4 kinds of music publishing royalties

There are four important types of royalties involved in music publishing – here we break down what each one is, and how they apply to your music.

Guest post by Katelyn Raterman of the Symphonic Blog

So you already know there are royalties associated with publishing, but what kind? Which ones do Symphonic’s Publishing Administration collect? How can you know if you’re earning those royalties as an independent artist who writes your own songs? In this post, we’ll break down all of this and more. Here are 4 important types of royalties involved in music publishing…

Before we dive in…

The two most common music publishing royalty types are performance royalties and mechanical royalties.

When you sign up with Symphonic’s Publishing Administration, these are the two main types of royalties we’ll collect for you. Even though we handle the annoying administrative work for you, it doesn’t hurt to understand how they work. As they say, knowledge is power.

1. Performance Royalties

WHO collects them?

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs). Each major world territory has one.

WHAT are they?

Performance Royalties are earned whenever a song is broadcasted or performed publicly.

HOW do I know if I’m earning performance royalties?

You’re definitely earning performance royalties if your song is:

  • Played on internet radio (like Pandora)
  • Played on “terrestrial radio” (i.e. 93.3 FM, 100.7 FM, etc.)
  • Played on online streaming services like Spotify
  • Performed at live venues or played in clubs (whether by you as a performer on your tour, by a well-known DJ in a club in Sweden, or by a cover band in a pub in Nashville)
  • Played in businesses and retailers of all kinds (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, big offices, etc.) as background music
  • Broadcasted on TV (whether on an episode of a TV show, on a sports channel in passing, or in an advertisement for another brand)

Keep in mind… Performance royalties are a special royalty type. Just because you’re distributing your music with a digital distributor like Symphonic doesn’t necessarily mean you’re earning performance royalties.

2. Mechanical Royalties

WHO collects them?

Mechanical royalties are collected from mechanical collection societies. Each major world territory has one of these, too.

WHAT are they?

Mechanical royalties are earned per-unit when a song is sold on a “mechanically reproduced” physical medium like vinyl, physical CDs. Nowadays, this includes digital downloads and internet streaming.

“Mechanical” can sound like a confusing word in the digital age, but the word “mechanical” stems from the fact that back in the early days of the music industry, compositions were physically or mechanically manufactured and reproduced onto physical products for public consumption.

HOW do I know if I’m earning mechanical royalties?

You’re earning mechanical royalties when your song is:

  • Manufactured and sold on physical CD/vinyl products
  • Reproduced into ringtones and sold as a ringtone
  • Streamed through interactive streaming services (on Spotify, Rdio, Beats, etc.)
  • Sold in digital retailers for digital downloads (on iTunes, Beatport, Amazon, etc.) outside of the USA.

Note: In the USA, the mechanical royalty share goes straight from iTunes to the distributor to the label. But in countries outside of the USA, your mechanical royalty is getting picked up from iTunes and thrown elsewhere.

If you are distributing your music to stores and streaming platforms worldwide using a digital music distributor like Symphonic Distribution and you’re seeing sales and streams result, you are definitely earning mechanical royalties.


Need some more clarification? Check these out:

Everything You Need To Know About Mechanical Royalties

Music Industry 360 // Ep.5: Let’s Talk Royalties

5 Types of Publishing Contracts

Typical Music Rights And Royalties For Creative Licensing


3. Print Royalties

Print royalties are earned whenever a composition is transcribed onto sheet paper, printed in songbooks, and published for the general population to purchase and play your music at home on their personal instruments for fun. These royalties are really only applicable to a songwriter if he/she has a Top 40 Radio Hit.

(Think little pre-teens taking piano lessons and buying Taylor Swift sheet music online or purchasing a Guns N’Roses hit on sheet music to sight read on guitar.)

4. Ringtone Royalties

If your song is reproduced as a ringtone and sold as a ringtone, you earn a royalty.

Simple as that, really.

To wrap it all up…

Symphonic’s Publishing Administration was designed to help artists just like you collect the royalties you are rightfully owed. Like we mentioned earlier, the core of what we collect for you are your mechanical and performance royalties. We do this by registering each one of your songs in every individual performance AND mechanical rights organization in over 60 territories.

So, no matter how your song was, is, or will be used – downloads, streams, internet radio plays, performances by DJs, anything – our publishing administration can collect the maximum amount of mechanical and performance royalties you deserve. We’re here to help.

Interested in getting started? // Click here to learn more and sign up. 

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