5 Ways to Make Money in Music Publishing

11800 18

How to Make Money with Music PublishingHow do you make money in music publishing?

Have you ever wondered why the main songwriter in one of those megastar bands can afford to buy a mansion when the other members in the band can only afford a small house?

The answer is music publishing.

If you write or co-write a song, you are owed royalties every time that song is played in a public setting. This includes radio, TV, movies, restaurants, venues, and more. You are also owed a publishing royalty every time someone purchases your music (in any format — CD, vinyl, MP3, etc.)

Music publishing has the potential to generate big money for songwriters, composers, and lyricists. If you’ve written a song and haven’t signed away the rights to someone else, then YOU are the publisher—which means that all royalties collected for that song should be paid to you.

Here are the five most common kinds of publishing royalties you can collect:

1. Mechanical royalties —

As a songwriter / publisher, you are owed a royalty every time your composition is sold, or reproduced with the intention of being sold (on vinyl, tape, CD, MP3, etc). The mechanical royalty is generally equal to 9.1 cents per reproduced copy, regardless of whether those albums or singles are sold.

So, in other words, if someone covers one of your songs and they manufacture 1000 CDs — they owe you $91 regardless of whether those CDs ever get purchased.

You are also owed a mechanical royalty for the sales of your music on YOUR OWN albums. Though if you’re acting as your own label, you’ll basically be paying that royalty to yourself from album proceeds.

On-demand streaming services such as Spotify also pay a small mechanical royalty every time your song gets queued for streaming.

2. Performance royalties —

As a songwriter/ publisher, you are owed a royalty whenever your compositions are performed “in public.” This includes:

• plays on terrestrial and satellite radio (Sirius, KEXP, etc.)

• usage on network and cable TV

• plays on internet radio (Pandora)

3. Licenses for synchronization —

Synchronization refers to when a piece of music and a picture are “synced” together like in a movie soundtrack.

When a recording is used as the soundtrack for a TV show, film, commercial, video game, presentation, or YouTube video, a fee is owed to the songwriter/publisher, AND the copyrighter owner of the master recording. If you wrote the song and haven’t sold the rights, you are the publisher. If you own the recording you are the copyright holder. In this case you would get paid both royalties.

4. Licenses for sampling —

If someone wants to use a drumbeat, sound bite, or any other portion of a song you have written and recorded, they must first get your permission and then also pay you royalties for its use.

Both copyright holders (the owner of the master recording and the songwriter/publisher) are owed money when an artist uses a sample from another artist’s original work.

5. Print rights for sheet music —

As the songwriter/publisher, you are paid whenever your composition is duplicated in print form, including sheet music, lead sheets, fake books, etc.


Are you ready to start collecting all these royalties for the music you write? CD Baby Pro was designed to help artists like you get paid.

Publishing Guide: Get Paid the Money You Are Owed

[Picture from Shutterstock.]

In this article

Join the Conversation

  • CrusaderBeach Piano

    Just a question about the article: My songs are available on iTunes/Spotify etc via CD Baby and I’m also with a PRO (PRS for Music) as a writer – does this mean I can get mechanical royalties through my PRO for streaming/sales of my songs that are on iTunes/Spotify etc?

    I only ask because I thought the CD Baby member agreement stated that “Licensees” don’t pay royalties on our content (see passage from agreement below)…

    2. Authorization:

    You hereby appoint us as your authorized representative for the sale and other distribution of “Your Content” (as defined below). Accordingly, you hereby grant to us and our “Licensees” (as defined below) the non-exclusive right, during the Term (as defined below) and throughout the “Authorized Territory” (as defined below), to:

    (a) Reproduce and create derivative works of Your Content (including any Physical Product) by converting Your Content into Digital Masters, including less than full-length versions of sound recordings (“Clips”) that can be used for promotional purposes as authorized herein and, if necessary, reproducing Your Content in new Physical Product;

    (b) Publicly perform, publicly display, communicate to the public, and otherwise make available Your Content, and portions thereof as embodied in Clips, by means of digital audio transmissions (on an interactive or noninteractive basis) through the Website, a Licensee website, or via a CD Baby Widget you or any person authorized by you may place on any website, to identify the availability of Your Content for license, sale or distribution and to promote Your Content, on a through-to-the-listener basis, without the payment of any fees or royalties to (i) the songwriters, composers, or music publishers owning any rights in and to Your Content; (ii) any performing artist(s) (including non-featured vocalists and musicians) on Your Content; (iii) any other person involved in the creation of or owning any portion of Your Content, including, but not limited to a record label, and (iv) any agents for any of the foregoing, including, without limitation, performing rights organizations (“PROs”) and unions or guilds, whether U.S.-based (such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SoundExchange, AFTRA and AFM) or foreign (e.g., PRS for Music, PPL, CMRRA, CSI, GEMA, etc.);

