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International Songwriters Association

Music Publishing

Introduction by Jim Liddane
Music Publishing is one of the dark arts. Everybody knows that it exists, most people believe that it is very very complicated, but nobody seems quite sure what exactly it does.

Except that it makes lots and lots of money!

And as for songwriters daring to think of setting up their own publishing companies, well - best not go down that route. For there be dragons. Lots and lots of dragons.

But if you have somebody to advise you - like for example the legendary Dennis Sinnott - a man involved with everybody from Queen to the Rolling Stones, and from Paul McCartney to Elton John - you begin to realise just how inexpensive, simple (and profitable), music publishing can be.

Your Own Music Publishing Company

Starting a music publishing company can be a lot simpler and much easier to operate than you may think - but you need to follow certain rules.

There's no question, the amount of revenue generated every hour simply by controlling the copyright in just a handful of songs, can run into millions. The income from one evergreen alone, for example, can be enough to pay the salary of a small publishing house for several years.

Curiously, people often make the mistake of thinking they have to invest heaps of money into this business to have any chance. Actually, of all the fields in the entertainment industry, music publishing can be the least expensive. I have known individuals to start up on less than forty dollars, and make huge sums consistently, year in year out.

To get started you need to determine firstly the genre of music that most interests you. Some people like to work on "Country Songs" or "Hip hop" "Dance" "Blues" "Jazz" or even a general catalogue of music.

Whatever music you consider - bear in mind if you want to make money, your music needs to have commercial appeal.

Next, you'll need a publishing agreement (sometimes referred to as a "publishing assignment"). You should ensure that the terms are fair and reasonable and preferably obtained from a reputable entertainment lawyer, one which you can also use as your template for future signings.

This is the agreement between the composer and lyricist of the song, and you as the music publisher. As a music publisher, you have to appreciate that the person who created the song in the first place (i.e the composer/lyricist), is the beneficial owner in the copyright.

If you're a songwriter yourself, then you have an added bonus in getting your music publishing company up and running.

By assigning the rights to you as a music publisher, the songwriter is empowering you with certain rights to exploit his work through the media.

Once you control the copyright, you can start to make an income every time the songs or theme music (as the case may be), are used publicly (i.e broadcast on radio, television, synchronised into a commercial, released on record, published in print, used digitally on the internet, and so on).

Although the different areas of licensing may seem daunting, most of the licensing process can be taken care of for you.

For example, as soon as you've acquired the rights in your first few songs, you can apply for membership of one of the performing rights organisations in your country.

In the United States for example you have a choice of three: ASCAP, BMI or SESAC; in Canada: SOCAN; in the United Kingdom: PRS; in France: SACEM; in Germany: GEMA; Australia: APRA, and so on. Simply go to their respective website for an application form.

Every country in the commercial world has its own performing rights organisation. Once you're admitted to membership you can register your songs as soon as you acquire the rights.

Your performing rights organisation (or performing right societies as they are sometimes referred), will automatically license and collect revenue on your behalf for you on all performing and broadcasting use of your works.

They will then pay you at set distribution dates in the year. They will also pay the writer his/her share direct (provided he/she is a writer member).

So, a large proportion of your licensing requirement is taken care of for you. Bear in mind that, the performing right organisations sphere of interest is in the area of performing and broadcasting activity only.

If one or more of your songs (or theme music) is released on a record - i.e CD/DVD for sale to the public, you can either license direct to the record company, or join a mechanical rights organisation who will license and collect income on your behalf for this type of license (i.e record sales).

In the USA you can join the Harry Fox Agency will handle your mechanical licensing; in the UK: MCPS, and so on.

So, by joining a performing and mechanical organisation in your own country, most of your licensing has been taken care of for you. Just ensure that you register all your songs (and whatever other music you may be acquiring - theme, background etc), with both performing and mechanical societies as and when you acquire the rights.

There are some areas of licensing in which you will have to deal directly with the licensee or company wanting to use your song.

