What is a Music Publisher?

Music publishers are the independent entities that handle the contracts and negotiations of how and when to sell music for artists and other musical groups. Most music published before copyright law became legally defined. Today, with the explosion of Internet commerce and the availability of websites that offer music licensing services to independent artists and musical groups, the role of music publishers has become much more complex and less black and white.

Historically music publishers have held little or no equity in the recorded audio recordings that generated revenue for their clients. They received a percentage of the revenues from the sale of those recordings, but received very little profit from the licensing opportunities that they offered to recording artists and groups. As an independent publisher you can build your own music publishing company, where you will work only in partnership with the artist or group that you represent, and get 100% of all the revenues that they earn from recorded music sales. Today, many recording artists and groups are selling their music without any representation from an established music publisher.

In today’s digital age there are several ways to promote your music, and few ways to make yourself known among the online community. One of the best ways is to use social media sites as an outlet to showcase your work. Music publishing companies have accounts on some of the most popular social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. In addition to promoting your own music and your own groups through these social media sites, your music publisher can also build up a fan base through the social media sites.

An important question that comes to mind is: Should I be using a traditional, bricks-and-mortar publishing house, or should I start my own publishing company? There are pros and cons to both options. Traditional publishers have experience in the music business and can help you earn a little more money through their help, but they will also charge you licensing fees, which can eat into your profits. A traditional publisher also lacks the networking experience that comes with working with other artists and producers. While the upfront cost of hiring them may be less expensive than starting your own publishing company, you will likely need to invest significant amounts of time and money to grow your business.

A musician or group owner can pursue two different avenues to increase their earning potential with their music publishing. First, the artist or group can sign an exclusive contract with a music publisher, which authorizes the publisher to negotiate and distribute future royalties with the artist or group. If an artist or group wishes to stop earning royalties after a certain amount of time, they can notify their publisher. The author of a musical composition is also entitled to royalties from their written work. A musical publisher receives an individual royalty based upon the negotiated licensing fee, minus a percentage of the total gross sales of their compositions.

Some publishers choose to focus solely on traditional publishing, while others choose to focus on new media and online distribution as well. A major advantage to using traditional publishers is that they have access to established recording label contacts as well as other industry insiders. A disadvantage is that you will not receive the exclusive rights available to new or emerging talents. New artists and groups may not be considered for licensing unless they meet certain criteria, which could include having their music transcribed into a book or album. Many publishers also receive royalty shares from the selling of CDs and DVDs that contain their published music. In the past, many artists and groups had avoided getting licensing paperwork by selling their music over the Internet, but this is now changing, as many new recording and distribution houses are beginning to offer online licensing options.