What Every Musician Needs to Consider Before Looking for a Music Publishing Deal

October 4, 2013{ No Comments }

Music Publishing Deal[This article was written by Carina Westling of Imagem, an independent music publishing company that manages the rights of artists like Justin Timberlake, Vampire Weekend, and many more.]

Are you thinking about getting a publisher? Here are some things to consider in your search.

Who, when and why

First of all, do you need a publisher at this point in time — and if so, what do you need them for?

If you’ve had some commercial success already, your priorities are likely to be different than those of someone just starting out. By analysing your situation you can work out your current priorities, which will be an important guide when looking for a publisher.

Music publishing involves many things, and not all publishers cover all aspects (e.g. synch rights, cover rights, production music, copyright enforcement, record deals, publication of scores and lyrics, promotion and airplay) with equal commitment.

If you are not the sort of musician who is likely to sell a lot of your music, it is important that you find a publisher who is experienced in getting music synched.

On the other hand, a rock band would probably benefit from working with a publisher who can help pay for the recording of demos and have a strong track record of securing record deals. Your priorities matter hugely when you consider who you might contact within the publishing companies you are interested in. If you are a songwriter or a band, identify the person within the A&R team who looks like the best person to contact first, but if you are primarily making production music you need to contact the person who is responsible for that aspect of publishing.

Naturally, it is really important that the publishers you shortlist work successfully with your genre. It is not difficult to find out which other artists they work with, so do your research. If you can get background information about how it is to work with the publisher from any of the artists, so much the better. Once you’ve begun a dialogue with a publisher you should look after your anchoring within the company, and not rely on having one champion alone. You have better insurance against changes within the company (such as people moving on to another job) if you have more than one person who is enthusiastic about your work. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and relinquish control of your career. Even if you feel, and are, being looked after — staying involved pays off.

Guide: Make More Money From Your Music

Your priorities should also guide your choices when you consider what size publishing company you want to work with. Large multinationals often find it easier to get synchs and have more power to enforce copyright, but you will be one of perhaps hundreds of thousands other artists that they also represent. With a smaller publisher, you may get more attention and more responsiveness. In the case of choosing a smaller publisher, you should look into how they monitor usage and collect royalties internationally.

Try to first establish contact on the phone with the person you have decided to send your material to. They may be receiving a lot of proposals, and it can be hard to get noticed. By contacting the company, and the correct person, by phone first – even if this requires a bit of perseverance – you can introduce yourself and your work, and ensure that the material you send in gets the attention it deserves. By doing this, you can also get absolutely current confirmation that the person you have settled on is still the right contact.

Don’t forget to also ask what format they prefer, so you can prepare your material to meet and perhaps exceed their expectations. And no, an email usually does not work anywhere near as well as a phone call when you first contact a publisher.

The nitty gritty

Before you go into negotiations, it is good to know what you want from a publishing deal, and to understand how you are likely to be earning your publishing income. You may want to consider taking a smaller advance in return for a better deal, as an advance is a speculative ‘withdrawal’ from future royalties.  The larger the advance, the longer it takes to start getting royalty cheques.

Needless to say, you should seek legal advice from an entertainment lawyer before signing a contract. Although a good publisher will help a songwriter navigate the contractual landscape of publishing rights and revenue from airplay and use in productions of various kinds, you need to know a few things about the business.

It is good to be familiar with different types of rights that are critical to the monetisation of your work, e.g. performance rights (the rights to perform your song), mechanical rights (for reproduction by electronic or ‘mechanical’ devises) and synch rights (e.g. for advertising). Without this awareness, it is easy to get embroiled in complicated situations further down the line.

You also need to be very clear about how publishing income is to be split, if you are working together with other people (songwriting partners, band members, or other contributors). By incorporating this information in the copyright registration and ensuring it is included in the contract with your publisher, you can save yourself costly and painful future legal battles. It is bit like a prenuptial agreement – no one likes thinking about it while romance is fresh, but a few years down the line it may actually help prevent conflict.

It’s worth remembering that there are alternatives to a traditional publishing deal, like self-publishing, administration deals, or non-exclusive deals. The more you do yourself (e.g. if you are self-publishing), the more you need to know about the business. The advantage is that you may not need to split the royalties with anyone, but you need to be very involved in all the aspects of your career that a publisher would otherwise cover.

To conclude: regardless of what type of publisher or deal you want, don’t sit and wait to be discovered, or leave important decisions in the hands of others. Take charge of your own destiny; be proactive, determined – and most of all, well informed.

Feel free to contact us (http://www.imagem.com/contact-us.aspx) for more information.

For more information about music publishing, download our FREE guide:

Guide: Make More Money From Your Music

[Music money picture from Shutterstock.]