s earned enough to cover the amount of the advance.
The Admin Difference: You Make The Decisions
Instead of taking a lifetime interest in your copyright, publishing administrators charge only a percentage of the money they collect on your behalf, usually about 15 percent. A publishing admin will register your songs with performing rights organizations (aka PROs), mechanical collection societies, and royalty administrators all over the world They’ll also collect royalties from international, mechanical and sync licenses.
When you sign with a publishing administrator, you retain 100 percent ownership of your copyrights. When you sign with a traditional publisher, they own a percentage of all your songs - even songs you haven’t written yet - for a certain period of time, and potentially in perpetuity. When you choose a publishing admin, you may register all of your songs, some of your songs or just one song. New songwriters might choose to register all of their songs with one administrator, while others hire admins in different territories to help them collect international royalties their PRO might have missed.
Publishing Admins Offer Frequent Payments and Flexible Terms
Publishing administrators like Songtrust pay songwriters four times per year, while a traditional music publisher typically pays only twice a year. Working with a publishing administrator makes sure you are paid regularly and quickly with easy to understand royalty statements.
When you sign with a traditional publishing company, you usually sign a multi-year contract with a number of options for renewal. With each option your publisher can evaluate how things are going and either exercise the option to renew your contract or drop you. You may also be subject to a minimum delivery commitment, or a minimum delivery release commitment, meaning you have to deliver a certain number of songs that are released before you can get out of your deal. With a publishing administrator, you agree only to a term with no strings attached.
A traditional publishing deal isn’t right for every songwriter, or can make more sense at different times in your career. Managing your own career with the help of a publishing administrator is a good way for songwriters to manage the business side of their careers and gain some leverage and experience the top music publishers like to see in promising potential clients.
We fully support any of our clients when they decide to move on to a traditional publishing deal, which is why we offer such flexible terms. Until you're ready to sign with a traditional publishing deal, sign up for Songtrust to collect all your global royalties.
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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.