What Is the Role of Music Publishers Today?

Music publishing has always been integral to the music industry. As the music economy has changed, the role of music publishers has only become more vital. Artists rely on publishers to carry out the complex business negotiations involved in earning as much as possible from their music. Publishers are, foremost, artists’ advocates. Publishers’ main responsibilities include copyrighting, rights registration, licensing, and the collection of royalties for songwriters. At times, they also help in the creative process, as well as generating exposure and increasing revenue sources. Publishers can even secure monetary advances toward artists’ future material.

Since many roles in the music industry now go to small companies, the modern music-savvy entrepreneur can develop a career in music publishing. Earning a Master of Music in Music Business and Entertainment Industries (MBEI) degree can provide aspiring entrepreneurs in-depth understanding of the effective practices and models that successful publishers use.

What Music Publishers Do

Although most artists and business people involved with the music industry value music publishing, not everyone understands what it actually entails. One of a musician’s most important revenue streams comes from royalties and licensing. A publisher manages this, ensuring that songwriters and musicians receive appropriate compensation anytime a third entity uses their music. In return, the publisher receives a certain portion of this revenue.

When an artist completes writing the lyrics and developing a song’s melody, their publisher registers that song with both the copyright office and a “performing rights organization” (PRO) such as The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Incorporated (BMI). The PRO is responsible for monitoring all usage of the artist’s songs, collecting appropriate royalties and divvying up the proceeds to the publishers and songwriters.

The percentage of royalties allotted to songwriter and publisher, called the split, is part of the contract both parties agree on. The split can vary depending on this agreement, from a typical 50/50 deal to higher percentages for the songwriter — “the songwriter” refers to both the lyricist and the composer, who split the songwriting percentage.

Music publishing professionals are familiar with all media and the different licensing fees they pay. For live or recorded performances on TV, radio, online (streaming services and the like) and even cell phone ringtones, companies must pay “performance royalties.” For sales such as physical CDs, vinyl or legal downloads, the publisher licenses out the songwriters’ music to labels and collects “mechanical royalties.” In addition, with the decline of sales in the U.S., an extremely important revenue source for the industry is synchronization. When songs appear in the soundtrack or as background music of a film, TV show, commercial or video game, the publisher commonly negotiates a one-time fee with the licensee. These fees are called “synchronization royalties,” and make up a large part of many artists’ income.

This brings up the creative efforts of independent publishers. These publishers are invested in their songwriters, and they help increase their publishing income by developing and pitching music for synchronization opportunities. Beyond representing songwriters and their original music, independent publishers often create their own catalogue of material to pitch, writing and producing songs for their artists to perform, or working with artists to develop these songs. This increases both the publishers’ and artists’ royalty-eligible libraries.

Music publishing is an integral part of the music industry. The role of music publishers ensures that songwriters earn money from every revenue source possible. Although artists can act as their own publishers, the complexities of registration, negotiation, licensing and royalty collection take an immense amount of time and know-how. So, many artists prefer to delegate these tasks to publishing companies, giving these artists more time to focus on songwriting.

Those interested in music publishing can learn the complexities of the business by enrolling in an online MBEI program. Combining this education with modern revenue streams and a creative approach to developing artists can help professionals succeed in this lucrative and engaging field.

Learn about the Frost School of Music’s online master’s in music business and entertainment industries program.





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