Music Publishing deals and Publishing contracts

Updated: Feb 18

What is music publishing? And what does a publisher do?



These are questions that pop up in our heads when we hear about music publishing for the first time.


Music publishing is one of the earliest aspects of music business, it originates from the early days where music was distributed and sold on format of music sheets, previously to the existence of vinyl, tape, compact disc, mp3, pcm and digital. Music publishing was similar to the book publishing “per se”.


Etymology: Publishing - from Latin "publicationem". In the mid 15th century " act of announcing, declaring or issuing copies of a book to the public".


Today music publishers deal with administration and rights of songs (lyrics, composition, arrangements, music sheets) and royalties. They will help the songwriter or a co-writer to register will the relevant collection societies (PRS, PPL and MCPS), help with the administration work, exploit as possible the rights of the songs and collect the royalties due and pay the songwriter or co-writers their correspondent share. They give the author the opportunity of having they music licensed, used on a great variety of ways (covers, synch, radio, streaming, toys) and used on many other ways and in many other countries specially if the genre is mainstream.


Music: In music the first 3 seconds are crucial to generate interest, engagement and a recognisable print in the audience limbic brain (responsible for managing emotions and memory). Music phrases, extructure, patterns, cicles, colours, depths, picks, hooks, scales, modes and etc, are part of the composition building blocks. These are expressions for the music and vocal construct that will help define, identify, quantify and rearrange in detail specific musical parts.


From a legal point of view, music is a combination of lyrics (words) and Melody (the accompaniment sound). Changes on words or melody by a third person (songwriter, producer or a friend) may entitle them a share of the royalties 1/3.



Lyrics are music, song writing it is musical, but also it is guidance and narrative to navigate a history-telling, express emotions and feelings, express ideals and believes or maybe to create and share interesting (love) or controversial (political) musical experience or other.


Genre: Mainstream music genre is easy to find places for distribution and reach the audience almost everywhere, if the genre is limited to" niche" (Jazz, Country, Salsa) it will be hard to place on the mainstream media. When composing or writing a song we must consider the power and the influence of publishing, consider that the music is not only to express feelings, not only for pleasure, not only for the audience, not only for the radio, not only for TV, and this will help the song writing to have much more depth, much more use and to be atemporal.


Arrangements: The way the music is structured (intro, outro, verse, chorus, drop, lift, break, depression, compression, explosion, etc) and the way instruments correlate and interact with each other (call, answer, question, response, following up, echoing, cacophony, etc) and mould and shape the finished desired product, the music.


The publisher will register, licence and exploit the music and the song writing rights commercially and in many ways as possible in order to extend its use. He can collect funds world-wide with the help of co-publishers who are representing legally the artist or the original publisher. They will have the songs used by other artists (covers), tv films, movies, adverts, games (synch), radio shows, streaming and etc.



There is a great book that I recommend every musician to read “Music - The business” by Ann Harrison. The 7th edition of this book has actualised music business development on synchronisation and music streaming. 379 pages with essential information and tips on music law, record deals and much more.


Publishing is the act of leveraging and exploiting commercially the music of composers and songwriters. The publisher will create the appropriate registers and copyrights, have the songs used on creative/commercials ways and get all the royalties generated. Their task is laborious mostly based on paper work administration and entangle connections with a widespread of music business personalities and professionals.



Publishing contracts:


Music Publishing it is an highly administrative work that requires focus, passion for paper work, organisation, planing and basic knowledge on music law. This work can be overwhelming and daunting for musicians with no experience on the field. Thankfully we can get full support from organisations like the MU (The Musicians Union) who can help review the review the contract terms for all affiliated musicians. https://musiciansunion.org.uk


Acts of parliament or legislations are subject to constant changes and these should be revised on a periodic basis. A lawyer would always be actualised on these terms and give the correct advices and contact you back with the latest changes when these are affecting, prices, performances and new legal requirements and guide lines.


There are mainly 3 important variables that will constitute a publishing contract; the ownership (who owns the rights and/or what % of it), the extent (who has what rights to - collect money, issue licenses, for what length of time) and the money (advances, costs, fees, royalties, splits, etc.)

Ownership: Agreements must clearly state what is the been agreed upon, the range or extension of that agreement indicating the limitations and boundaries, what music pieces are involved, what are the rights traded and the contractual duties/delivery of the writer. The writer interest is to sign for no more than 3 years, and keeping control of the moral rights.


The extent - This is regarding the term, territory, period of ownership and how wide trust or permissions to trade are defined or given considering the self-interest of publisher and writer independently. Defining the extension of each of these points it is extremely important because it can derive royalties from your recipient.


Rights: Music publishers want to control, own or license the rights of the songs for a long period as possible. They deal with registration and administration of rights and royalties on a limited or vast territory and for a long term if possible. Broader the territory and longer the term more they will benefit of the rights they control. They may want to negotiate also with the autor moral rights for commercial purposes.