Most songwriters understand one thing about publishing. It represents fifty percent of the royalty stream that is payable to songwriters for their copyrighted songs. This royalty stream can have numerous sources, but mainly involves mechanical license royalties, synchronization, and performance and broadcasting income.
Mechanical royalties are paid whenever a license (a “mechanicals license”) is granted by the songwriter, or someone on his behalf, for the manufacture of CDs, tapes, vinyl, computer chips, and sheet music. Mechanical royalties are collected by the Harry Fox Agency and then paid to the songwriter’s publishing company. Synchronization royalties are generated when the songs are used in movies, television programs and commercials, and software. Synchronization royalties are also collected by the Harry Fox Agency. Performance and broadcast royalties are theoretically payable whenever a song is performed or broadcast either live or on the radio, television, or the internet. Performance and broadcast royalties are collected by a performing rights society such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. A publisher must register with Harry Fox and at least one of the performing rights societies (it must be the same one where the songwriter is registered.) Publishing companies contracted with many songwriters are usually registered with all three performing rights societies. There are numerous foreign royalty sources and it is your publisher’s duty to register with all such sources.
So what does a publisher do to earn its fifty percent share of the income? Funny you should ask. At the most basic level, the publisher simply administers and licenses your musical compositions, registers with all applicable royalty sources, collects the royalties and pays the artist. This is O.K. when the songwriter owns the publishing and is merely using his/her own publishing company for the sole purpose of royalty collection. But, what if you grant another party, say Warner Chappell, your publishing rights? What should you expect to get for your money? The short answer is: more money. You get more money when the publisher performs its primary purpose for being. That is: the total and utter commercial exploitation of your copyrights.
Your publishing company should be turning over stones to develop royalty income streams from your songs. It does this by shopping them to film and television producers, advertisers, software developers, and other artists. You songs could also wind up in greeting cards, birthday cakes, computer chips, games and toys. The sky is the limit when finding ways to exploit music.
For more information about music publishing read Music, Money and Success by Todd and Jeff Brabec, and A Songwriter’s guide to Music Publishing by Randy Poe.
This letter has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The furnishing of this information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. You should not act upon any information provided in this letter without seeking professional legal advice.