Every songwriter’s goal for their song is to get it heard, sung or played, featured (for example in a film, commercial or on television) or all of the above. Some writers want to perform their own work and others write for other artists to perform their work. Some do both. Apart from being an artist, songwriting is a great way to still be creative and make a living. In ways it may be better than only performing, because the more successful the song is the better the pay is in comparison to performing. One musical partner the songwriter will learn to appreciate is their publisher.
There are three types of publishers called the administrator, independent and major. They all do the same job, but on different levels and they all take a commission or percentage of your earnings. The administrator tends to not help with the creative process and does not invest money in the beginning or advances. The independents do invest and target to the average successful songwriter. The major has the most money to invest, but will take a very large commission (which is relatively fair), but the rate can be high and difficult to negotiate.
What they do and why they are needed? The publisher’s main job is to promote your songs, sell your songs, and make sure you get paid for when those songs are used. They keep track of the song and track every place it gets played and guarantees the delivery of your royalties.
Similar to publishing companies are performance rights organizations (PRO’s) (Ascap, BMI, Sesac and SoundExchange, a non-profit PRO). You ask, “What is the difference between a publishing company and a performance rights organization?” They both do similar jobs, but the main difference is that the PRO’s only collect your licensing fees and provide you with the performance royalties (live performances, radio play, etc.). The publishing company does this, but with the mechanical royalties (from CD’s, downloads, etc.). The publisher can also shop your song to artists, labels and organizations, invests in your artistry while just starting out, and can provide you with sheet music (depending on your contract with them).
How to reach the Publisher
The best way to find the best publisher for you is to research what publishers focus in what genre. Research the songs that you love and write similar to and research who their publisher is. Keep in mind the location you desire to be in and where the publisher is located. Decide, which type of publisher you would like (administrator, independent or major). Discover what you want to gain and why you will choose who you choose. Once you have chosen send them an email expressing interest and along with that some sample songs for them to ponder on. Always, follow-up.
Working for the Publisher
Publishers normally hire a writer as a contracted staff writer, which produces a “work for hire”. It can be beneficial for the writer depending on their preference or copyright ownership and income from the works. The negative fact about “work for hire” is that the songs belong to the company and not the writer due to them working for the company. The writer will be paid a fee for the works created.
Can you publish your own music?
You sure can publish your songs. The process may not be as easy as collaborating with a publishing company, but it can be worthwhile to start your own publishing company. Many Independent artists publish their own music. You can keep track of your music played through companies such as CD Baby and iTunes. There are also publishing companies that work specifically for independent artists, such as Kobalt and Imagem which will still take a commission, but will be doing the hard work for you. TAXI is a company that, “helps independent artists, songwriters and composers get record, publishing and Film/TV deals,” according to their website. They charge an annual fee for the services, but it seem very reliable and beneficial. Another way to start it is through a performance rights organization, for example BMI offers rates for registering a publishing company. The rates are under $300 for an individual and for a corporation. Being your own publisher has become very popular and the rate of those doing it has definitely increased through the years. So have faith and have the courage to set your own rules if that’s what you desire.