Music publishing can be a major source of income for songwriters. A song is considered published when it is available for public sale in any medium — sheet music, CDs, software, etc. Songwriters can sign with established publishing companies or form their own companies. They should also understand how the two major performance rights societies — ASCAP and BMI — work.
Performing Rights Organizations
• Performing rights organizations are not music publishers.
• Performing rights organizations negotiate nondramatic blanket license agreements on behalf of songwriters and publishers for all public performances (in clubs, at live concerts, on the radio, and on television) of songs.
• They collect money from these licenses and distribute performance royalties to their members.• Distribution of royalties is based on the frequency of a song’s play.
• Membership is open to both writers and publishers.
• ASCAP and BMI are the two major American performing rights societies. Each has its own eligibility requirements and each uses different formulas to calculate royalty payments. An excellent comparison can be found in The Musician’s Business & Legal Guide by Mark Halloran. Should you join BMI or ASCAP? For guidance, see Madalyn Sklar’s e-booklet, How To Choose The Right P.R.O. (Performing Rights Organization) For You.
• A music publisher is a company that owns or administers song copyrights.
• Publishing companies find artists, record companies, film and television producers, and advertisers to make use of a song.
• They negotiate royalties and makes sure the royalties are paid.
• They monitor a song’s public usage to make sure it is accurately reported to the performance rights society.
If you sign with an established publishing company:
• You may earn considerably more royalties.
• You may increase your music industry contacts.
• You don’t have deal with the administrative matters.
Don’t sign with a publishing company without seeking the assistance of an attorney. If you live in Southwestern Illinois or Missouri and would like to meet with an attorney, please apply for assistance.
Starting your own publishing company
A viable alternative for composers who are interested in properly administering and promoting their songs.
• Makes the most sense when a record is released on an independent label that is financed by the composer.
• You will receive a greater share of profits.
• Performance royalties are paid to both the composer and publisher.
• By forming your own company, you will receive all of the royalties.
• May provide leverage in negotiations with record, film and TV producers.
If you decide to start your own publishing company you’ll need to:
• Prepare publishing agreements for songwriters.
• Affiliate with ASCAP or BMI for information and an application — allow five weeks for approval. Because these societies will not let you register a duplicate name, you must provide three potential names for your publishing company. If you are a songwriter and have not yet affiliated, you should affiliate with one of these societies at the same time (you cannot affiliate with both). You will have to affiliate as a publisher with the same society that you affiliate with as a songwriter. Once your company has registered its name, put it on everything you publish. This signals to others that you have established your rights as a publisher and writer.
• Create a Business Entity and/or file a Fictitious Name registration.
• Register your songs with the Copyright Office in the name of your publishing company. If you have previously copyrighted the songs in your name, you will need to file an assignment transferring them to the publisher’s name.
• Register your songs with your performing rights society. For more information about the necessary registration forms, visit your society’s web page. You only have to register the songs as the publisher or writer, not both. Hire a producer to work on the album or on one or more songs. The producer agreement should spell out the fee and/or the percentage that the producer will receive from sales and how the ownership of the songs contained on the masters will be divided.