Whether or not it's in a songwriter's best interest to pursue a music publishing contract is a complicated issue. Here we delve into what each party's role in a contract is, the different types of contracts out there, and other considerations to take into account.
Guest post by Jen Sako of the Music Development Agency
The answer to the question of whether or not a songwriter should pursue a music publishing contract can grow complex. A quick internet search turns up many arguments for and against “signing a deal.” But only you know what kind of deal will work best for you and your career. How much time can you devote to the business side of music? Do you have a comprehensive understanding of the music business? What do you as the songwriter bring to the deal and what are your obligations?
The Publisher’s Role
Music publishing allows licensing for your songs so you get paid for writing them. A goodpublisher will have a network of music supervisors, music licensing libraries and other organizations with opportunities to use your music. Your publisher will promote you and your songs for use in soundtracks for television, film, advertisements and numerous other projects. They will even work to pair you with other recording artists who could use your songs on their own albums. If you want regular royalty checks, you may need a publisher for the big job of administering the mechanical, synchronization and master licenses for your music.
What’s In The Music Publishing Contract
The songs you write are protected under exclusive copyright which provides you the right to be compensated for your creativity. When you sign a music publishing contract, you grant the publisher part of this copyright–usually up to 50%–so that the publisher can recoup their investment in you as a songwriter. Part of their investment might be the allowance of an advance against your future earnings. After you “earn out” your advance, you’ll see royalties from the licensing opportunities negotiated on your behalf.
Licences and Royalties
A mechanical license royalty comes from the sale of a CD containing your song or a download of your song.
If your song is broadcasted to an audience over radio, satellite, internet or performed at a concert or played at an event, you should receive a performance royalty. These are paid to your publisher by a Performance Rights Organization such as BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC, who collects them from broadcasters, venues and event organizers.
Finally, a synchronization license pays you for use of your song in soundtracks for film, televisions shows, advertisements, video games, ringtones, toys, etc.
Your music publishing deal may include how your publisher will exploit all these opportunities for your music and collect the royalty fees so that you are paid and can continue to create.
What Contracts Cover
Contracts should always spell out the songs or compositions involved, the rights and the deliverables. The term of the contract must be defined, preferably as a period of time on a calendar, after which all rights revert back to the songwriter. Any advances, royalty splits, administrative costs, legal fees and indemnification clauses must be included in the contract. Require the right to audit. Hire a lawyer before signing.
There are seven:
- Single Song Agreement–covers specific song rights as outlined on the contract.
- Exclusive Song Writer Agreement–the songwriter works for the publisher. All songs belong to the publisher.
- Co-publishing Agreement–most common. Publisher and writer split song royalties.
- Administration Agreement–songs may be self-published but publisher agrees to administer licenses.
- Collection Agreement–publisher agrees to administer licenses but not to any exploitation roles.
- Sub-Publishing Agreement–covers foreign territories.
- Purchasing Agreement–covers purchases of music catalogues from another publisher.
As an independent and creative worker, signing away approximately half of your rights and potential income may sound too high a price to pay. Or, the benefits to having a publisher in your corner hustling your music on your behalf couldn’t make you happier. Only you know your own temperament and skill set in this area. With any direction you choose to pursue, know your own value and go after what you deserve.