music publishing unlocked: mechanical royalties

What Is Publishing Administration?

It’s the act of making sure compositions are collecting all of the royalties they are entitled to, plus accounting (and payment of those royalties) to the songwriter or publisher.

What is the difference between a Publisher and Publishing Administrator?

A publisher is the owner of a composition copyright. If there is no deal in place with an outside publisher, then the songwriter(s) is the publisher. A publishing administrator is empowered by the publisher to manage their copyrights and account for the income they earn. A publishing administrator does NOT own a part of the composition, but does this work in exchange for a small commission on the revenue collected.

Doesn’t my distributor collect my royalties?

If your music is being sold, streamed or performed globally, distribution alone doesn’t get you all of the money your music is earning. Without adding a publishing collection strategy to the puzzle, you are leaving money on the table.
Adding that piece to the puzzle means registering your works globally with performing and mechanical rights societies. A Publishing Administrator plays the role of a kind of “distributor” to the global performing rights and mechanical societies to make sure your compositions are properly registered and collecting royalties wherever they are being performed or sold.

What is CD Baby Pro Publishing?

CD Baby Pro Publishing is a combination of global distribution of your sound recordings AND publishing royalty administration for the compositions on your album or single release — available to artists in dozens of countries and territories around the world.

Two ways that CD Baby Pro Publishing “distributes” your music

  1. Your sound recordings will be distributed to stores and streaming platforms that pay you for sales.
  2. Your compositions (which are attached to those sound recordings) will be registered with collection societies that pay you performance and mechanical royalties when your music is sold, streamed or performed publicly.

Just as sound recordings have their own global systems in place for making money, compositions earn income from a global and complex network of licensing agreements. These agreements exist primarily between global rights societies and live venues, retailers, broadcasters and digital platforms to make sure songwriters and publishers get paid for the sales, performances and reproductions of the compositions that are an inseparable part of all music sound recordings. Performing Rights Organizations like ASCAP and BMI cover a portion of this system but not all of it (see below).

If you had a traditional deal with a publisher, they would take responsibility for getting your works plugged into this system (as well as at least some ownership of your copyrights) but traditional publishing deals are very scarce for the average independent artist. Administration services like CD Baby Pro Publishing offer global publishing administration to anyone who wants it, on demand.

Does signing up for CD Baby Pro mean CD Baby owns my music?

No. As publishing administrator we take no ownership of your copyrights. We collect a 15% fee on anything we collect for you. The agreement is for 1 year after which you are free to renew, take over the administration yourself, or sign with another publisher.

Why should I register if I don’t have a lot of money out there?

Your copyrights are your property. Your personal annuity that can earn money for you for the rest of your life. The continued growth of streaming in the coming years means your music is one click away from any fan, anywhere. Accessing an audience and taking the steps to make sure your music is plugged into every available source for earning money has never been more simple or affordable. If your music is earning money, you should have the means to collect it.

Sign up for publishing administration through CD Baby Pro Publishing today!

One of the other topics of consistent confusion for our members is the differentiation between what a publishing administrator does and what a performing rights society does.

Many members of ASCAP, BMI or SESAC that I’ve heard from think their performing rights society IS their publisher and that they are getting all of the income they’re entitled to directly from that P.R.O. (performing rights organization).

“My PRO already collects my publishing royalties for me, including foreign money, so why should I pay you to administer my money and take a commission on something I am already getting myself?”

ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN and other performing rights societies collect royalties for public performance of your compositions. This covers a wide range of uses such as live performance (yes, when you play your songs live in a licensed venue you are earning a royalty), television, radio broadcasts, in-store playbacks and other types of public performances both in the US, Canada, and abroad — but it’s not everything.

What many musicians don’t realize is that public performance is but one of several streams of revenue that a publisher earns. When your music is streamed in an interactive service like Spotify or Google Play, sold as a permanent download on iTunes or Amazon, sold in physical form, or synchronized with a moving image (as in a commercial or film sync placement), you are owed some form of income as a publisher that Performing Rights Societies do not collect for you.

Mechanical royalties are especially challenging to collect for DIY artists. These are collected for sales and interactive streams by Mechanical Rights Societies that, in most cases, operate separately from the performing rights societies in a particular country. Without a publishing deal, or working to affiliate yourself with several global mechanical societies, your mechanical royalties from streaming and foreign sales are going uncollected. They sit at the mechanical societies, waiting for you to claim them. A writer/publisher can attempt to affiliate with all of them (at great cost in both time and affiliation fees) or work with one publishing administrator who already has a relationship with these societies. With the assistance of a publishing administrator, you collect EVERYTHING you are owed, minus a small commission.

On the matter of foreign performance royalties, US performing right societies work with their foreign counterparts to help each others’ members get paid via what are called “reciprocal agreements.” These are essentially information sharing exercises that help account for foreign performances between society members in different countries.

Reciprocal agreements are useful but not ideal as they do not register your songs directly with these foreign societies and there is no opportunity to reconcile what you get with what really occurred to ensure accuracy. They are a passive, second line of defense for a publisher. There is a reason large publishers have offices all over the world. In addition to making it easier to find local writer talent to sign, being locally affiliated in a foreign territory means you get prioritized like a local publisher. You also have an open channel to reconcile performance data to ensure accuracy.

When you work with a publishing rights administrator, your songs will be registered directly with societies around the world.

“Isn’t ASCAP (or BMI or SESAC) my publisher?”

No, they are your performing rights society. You grant them the ability to license your compositions to users that publicly perform them (like TV networks, radio stations, websites, retail chains, and live venues). If you wrote your own songs, you are the publisher and retain ownership of the copyright. You have the ability to distribute your work, create reproductions and derivative works, and publicly perform them any way you want.

When you join a U.S. Performing Rights Society, you are affiliating to participate in the live, broadcast and digital public performance licensing that they handle. As a member, they will collect your share of public performance revenue from their licenses and remit to you based on how and where your music was used in a particular quarter. They do NOT collect revenue from mechanical royalties or sync placements, nor do they register your works with foreign societies (though they do share data with foreign societies via reciprocal agreements to get you foreign performance royalties). A publisher or publishing administrator looks out for all of your rights and is responsible for collecting all of the revenue your copyrights generate.

For a greater explanation about publishing, read our Music Publishing Guide.