In my years as a music publisher I’ve had the honor of working with hit-songwriters to beginning songwriters, singer-songwriters and musician-songwriters. Many of them have shared with me their journey and stories of dealing with music publishers, recording artists, record label executives, and their statements of mis-information and even worse. . . stories of unpaid royalties. This 3-part article is to give everyone out there from the non-experienced to the experienced a foundation on what my title states. . . A crash course on music publishing.
Your RightsYes, your original idea (song), by law has rights (I’ll explain further along what these are). This is better known as copyright.
Singer SongwriterA frequent issue that I come across with the singer (artist)-songwriter is that they cannot see that they are doing two different jobs! Yes, I repeat. . . your doing two different JOBS!!
- singer (artist): your role is that of a performer/recording artist
- songwriter: your role is that of a writer of a song
CopyrightFor this discussion, I’m referring only to songwriters (input legal disclaimer here), but this also applies in many aspects to other creative individuals. Federal law has granted songwriters limited protection (certain rights) to their creation and have decreed how these rights are to be administered and compensated for, better known as copyright. These RIGHTS are:
- Reproducing the song (CDs, Mp3, WAV, Vinyl, Cassette, DVD).
- Distributing the song publicly.
- This one is tricky. . . Performing the song publicly & broadcast (transmission) of the song are included.
- Public Display
- For music, we primary refer to SYNCHRONIZATION (the synching of music in FILM / TV).
- Print (or reprint of the song...), sheet music, lyric reprints.
- Derivative Work (making changes to the original work)
- language translation
- It must be an original idea
- It must be in a tangible medium (physical product-->CD, lyrics on papers, etc,etc...)
RegistrationNow, registering your copyright with the Library of Congress is vital because it makes a public record to the world (and more importantly to the government) that you are the writer/owner of that song. I highly recommend that your register your song (or several songs jointly) with the Library of Congress before you begin to promote them to other artists to record or record them yourself. These rights do not last forever. . .
- 1 writer, 70 years after the death of the writer
- 2 or more writers, 70 years after the death of the last surviving writer
Music PublishingMusic publishing is the acquisition and exploitation of the SONG (stay focused, were still talking about the songwriter’s creation). The music publisher is the administrator of the song. . . more specifically, he/she administers the rights of the song (copyright). The music publisher is “married” to the songwriter. As the songwriter is the creative factor in the relationship, the music publisher is the administrative factor. It is a contractual relationship and each have responsibilities to each other. Most commonly, music publisher will sign up songs for writers on per song basis, unless the writers show great potential and various songs are signed up at one time. Traditionally, a music publisher was the promoter of the song. Working to get the song “plugged” (getting the song recorded by an artist and then collecting any potential royalties it may have generated). However, today the music publisher has turned into more of a administrative role. . . with songwriters having to take on more of the role of promoting their material to an artist. That doesn’t mean that all music publishers no longer promote songs. . . just that their role in that aspect has changed drastically. Music publishers perform several duties including:
- acquiring product (songs)
- marketing that product (getting songs recorded)
- managing that product (licensing songs)
- overseeing the business