Deciding How to Publish Your Music

By Loren Weisman

As you cut your deals, set your percentages, and secure both your rights and profits, the decisions you make in the music business early on in your career can have long-term effects. The biggest percentages of profits that you share are with your publisher, your label, your manager, investors, or whatever mix you have involved.

Working to communicate, create, and comprehend the best working relationships gives you the sense of security in the best relationships while clearly knowing what is going where, who is making what, and what the expectations are of everyone involved with you, your brand, and your music.

Deciding on self-publishing versus finding a publishing company

Most publishing deals that you get into with a music publisher or music publishing company require 50 percent of the royalties. As unfair as that might seem, this is an industry standard. By maintaining your own publishing company, you get to keep 100 percent of the publishing. The trade-off, however, is that you have to handle and execute the job of a music publisher.

An effective music publisher is constantly researching and finding opportunities for placements, as well as tracking where your music is being used and how collection and payment is made for you. With this in mind, it can be a good idea to work with a music publisher.

However, you don’t have to assign your whole catalogue to a single publisher. If they ask for that, move on and look for another publisher. Just as the music industry has changed, all the jobs inside the industry have changed as well. Where publishers early on would ask for long terms and exclusivity as well a larger body of work, these days you can find music publishers who will negotiate numbers of songs and time frames.

Having your own publishing company can become a full-time job as you work to find placements, track where music is being used, and follow the changes with all the streaming and digital insanity.

If you choose a path as a songwriter with little interest in touring or promoting, and you prefer the idea of getting your songs licensed, covered, and placed everywhere they can, handling your own publishing is easier than being in a band that wants to go on the road and has to work to promote themselves. In a sense, by being in a band, you’re doubling and tripling the workload.

Get your own publishing company set up either way. Even if you have no songs in it, you have the organization in place. If an opportunity arises, you have the ability to publish that song yourself.

Working with a professional music publisher or publishing company that has a good track record in the last couple years with no complaints from artists or others can be a great outlet for your music, too. Easy instructions and directions to form a music publishing company can be found online at Ascap.com, BMI.com, and sesac.com, the performing rights organizations in the United States.

A single publishing company can publish a single song. You do not need to give them your full catalog, and you can put different songs with different publishers as well as publishing your own, too.

Soliciting to a record label versus going independent

One of the most frequently asked questions is whether to solicit to a record label or go independent. Many people see these as two different options, when in a sense they’re similar in what needs to be done for either direction you choose.

Some think it’s as simple as sending music to every record label you can find; then getting signed; then magically everything takes off. There’s a very dangerous misconception and delusion from a great deal of musicians who think, “Once they hear it, I’m a shoe-in for a deal.”

Over 95 percent of people signed to a record label from the smallest independent labels to the largest and most financed labels fail.

The same exact problems can occur from the independent side of things. Many people think signing to a label allows an artist to focus on recording and on touring while the artist who wants to go independent has to handle money, booking, branding, and other costs and considerations.

Think less from the standpoint as to whether you want to go the independent route or solicit to record labels, and first think about how you will present yourself for solicitation for all your needs. Whether you choose to go after a label or do it yourself, the presentation for getting a solid consideration from a label is the same as the presentation for finding the money to get into the studio, build up the branding, and execute the marketing and promotion budgets.

The same steps need to happen whether you’re looking at the requirements needed from an independent standpoint or wanting to sign with a label. If you take the steps to stay as independent as possible with investors to support the costs you need, larger profits can come your way. This, over the bands that sign away their lives as others do all the work and then of course, see a lot less in revenues and profits in the long run.

All musicians should take the independent route. In many ways it’s still like going to a major label. You have to work on building and funding your music business plan as well as execute it, but your involvement, efforts, and attention to detail allow for better profits for yourself and those funding you. This also increases your ownership and works a great deal better in your favor over signing with a label; you end up with greater control of you and your career.