Publishing Companies

After looking at how to promote your music via media and why your image is important the last couple of weeks, we thought we’d focus the blog again on different parts of the industry. This week we are looking at publishing companies. So what does a publisher do?

The role of a publishing company is to generate revenue by licensing other people to use a songwriter’s music. These uses include sheet music, cover versions and placing music in film, TV and games. This placement is known as synchronisation.

Do you need to sign with a publisher?

Not necessarily, you will still receive money if you own the copyright. PRS and MCPS will collect royalties for a song wherever it is played or recorded.

Self Publishing

It is possible to publish yourself. The advantage of this is that you will receive 100% of the royalties for your work. The disadvantage is that you will personally have to undertake all the admin work and collection yourself.

There are great advantages to signing with a publisher:

  • Many publishers will pay an author an annual advance on account of future royalties. If an author can sign after already having success with their work this advance can be sizeable.
  • A publishing company will deal with all the administration and collection work so the author doesn’t have to.
  • A publishing deal may lead to a record deal. Many Publishers will try to secure a record deal for the songwriter/artist.
  • Placement- The publishing company will promote an authors work and actively seek to place it within Film/TV/games or with a major recording artist.
  • The publishing company will be responsible for protecting the copyright. If the copyright is infringed the publishing company will split the damages with you.



Copyright is ‘property’ right. The owner of this right, the author or a person assigned by the author has the exclusive right to authorise or restrict others from using their work.
A musical work is not copyrighted under law until it is recorded or written down i.e. there is no copyright for ideas, only music in its physical form.
If a song is co-written an agreement should be signed outlining which percentage each contributor is responsible for.
If a dispute over ownership of work occurs it helps to have evidence as to when a work was created i.e. if someone copies your work, prove that you had it before they it. There are various ways to achieve this when a musical work is created:

  • Deposit a copy with a responsible person e.g. solicitor and obtain a dated receipt.
  • Post a copy of your work by special delivery/registered post to yourself and keep it unopened.
  • Members of the Musicians Union can register their works through the MU Registration Scheme.


What is negotiable?

  • The Duration of the contract– This could cover one song or everything you write for a number of years. The MU suggests a maximum length of three years for a deal.
  • Copyright– The copyright of this work does not have to be signed to the publisher for its full copyright life. A deal could be done whereby the publisher could hold a piece of work for the duration of the contract e.g. 3 years plus a specified number of years after that.
  • Royalties– These days 70% or over is the going rate for new songwriters. This covers mechanicals (MCPS), synchronisation, other uses and PRS. Sheet music tends to generate 10-15% of the RRP.
  •  Reversion and Determination Clause– You should insure that if a publisher fails to exploit a song within a certain amount of time, or the publisher goes bankrupt, the copyright will revert back to you.
  • Moral rights– You have the right to object to modification or distortion of your work. Beware of clauses in publishing contracts requiring the author to waive this right.

Always get a contract checked by a music lawyer or the musicians union before you sign.

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