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Although physical media (ex. CDs) have seen a major decline in production and sales, publishers are more active than ever in the digital age.
In comparison to the music industry of the past, it’s a lot easier to partner with a music publishers to get your music distributed across various mediums.
This means increased exposure, allowing artists to generate an income through granting others the right to use your music in various forms.
Below are three of the most common types of publishers and the pros and cons of each:
Administrative publishers typically offer artists the most control over their music, but they also offer the least amount of creative and promotional support.
An administrative publisher usually provides basic services like monitoring your music to ensure you get any money owed to you.
In some scenarios they also offer placement opportunities which is rare depending on the artist. Some will help you with copyright as well as work alongside your performance rights organization.
Essentially these services are your least path of resistance into the world of publishing and licensing. While some will claim to land you large placements or that they will push your music on your behalf, the fact is that these companies are working with a large number of artists and even if they had the resources to properly push everyone, it wouldn’t be economically wise to do so.
With that said, a lot of the placements these entities claim to have landed for artists come from larger acts who would be considered a no brainer to land these types of deals. So keep this in mind when it comes to your expectations of how hard these companies will truly be working to promote you on your behalf.
Examples of administrative publishers include TuneCore, CD Baby, Songtrust, and Sentric. While all of these companies have slight differences, they allow you to get your foot in the door of the publishing and licensing space which is a great start for independent musicians who aspire to land larger placements in the future.
The major benefit of working with these companies is that you retain more control over your catalog and have a lot less red tape to deal with.
However, it is still important to do your research because some companies do have exclusive stipulations in place that restrict how you can work with other publishing entities.
Furthermore, platforms like CD Baby and TuneCore also provide music distribution services which could be positive for those who want to keep everything (music distribution, publishing, etc.) all under one roof.
This type of agreement is often best for musicians who want more control and need a low barrier way to get their foot in the door as they continue to grow and develop as artists.
These options also provide artists with more flexibility if they decide to move your music to an exclusive publisher with more resources and fire power.
- Offers the most control over your music
- Allows you to sell in more places
- Low barrier to entry to get into publishing
- Either a commission or upfront fee to get started
- Can usually end agreement when you want
- You’re responsible for promotion and marketing
- Publisher likely won’t offer creative services
- Less exposure to new fans
- More competition for fans in a crowded market
An independent publisher is akin to the modern version of an independent record label. These companies will not only handle the process of facilitating sales of music, but they may also offer some creative services, promotion and other forms of support to help further your music career.
As opposed to a publishing administration company, independent publishers are said to have more skin in the game and are more invested in your success. This is mainly because your success will be directly tied to their success and will impact how much money they will make.
When partnering with an independent publisher, musicians will likely need to sign an exclusive contract, meaning your music can only be sold through the particular publisher.
While this is common it is important to keep in mind that no two contracts are the same and you can negotiate anything especially if you have leverage in the form of an active and engaged fanbase that is already supporting you.
Depending on what you agree to in your contract, you may still maintain the copyright to the music audio recorded version that you’ve written, but you may not own the copyright to a recording that was paid for by an independent publisher. It’s important to always remember that copyrighting a song/ audio recording the master and copyrighting the written composition of a recording are two different things.
While in the case of working with an independent publisher, you may be giving up more control, realize that this isn’t always a bad thing especially if these companies have the resources and ability to take your music career to the next level.
Many independent artists build themselves up to a point of success and notoriety and then partner with such companies to increase their exposure and leverage better deals. This doesn’t always mean signing your life away and if you educate yourself, these partnerships can be very lucrative for both sides.
- Able to negotiate agreement terms
- Still retain some control over music sales and usage rights
- May receive some creative and promotional support
- Payment may include advance payments on top of commission
- Limited exposure opportunities
- May make it difficult to release new music
- May still owe money if you’ve accepted an advance without sales
- Could potentially limit ability to move on to larger publisher
Major Music Publishers
Finally, major publishing houses exist to serve the interests of big names in the music business. When you reach this level, you’ll likely be working through an agent or attorney who can negotiate the terms of your agreement.
One of the benefits of working with a large publisher is that your music has the chance to not only reach an international audience, but you’ll also likely have opportunities to publish your music through mass media, meaning movies, television shows, sponsored products and services, commercials, sponsored live events and terrestrial radio.
A major publisher will also generally expect a larger percentage of your sales due to the amount of money they spend to not only handle the administration of sales, but also for promotion, creative services, recording services, order fulfillment, negotiations with distributors and so on.
You will also likely lose a very large portion of control over how, when and where your music can be sold, purchased and used.
However, in return, you’ll have the opportunity to get your music in front of a much larger audience and of course the opportunity for much larger payouts..
- Much larger exposure to potential fans
- Music will generally be published in more places
- Potential for placement in mass media
- Advance payments may be large
- Least degree of control over music ownership
What’s the Best Option for Your Music Career?
Each publishing route mentioned above has its advantages and drawbacks, but we recommend that you take stock of your current situation and understand that everyone’s situation will be different.
In all honesty some the independents and majors will be a long shot for the majority of artists but that doesn’t mean that an administrative partner is an awful thing.
Like anything mastering publishing and licensing takes time and will come down in large part to who you know and where you are at in your career.
When partnering with an administrative publisher, you usually have very little room to negotiate, but above that level, it would pay to have someone on your team who understands the nuances of negotiations and how to get the best deal for you and your music career.
Also, it can’t be stressed enough that you, the artist, are responsible for reading and understanding everything in a publishing agreement.
Yes, it can be boring, and yes, it can be difficult to understand if you don’t have a legal background, but you absolutely must understand what you’re agreeing to prior to signing with any publisher.
The history books of modern music are filled to the brim with cautionary tales of musicians who thought they would go on to become big stars with wealth and fame, only to discover that a certain clause in a publishing contract completely gutted their ability to control their futures.
Your lack of understanding will not support you in court if things get to the point of lawsuits and legal arguments. We’ve said it before, ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to your finances and this reigns true with your publishing as well.
The Secret to Success? Don’t Believe the Hype
While there are stories of musicians who went from relative obscurity to international sensations seemingly overnight, the odds of this happening are about as good as winning the lottery.
Instead of hoping that a major publisher will seek you out and offer you millions of dollars, you should focus instead on making music that you and your fans enjoy.
The journey from being a bedroom producer to an international star is a long and winding path, so be very wary of anyone making flashy promises of fame and fortune, especially if you are just starting out.
As a musician, you also have to understand your worth, not only to your fans, but also to yourself. If a publisher is offering a bad deal, it’s a sign that you aren’t being valued for what you have to offer.
While it’s true that you likely need the publisher more than the publisher needs you, the relationship should still be reciprocal, so don’t let anyone force you into selling yourself short.
You’re an artist, and the art that you provide is worth what the market decides it’s worth, despite what type of deal a publisher tries to push your way. Making a living in the music industry is about persistence, the ability to self-direct and committing oneself to a passion while fairly valuing yourself within the marketplace.
You need to be smart in your immediate decisions, but always think long-term and with your goals in mind. Signing the wrong agreement today may come with immediate benefits, but if it means losing everything you’ve worked so hard for in just a few short years, you’re likely better off taking a step back and re-evaluating the situation.
Music With Flavor Staff
Helping You Taste Success In Music