Music publishers exist to develop, protect and give value to music. Publishers sign song writers, not bands or artists so only the writers in your band need one. Much like record companies they will have no interest in you unless they are sure you will make them money.
• Persuading artists to record/cover songs
• Getting songs placed in adverts / films / TV
• Collecting royalties from collection organisations and their overseas equivalents
• Preventing/punishing unauthorised use of their songs
• Authorising arrangements / usage of their songs
• They normally OWN the copyright – given up by the writer FOREVER – administration only deals are possible if you have the clout to negotiate them
• Take a royalty (typically 30-40%) for the life of the copyright
• Overseas royalties reduced typically by 50% due to overseas publishers share
What About Self Publishing?
• Keep all royalties
• Less contacts/opportunities than major publisher
• Smaller budget
• Have to do all the work yourself
• Can get administration deal with larger publisher (typically take 15% for duration of arrangement – this 15% needs to be worth enough to attract publishers)
• Have your own best interests at heart, not competing with 1,000 other songwriters
As you can see it’s a trade off. If you sign to a major publisher you will; have the benefits of their contacts. They will be better placed to get your song into the latest Hollywood block buster or to the latest X-Factor winner than you are. But, are they really going to push your song over and above the latest from Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars? Will your songs vanish into a vast store room of a billion songs by other people?
It may be that a small, but established publisher is a good compromise. But check their track record to be sure they can actually do what they claim. They are getting your copyrights for life and signing a bad publishing deal can be the worst thing you ever do.
Often, if you are signing a record contract, they will want you to sign to their publishing arm. This is a bad idea (didn’t your mother ever warn you about putting all your eggs in one basket?), but in these days of 360 deals (nowadays, owing to falling record sales record companies now want a cut of EVERYTHING you earn, gigs, t-shirts, etc.) you will have to fight hard to avoid it.
If your publisher is a completely separate entity to your record company it is in their interest to make sure the record company is paying you properly and not pulling a fast one (if you don’t think that happens ask 19 Management, manager of X Factor contestants, who are currently suing Sony Music for alleged miss-accounting of royalties).
Sometimes song writers sign to a publisher before a record company. The publisher will then help you get a record contract. They will have the contacts to get you in the door and make people take you seriously. But don’t assume that a good deal for the publisher is necessarily the best deal for you.
And ALWAYS get a lawyer (a music business specialist please, not the guy who did your divorce/house purchase) to check before you agree to anything.