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Music Publishing 101


Songwriting & Recordings 

Songwriting and recordings are legally separate and earn revenue in differing (yet often parallel) ways. Whenever a song is played or sold there are separate and distinct royalties due to the songwriters, performers and the owner of the recording 

(record label or independent self releasing artist). 


Music publishing is the portion of the music industry concerned with the songwriting specifically. Publishers control song rights on behalf of songwriters/composers, collecting and paying them song royalties accordingly. In value terms publishing is worth around ⅓ of the overall music industry, with the master rights (recorded music) and live music making up the remaining ⅔. 


The recorded and publishing parts of the industry are very distinct, though naturally are interconnected and have several touchpoints- such as mechanical rights (royalties due to publishers from record labels) and synchronization (where both publisher and record label agree licensing terms and have a share in fees).

You’re owed royalties every time a song you’ve written is performed or played publicly. That means:


  • Live performances - festivals, gigs

  • Public performances - bars, clubs, shops, restaurants, gyms, waiting rooms, etc.

  • Broadcast - TV, film, radio, Netflix, Amazon Prime

  • Streaming - Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc.


Any way you can possibly think that a song could be used (as part of a recording or otherwise) needs to be paid for.  Many of these royalties are collected by Collective Management Organisations (CMOs). 


In the UK these are PRS and MCPS for performance and mechanical royalties respectively. A publisher’s most fundamental role is to make sure CMOs are collecting the right amount, from the right sources, in the right territories. There are nearly 300 CMOs worldwide and they all work slightly differently. None are very quick, and some are pretty slow.

There is over £1.8 Billion in publishing royalties unclaimed globally due to failures in the collection chain.


It can take upwards of 12 months for PRS to collect UK royalties on your behalf. For international revenue, you can add another 6-12 months on top of that. Publishers typically mitigate some of these timeframes by utilising sub-publishers- who manage their catalogue in a foreign territory to improve efficiency there.


At the very least, publishers should register all your songs with CMOs, sort out any revenue blockages and investigate discrepancies or registration data conflicts. 

Publishers should also work their socks off to help promote, develop and progress your career- pushing your songs to help them generate more revenue in the first place:


  • Rights representation - approving usage & licensing, copyright protection

  • Professional development - studio time, creative feedback, organising collaborations

  • Synchronisation - pitch existing catalogue, present music supervisor briefs for composition

  • Catalogue expansion - respond to record label briefs, writing sessions, writing camps

  • Raising your profile - cuts & synch placements, industry intros, promotion to wider network


Pitching and placing songs with other artists or into TV adverts or films can be very lucrative for both the publisher and songwriters involved. The percentage a publisher takes should fairly reflect their input in increasing the overall pie that’s shared with the songwriter. There are different frameworks for achieving this, but a ‘fair’ deal is one where all parties win under all circumstances.