What can I expect from a music publisher?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The music publisher registers and “plugs” your music everywhere it can, and then collects most of the fees that are due. The idea is that they look out for your interests because they have an interest in you. When you sign a publishing deal, you usually sign over to a music publisher at least some, or even all, of your copyrights protections or administration rights to a song. Your agreement with your music publisher will stipulate this and also grant it the ability to calculate and collect your royalties for you, as well as the ability to license and negotiate other income-making deals on your behalf.

Music Publisher Fees

The fees a publisher will collect from sales of your material are supposed to be consistent, but in reality, you should always be prepared to negotiate these fees down as much as possible via your agent. These negotiations will be based on your clout as an artist and/or your likely sales figures, among other things. There is also usually a negotiated payment plan between the publisher and other big players, such as radio stations that will play your music.

Music Publisher License Agreements

Music publishers also collect profits for you through different licensing agreements. Your music publisher will issue mechanical licenses and synchronization agreements, and will collect your royalties and/or find users and consumers for your songs by “plugging” them. The following are several types of licensing fees that will be negotiated:

  • Mechanical Licenses (although the record company usually owns the “mechanical” copyright)
  • Performing Rights Licenses (often collected from a performing artist organization, such as ASCAP, BMI, SESCAP)
  • Synchronization Licenses
  • Print Licenses
  • Foreign Licenses

The last license mentioned (foreign licensing) has a special wrinkle: collecting from outside of the United States usually has to be in the hands of separate music publishers. These publishers are known as “sub-publishers”, and their fees tend to be quite a bit higher than your domestic music publisher.

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