Grand or stage rights for example (i.e use of a song in, say, a drama, musical or opera), print publications, synchronised use in a film, commercial etc. (note: sometimes a mechanical rights organisation will offer to license a synchronised license and collect the license fee on your behalf. Some do, and some don't. Check with the organisation representing you).

Your obligation of course, is to pay the writer, his her contractual share as set out in your agreement.

Once you have two or more songs, (or pieces of theme music), your catalogue has started.

Many people primarily involved in other areas of music: producers, managers and artists, even record labels, often have a music publishing company

Your underlying objective should always be to build a repertoire of good earning songs, a catalogue from which you are adding songs with commercial potential, continuously.

Of course the point of what is commercial is down to you and despite your instincts you're still going to take in some "deadwood" that, for all your drive and enthusiasm, you simply won't be able to license or cover for love or money.

Well, okay - so long as you've exploited them - you've done your best. You're not going to be successful on everything you pick up. Give the rights back to the writer so he can take the song elsewhere.

Always keep in mind successful music publishing is about having a continuous evolving catalogue generated from clever and shrewd licensing.

Focus on building, expanding and increasing revenue streams for yourself and your songwriters, and your name and reputation as a music publisher will go from strength to strength.

I hope you found this article helpful and instructive. If so, why not visit our site at:

Dennis Sinnott's career began in 1970 in the trade department of the KPM group of music publishing companies in London, where he specialized in the publication of classical and popular music. In 1972 he transferred to the copyright department and in 1974, when EMI took over the company, he was promoted to copyright manager of B. Feldman & Co. Ltd (within the EMI group).

In 1975, he was promoted to Head of Copyright at EMI Music Publishing. This included Keith Prowse, The Peter Maurice Music Company, Macmelodies, Ardmore & Beechwood, World Wide Copyrights, Francis Day & Hunter, Robbins, Screen Gems, Metromedia, New York Times Music, Music of the Times, Combine Music, Al Gallico Music, and several hundred additional publishers, making it the largest international music publishing group in the world.

Dennis was responsible for the protection of EMI Music's intellectual property rights - a repertoire of over one million works ranging from classical to rock, pop to ballad, country to reggae, opera to stage, old-time musical hall, drama, film theme, background and incidental music for television, radio, cinema and modern songs of all types. He is considered a top specialist in licensing domestically and globally, in particular synchronization, advertising, grand rights for stage musicals and all major forms of commercial publication.

In addition to administering the world's largest publishing group, he was instrumental in negotiating deals with many super groups and solo writer/performers, including Queen, Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash, Jeff Beck, Mud, Medicine Head, Be-Bop Deluxe, the Hollies, and scores of other hugely successful acts.

Copyright Songwriter Magazine, International Songwriters Association & Dennis R. Sinnott: All Rights Reserved


Well if you have got this far, and have actually read all of this admittedly short course on the basics of songwriting (and are still awake!), then all I can say is that you definitely possess the most important talent that every songwriter needs - namely a dogged determination.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by, and if you need any further information, or clarification of anything at all, please drop me an email.

I guarantee to answer, and when I do, I promise it will be a lot shorter than heretofore!

Oh - and if you have wandered onto this page by accident, then you may very well be wondering what I'm talking about.

Well the above article on becoming your own publisher, was Chapter 18 of the "The Knowledge" and "The Knowledge" is a free multi-part course which takes you from thinking up the basic idea for your song, through using AI or Artificial Intelligence to help improve your writing skills, to penning the title, the lyric and the melody. It then covers plagiarism (what to do if you're told your song sounds like another one!) and copyrighting your song, so that you can take action if your work is stolen.

Finally, it deals with selling your song, promoting your demo, music publishers, putting your songs on the web, and in movies, or on television, getting the money in, raising cash to fund your career via crowd-funding, before setting up your own music publishing company so that you get to keep all of the money! And that blue button at the bottom of each lesson simply takes you to the next lesson.

If you would like to go back to Lesson 1 and start the course (it will take about 120 minutes to complete), then just press HERE

Jim Liddane

ISA International Songwriters Association (1967)

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