  • Pingback: Why Artists are Missing Out on Music Royalties DIY Musician Blog()

  • Hey C,

    That passage is concerned with using sample clips of your music, or streaming your music via the MusicStore for Facebook or Music Store Widget — things that are considered marketing or merchandising your music, not a performance or duplication in the traditional sense. But digital music services like Spotify and Rdio are not exempt from paying mechanical royalties.

    Hope that clarifies things. Let us know if you have any other questions.


    • CrusaderBeach Piano

      Cool! Thanks.

  • Sure thing.


  • Pingback: Music Publishing Royalties: What is a Performance Royalty? DIY Musician Blog()

  • Pingback: What is a Mechanical Royalty? : Music Publishing Royalties Explained DIY Musician Blog()

  • Well firstly, DISTRIBUTE IT THROUGH CD BABY, of course! ; )

    But to answer your question, if you cover a copyrighted arrangement of a public domain song, you'll still owe money to the folks who arranged the song. I would suggest reading the Donald S. Passman book "Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business." (Or go to a bookstore and just read the chapter that deals with releasing public domain material — and specifically what to do to legally protect yourself when it comes to covering a copyrighted arrangement of a public domain song.)

    It's a great book, and he puts things in fairly straightforward language.


    • Drew Bartels

      haha… Ok awesome! Thanks for the help. The tricky thing with this song is they never actually published the CD, Sister Act 2! The only place you can find the song is on YouTube so I’m having a hard time finding who arranged it. I’m pretty sure the licensing doesn’t belong to Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount but I have no idea who it does in fact belong to.

  • Sometimes AMG has arranger info, but doesn't look like it here: http://www.allmusic.com/search/all/Sister+Act+2

    Maybe send an email to the film studio that produced the movie. You never know. You MIGHT get a reply. Besides that maybe try Library of Congress and Harry Fox Agency to see if they have info.


  • Drew Bartels

    Question…. I’d like to put a recorded version of Eye is on the Sparrow on an album I’m creating with my church. What is the correct procedure in order to do so. I believe Eye is on the Sparrow is in public domain at this point so I don’t believe I owe any Mechanical Royalties there. However, the version we recorded is very similar to the arrangement done by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount on Sister Act 2. Do we run into any legal issues there when we try to distribute this song through TuneCore and make physical copies to sell?

  • Hi Chris! Another question for you regarding covers. If you are including a cover song on an album not in the public domain – and you have obtain the mechanical license via Harry Fox or Limelight, etc – are you performing Artist/Band entitled to royalties of any kind if that song is played on radio or licensed, etc? If so, do I the covering artist need to copyright my cover version of that song? I have been trying to get to the bottom of this to no avail! 🙂


  • A few points:
    * You SHOULD register the copyright of your sound recording of that song with the Library of Congress.
    * You will NOT receive publishing royalties for terrestrial radio play for a cover song (at least in the USA).
    * As both the label and the artist/performer, you WILL receive royalties from SoundExchange for digital radio plays of that cover song.
    * If your version of the song is licensed (and that's "if" — since you'll need the permission of the publisher/writer), you will get paid a royalty for the usage of your sound recording. The publisher/writer will get paid a royalty for the usage of the underlying composition.

    Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any more questions.


  • It does! very much so. Thank you, Chris.

  • Glad to help!


  • John Paul Robertson

    Chris, just wanted to say thank you very much for your help and advice in the article you posted, it really opened my eyes.

  • Hi Marcia,

    As long as you own the rights to your recordings and songs, you shouldn’t be limited in terms of sync licensing opportunities.

    For some advice on that, check out this podcast: http://cdbabypodcast.com/2016/06/169-cathy-heller-selling-songs-sync-licensing/


  • Streaming platforms pay mechanical royalties to publishers, publishing rights administrators, and collection societies (such as HFA). If you are a member of CD Baby Pro Publishing, we’ll collect your mechanicals for you for any cover songs of your music being streamed.

    Follow me to the end of the rainbow on Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Instagram, or subscribe to my newsletter and get a free PDF of my poetry chapbook: I Say Potato, You Say Apocalypse.