A guest post by Schwilly Family Musicians.
A lot of people manage to work their entire lives in the music business without understanding a thing about music publishing. That goes for everyone from the lawyers, managers, and executives, all the way up to the songwriters and performers. The purpose of this article is to give you a basic understanding of music publishing in simplified terms. This is important because publishing is the foundation of the music business. So if you understand the information I’m about to outline for you, you will have a much stronger grasp of the entire business as well as control over your career.
Let’s start at the beginning. Before you can record a song, you have to write a song. You may already consider yourself a songwriter. Or you may just consider yourself the guy that writes the songs for your band. Regardless of the emphasis you place on your role, the moment you write down an idea you own a copyright.
The copyright that you own is a completely separate entity from the song you record later on. And over the long term it is very valuable.
Let’s take the late, great J.J. Cale as an example. He wrote one of my all time favorite songs, “After Midnight.” However, his recording is nowhere near the most famous recording of the song. It is Eric Clapton’s recording that is mostly heard all over the world.
Regardless of where that song is played or who played or recorded it, J.J. Cale (well, his widow now) is entitled to publishing royalties. This includes when you watch Eric Clapton play it on YouTube, when Phish plays it live, when it is streamed on Spotify, when the lyrics are printed on a t-shirt, when it is used in films, ads, or video games, or any other public representation of the song.
So as you can see, even though the recording and sale of a song is the most visible aspect, it really only constitutes a small portion of the royalty income stream.
I want you to know that this applies to artists of all levels, including you!
This is where publishers come in. What they do is handle the royalty registration and collection processes around the world. Sure, you can establish your own publishing company and attempt to collect all of your own royalties. The problem is that every country, region, or locality may have their own registration processes, which come with their own fees and paperwork. Also, as new technologies evolve more sources of royalties are created, making the process even more complicated.
As an artist, your creative output would suffer (if not come to a complete standstill) if you tried to take on everything involved in assuring all of your own royalty rights. So although record companies are pretty much obsolete, in that you can manage your career just fine without them, it is a really good idea to work with a publishing administrator that has a global collection infrastructure in place in order to make sure that you get all of the money that you are owed for your hard work.
So those are the key points you need to understand about music publishing in order to make the most of your artistic career. I’m sure you next question is going to be, “how do I pick a publisher?” And there are certainly a lot of options out there. I’ve done a lot of research on the topic and can confidently say that cdbaby has the best service I have seen. I’ll edit this article if my opinion ever changes. They recently added publishing (cdbaby pro) to their already comprehensive digital distribution functionality. I thinks it’s great to be able to go to one source to do all of that for you.
I’m not trying to write their sales pitch for them so I’ll just say that I invite you to do your own research to pick the option that works best for you. I just want you to make sure to take some action as you build your fanbase and global reach in order to ensure that you get paid what you are fully worth.
If you write songs, don’t leave money on the table…
My special gift to Music Clout Readers
I help musicians identify key niches, connect authentically to passionate fans, and turn them into paying customers. So I put together a Music Marketing Strategy Guide that I would like to share with Music Clout readers, just because I love Music Clout (and you!) so much. Check out this Schwilly Family Musicans page, drop your email and I’ll send you over some awesome stuff I’m preparing especially for musicians like you.
Here’s what you’ll get:
An 11-page Strategy Guide for Marketing your Music online.
Regular updates and tips on how to make the most of your music career.
The opportunity to open a one-on-one dialogue with me about your musical journey, goals, and strategies about how to accomplish them.
Thanks so much for reading my stuff and don’t forget to check out Schwilly Family Musicians.
Carlos Castillo is a music marketing strategist, live performance recordist, international road-tripper, lap steel player, and Captain of the Schwilly Family. Find him at SchwillyFamilyMusicians.Com, or on Twitter at @CaptainSchwilly.