Music publishing relates to the development, marketing and protection of music. A publisher’s main role is to find talented songwriters and composers, give support and guidance to further their career by securing commissions for new works, registering their works with appropriate collecting societies, promote them to performers, broadcasters, record companies etc.
Publishers license the use of music by monitoring and tracking the music they own and ensure payments are made in the form of royalties. It’s their job to secure commercial recordings (songs recorded on albums or used in movies and TV) of the songs they have in their catalogue.
A publishing contract sets out the rights and obligations of both the publisher and the songwriter. In these contracts songwriters and composers give the copyright in their music to the publisher in return for a commitment to promote, exploit and protect that music. The publisher then pays the songwriter/composer a percentage of any income earned from such exploitation as royalties. It is important that any legally binding contract you intend to enter into is drafted by a suitably experienced music solicitor.
There are various types of publishing contracts or deals. The main ones are the single song deal, singer-songwriter deal, writer deal, fixed period deal, administration deal.
1. Single Song Deal
A single song deal is when the publisher and the writer sign an agreement stating that the publisher has the right to pitch one specific song. This allows you to do whatever you like with any of your other work. These deals are usually offered by a publisher in order to get a particular song i.e. if you’re an unknown performer or a new writer who hasn’t established a reputation as a songwriter and your work gets picked up by a major artist or used on TV or in a film etc. You may assign the copyright for life or you can negotiate a rights period. The control you have over the song may be small so that the publisher isn't held back from making earnings from the song. There would be a reasonable level of control such as the right to approve changes to the lyrics or approval for use in a TV commercial.
2. Singer-Songwriter Deal
Singer-songwriter deals are for people who write and perform their own songs. Sometimes writers sign publishing deals before record deals, and sometimes it's the other way around. Singer-songwriter deals will usually, not always, pay an advance and then a royalty. If an artist has a record deal, the figures can increase dramatically. Any advances given are recoverable from your royalties. It may be some time before you start receiving royalties.
Many factors should be considered; therefore it's essential to have a decent manager and/or solicitor on your side when negotiating deals.
Singer-songwriter deals are divided into contract periods, in which you have a ‘Minimum Commitment’ for the period i.e. you write, record and release an album of composition. Once you have done this the contract ends. The publisher will then have ‘options’ to re-sign you for the next period. You can't just sign up with another publisher unless your original publisher decides not to take up their option on you.
3. Writer Deals
Writer deals are for songwriters who don’t perform. This type of deal is very similar to the singer-songwriter deal as it too is divided into periods with ‘options’ at the end. However, the Minimum Commitment is different as a writer won’t be making albums. Instead, the number of your songs that are being recorded and released will be taken into account i.e. the commitment will be for between 4 and 8 songs. As with the singer-songwriter deal, the publisher has the option to re-sign you for another period.
Fixed Term deals can be done for both writers and singer-songwriters. The publisher hires the writer for a fixed period of time (typically 3-5 year contract), both are committed to work together for this period. All the songs written during that time frame are then owned by the publisher. There's no ‘option’ with fixed term deals, at the end of the contract you are able to sign to any publisher you want.
Administration deals are used when the songwriter only wants the publisher to be concerned in the tracking and collection of royalties. They do not wish the publisher to actively promote their songs. Usually this type of deal is used when a writer has a back catalogue of music or when someone has inherited copyrights and they want a publisher to look after it for them. Administration deals are normally between 3-5 year contracts, also there is no transfer of copyright.