The Songwriter and Music Publisher Relationship: Part I

Dec 26, 2017

The most common music publishing deals come in two flavors: full-service agreements and administration agreements. In this article we’ll discuss the five functions of a full-service publishing agreement.

Under the full-service deal, the songwriter will usually assign 100% or 50% of copyright ownership to the music publisher. In exchange, the music publisher will work both the creative and business/financial angles to add value to the song and earn licensing income.

The music publisher will creatively advise in various capacities and work tirelessly to “pitch” the songs to paying users (artists, labels, producers, TV/Film/Ads, etc.). Full-service deals are what I like to refer as “proactive” publishing relationships. The music publisher is supposed to be extremely proactive about investing substantial time and resources to actively solicit, market and generate income for the songs they own.

The five functions of a Full-Service Music Publisher are:

  1. Acquisitions: Signing songwriters and songs to add to the catalog. Buying song/recording copyrights to add assets and cash flow to company operations.

  2. Creative Development: Creatively advising songwriters and creating song demos and master recordings to solicit for licensed uses. Pairing up songwriters with other professionals such as artists, producers and other successful songwriters.

  3. Exploitation: The marketing, promoting and pitching of songs to music users.

  4. Administration: Song registrations, copyright registrations, issuing licenses, collecting royalty payments and accounting to the songwriter.

  5. Protection: Promoting legislation to protect the interests of writers and publishers, suing copyright infringers, income tracking and policing existing or expired licenses.  

The income for these deals will be split 50% to the publisher(s) and 50% to the writer(s). This means for every $1.00 of music publishing income earned, it is split into a “publisher share” and a “writer share,” no matter how many writers or publishers.

For example, I once pitched and licensed a song to a major television show for $10,000. The TV show was looking for songs with a specific mood, so we sent them a song we thought would fit their needs. The song was co-written by two writers signed to our company and we owned 100% copyright to the song.

When we were paid the $10,000, the income was split $5,000 to the publisher (publisher share) and $2,500 to each songwriter (writer shares). After this initial payment, we also tracked and verified the performance income from BMI when the show aired on the TV network. In this particular example, all five functions were present:

  1. The songwriters and their song copyrights were signed to the company

  2. The writers were creatively developed by co-writing together at the company

  3. The song was exploited for a paying licensed use

  4. It was administered by registering the song, issuing a license and collecting payments and finally

  5. It was protected by policing the license terms and monitoring the income generated.

This is the essence of a full-service music publishing agreement.

Read the rest of the series here:

Benom Plumb is an Assistant Professor of Music Industry Studies at the University of Colorado Denver. He is a veteran music industry professional with over 12 years of experience in music licensing and publishing, including VP of Licensing at Nashville publisher Bluewater Music. He is not an attorney. For more info about Benom, visit his website at www.professorplumbmusic.com.


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