Defining What Is Music Publishing?

In most cases, music publishers will make an agreement with song writers to purchase the various copyrights  to their songs in exchange for promoting the song to the recording industry, as well as video and television entertainment venues.  They may offer a small up front advance on royalty earnings to the writer.  Most generally, the music publisher will enter this arrangement with the contracted terms that they will be entitled to a 50/50 share of any future royalties earned from the song they are promoting.  The music publisher is then responsible for promoting the song, keeping track of where the song is used and collecting the royalty payments for its use.  Once any advance money paid to the writer has been recouped, the publishing company is also responsible for disbursing the writers portion of the royalty payments to them.

Thanks to the U.S. system of copyright law, there are several venues of music publishing so your music publisher may be able to sell your song multiple times to increase earning capacity.  While there are many copyrights involved in music publishing, there are four main categories that music publishers are concerned with:  Mechanical, Print, Synchronization and Transcription.

To facilitate accounting and make it possible for your song to be used over a much wider scope, the music publisher will register your song with one of the three performing rights organizations (also called PRO's in the United States):   American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), or Society of European State Authors and Composers (SESAC).

The performing rights organizations are responsible for tracking the Mechanical copyright usage of your music in radio or television, businesses background music, night clubs or by bands performing your song at a club.  The performance royalties that are paid for this use are negotiated by the PRO's by setting up blanket contracts with the various users of your song to pay a set amount as a performance royalty and then using research combined with an algorithm to determine the most probable amount of usage for your song or music.  The publishing company  and the writer are then issued checks for their portion of the performance royalties earned by the song as was outlined when they registered with the PRO.

All other granted copyrights are controlled by the music publisher and those wishing to negotiate royalty prices for their usage must contract them through the music publisher who is paid directly and then pays the songs creator.


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Music Producers Handbook