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Music Publishing Explained for Musicians

Music Publishing Explained for Musicians
March 11, 2024
Music publishing can be a tricky concept to understand. Once mastered, however, it has the potential to become one of the most rewarding and lucrative revenue streams for independent artists..

So although it can be a bit complex and daunting at first, artists need to understand how music publishing can seriously boost their incomes and make their music viable as a long-term career. Follow our guide below to learn how musicians can start earning even more money from their music by claiming publishing royalties.

If you're ready to start right away, then sign up to Ditto Pro for all your publishing, distribution and sync needs.


What is music publishing?

Before we can get our heads around music publishing, we first need to understand how music copyright works.

Music copyright relates to which songwriters (or copyright owners) are owed money in the form of publishing royalties, every time their music is used.

There are two copyrights needed for every single track. One copyright for the sound recording, and one copyright for the composition.


Music copyrights explained

Music copyrights provide legal protection over your original music projects. They grant rights holders exclusive control over their use - including public performance and distribution. 

1. The Sound Recording (Master Rights)

When artists say they “own their masters”, they mean the copyright to the original sound recordings of their music - also known as the master rights.

‍Whoever owns the master rights to the original sound recording of a song will earn royalties whenever that song’s recording is broadcast or reproduced - and yes that includes streaming and downloads when you release music to any major streaming platforms or online stores.

The copyright to the Sound Recording is usually owned by the artist or record label.

Music Publishing Explained for Musicians

‍2. The Composition (Publishing Rights)

The Composition or “Musical Work” refers to the underlying musical elements, structure and composition of a song. This may or may not also include lyrics.

‍The composition copyright is usually owned by the original writer or composer of a track.

If you haven't already, make sure you learn how to copyright your music so you can become the legal owner of your song & be the person in receipt of the royalties it generates!

Music Publishing Explained for Musicians

So while each copyright has its own rules & properties about who gets paid & for what, the one we're worried about for this post is number 2, the compositional rights.

That's because music publishing deals exclusively with the royalties generated by a song’s composition.

Music Publishing Explained for Musicians


What does a Music Publisher do?

Music publishers work on behalf of songwriters and/or composers to collect and pay out all of the royalties they earn from their compositions.

Publishers can collect 3 different types of royalties from sources all over the world.

‍Types of music royalties

- Performing royalties : Royalties generated from live performances of a song, including concerts, festivals, radio play or at a public venue.

- Mechanical royalties: Royalties generated for manufacturing physical copies of a song (such as CDs and vinyls), plus digital streams & downloads.

- Sync licensing royalties: Royalties generated every time a song is broadcast through an AV media placement (think adverts, films & video games).

Essentially, however, each of these royalties relates to how an artist's music is used.

Whether that be copied or sold in physical or digital formats, performed live on stage or at a public venue, or even broadcast on the radio or in any kind of AV media.

What is Music Publishing? Explained for Musicians

In theory, an independent musician could try to claim some of the publishing royalties they’re owed without the help of a publisher.

But publishing is a complicated business. There are hundreds of organisations across the globe responsible for different royalty sources, and it’s practically impossible for artists with smaller back catalogues to build the relationships they need to claim all the royalties they’re owed. This can end up leaving potential revenue unclaimed.

‍That’s where a music publisher comes in.

Publishers have relationships with Performing Right Organisations and other collection societies across the globe, plus years of expertise tracking down every potential source of royalties.

It’s their job to make sure you get paid everything you’re owed.


What is a Performing Rights Organisation?

A Performing Right Organisation (PRO) is responsible for collecting performing royalties on behalf of composers and songwriters in a given territory.

Most countries have their own Performing Rights Organisations, such as PRS in the UK or ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in the USA.

To claim the royalties that are owed to you, you'll need to have signed up with the right PRO in your region or area (or have your music publisher do it on your behalf).

So what’s the difference between a Music Publisher and a Performing Rights Organisation?

PROs are generally owned and controlled by music publishers, composers and songwriters, and are there to license and collect royalties for millions of songs together - thereby reducing costs for everyone, and protecting the value of music by grouping copyrights together to negotiate and license to digital services, broadcasters and venues.

PROs do not collect mechanical royalties. Your music publisher however will also be a member of a mechanical rights collection society, such as MCPS in the UK, and MLC or Harry Fox in the USA (and hopefully many more around the world).

Music Publishing Explained for Musicians


Types of publishing deals 

When signing a publishing deal, you’ll usually have 3 options:

- Full publishing deal
- Co-publishing deal
- Administration publishing deal

Full publishing deal

Full-publishing deals involve songwriters assigning all of their rights to their publisher. Within these contracts, songwriters would commit to producing a set number of songs during a specified period and forfeit their copyright to the publisher for all compositions.

In exchange, publishers would provide a range of services, such as promotional activities, financial advances and pitching the works to their network of industry professionals and contacts.

While less common than in previous decades, full-publishing deals still remain popular today. They are often seen when a publisher signs a promising but lesser-known songwriter, allowing the publisher to demonstrate their dedication to nurturing the artist's career despite the absence of a proven track record. The higher risk for the publisher does lead to a worse split for artists however.

Co-publishing deal

The most popular deal seen in today's publishing industry is the co-publishing deal. These deals are all about songwriters and publishing companies collaborating in releasing tracks - therefore splitting shares.

Because publishers only holds partial ownership within these deals, they have a heightened incentive to make sure the artist reaches their fullest potential and generates maximum royalties, making this deal more attractive to artists.

Administration publishing deal

Finally, we have administration deals. The publisher's main role throughout these types of deal is to gather royalties on behalf of the artist. 

Administration deals or agreements let you keep full ownership of your music, with publishing companies just taking a cut for helping register your songs with collection societies. This deal is popular amongst independent artists who want to keep 100% ownership of their songs.


Pitching your music for sync 

Another key part of music publishing is music sync licensing. This involves pairing music with visual projects - think TV adverts or movie sequences with epic soundtracks. 

When signing up to Ditto Pro, artists gain access to a whole range of sync pitching opportunities, with briefs coming from across the worlds of TV, film, video games and advertising. 

Achieving sync placements is a great way of enhancing your global profile and can really help boost your budget through sync licensing royalties. 

Learn more about sync licensing:

What is sync licensing?

How to make music for video games

How do music royalties work?

What is Music Publishing? Explained for Musicians


How to find a music publisher

You can sign up for Ditto Publishing now to start claiming all of the royalties you’re owed.

We'll handle all the administrative work and boring legal stuff when it comes to collecting publishing royalties globally. This includes:

- Registering your music with your performing rights organisations worldwide

- Registering your music with mechanical rights collection societies

- Tracking and collecting all performing royalties across the globe

- Tracking and collecting all mechanical royalties across the globe

- Pitching your music for sync placements & collecting sync royalties

Part of
Boost your royalties by up to 20% when you register tracks for music publishing with Ditto Pro.

Now you have a solid grasp of how music publishing works and what steps you need to take to earn the most money from your music, you can get out there and start collecting more royalties! Think about what your priorities are, chat to your manager about which publishing deal is best for you, and keep promoting your music across social media and streaming platforms.

Music Publishing Explained for Musicians

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