Music publishers: Why do writers and composers need them? Music publishing is one of the oldest entities to exist within the music industry. The publishing industry itself is older that the record industry and broadcast industry. In fact, music publishing originated as the business of selling sheet music. Today it has expanded beyond sheet music and exists to exploit ( in terms of the original definition “make full use of and derive benefit from”) copyrights and conduct business on behalf of performing arts copyright holders (songwriters and composers) when their works are monetized or leveraged commercially. When a song is streamed on Spotify, sold on an album, downloaded, sold as sheet music, used in a commercial, or performed publicly, publishers are there to scoop up the publishing royalties and pay them out to artists according to their respective splits. There are a few different types of royalties that an artists can earn.
1. Mechanical Royalties – royalties from digital recordings and CD sales, or sales of products that contain music such as electronics, toys, or even player pianos. These are collected by mechanical royalty agencies such as Harry Fox and distributed to writers and publishers.
2. Performance Royalties – royalties from a composition being played via broadcast or performed publicly. These are collected by Performance Rights Societies and Organizations and distributed to composers and publishers.
3. Synchronization Licensing Fees – A payment for use of a composition associated sound recording for use in video, TV, and Film for a determined amount of time (In our case we are referring to Sync fees for the composition side). These are negotiated and obtained separately from the publishing and the master recording rights holders and paid directly.
Music Publishing and the 200% split
Payment of royalties is usually dispersed based on a 200% scale, but what it boils down to is a 50/50 split down the middle between writers and publishers. The 200% model comes from the royalties being split evenly between Publisher and Songwriter as equal entities. It can be broken up in a number of ways depending on the scenario:
Jane Doe writes a song, had no affiliation with a 3rd party publisher, and therefore owns all publishing:
Jane Doe (Songwriter) – 100%
Doe Publishing company (Publisher) – 100%
Every dollar that comes in, Jane keeps.
Jane Doe signs a deal with Big Time Publishing for “50% of her publishing”
Jane Doe (Songwriter) – 100%
Doe Publishing (Publisher)- 50%
Big Time Publishing (Publisher) – 50%
Every dollar that comes in is split – $.75 to Jane for her 100% songwriter and 50% of the publishing, and then $.25 to Big Time Publishing company
Jane, with her new publishing deal, gets co writing opportunities and writes a song with John Smith who at this point in his career retains 80% of his publishing for every song written, while under contract with Appleseed Publishing.
Jane Doe (Co Writer) – 50%
John Smith (Co Writer) – 50%
Appleseed Publishing (Publisher) – 10%
Big Time Publishing (Publisher) – 25%
Smith Publishing (Publisher)- 40%
Doe Publishing (Publisher)- 25%
You do the math!
Here is the take away: with the 200% model, a writer will ALWAYS get their 100% share of the composition and the other 100% can be and is normally split in order to leverage and generate business from the copyright, via a publisher. It is up to the artist whether or not they’ll choose a publishing company to represent them and lay claim to all or part of the remaining 100%. A publisher claiming a full 100% is relatively rare in commercial music, though. Traditionally, publishing royalties are divide up 70/30 with the majority going to the songwriter. However, in incidental music such as library music for use in television, a deal where 100% of the publishing goes to the music library is not uncommon. In these arrangements, the library is playing a much more active role in the business dealings of a composition and, not to mention, require full control of all copyrights for quick licensing. Additionally, music considered to be royalty free is still subject to royalty collection by a publisher for mechanical and performing rights. The music is royalty free in the sense that a 1-time synch licensing fee will cover a its usage in a production forever.