Brainzone Sync & Publishing's guide to music publishing

Like it or not, as an artist, you are a business – your creative works are your business assets. As an independent artist, you are in effect, your own product, label and publisher all at the same time.

We put together this Guide to help you to protect your assets or creative works such as compositions, lyrics, singles, EP’s, albums, collabs etc. and help you understand exactly how you can use them as your income stream.

Take any song that you like by your favorite artist – yes, even yourself – and let’s have a look at it together. A song that you composed, wrote the lyrics for, and recorded, is a finished work. This piece of work is composed of two parts. Every original song is broken down into the composition and the master recording part. There is always one composition, but there can be several recordings of one song.

The composition refers to the unique qualities that make up a song: the melody, the lyrics and its chord structure. Those together define the song and the ownership of such a song belongs to the songwriter. Both the songwriter and their publisher collect composition royalties, which stem from the composition copyright. They are mechanical and performance royalties.

When a song is recorded, it represents one specific recording of a song. This is a master recording, and each song can have many different recordings, ie. live versions, radio edits, covers etc. A master recording can be controlled by different entities. It can be owned by labels or by artists. It generates master recording royalties, which separate into digital performance royalties and master recordings revenue, and those are collected by a distributor, and (or) a label.

As you can see, a song you wrote generates money when it is used – royalties. Whether you are a songwriter, composer, band member, DJ, film or TV music writer, you can collect your royalties. And unless you sign a publishing deal or an administration agreement, you are considered your own publisher.
So, let’s look into how royalties are collected and paid out to you.

When you write a song and record it or notate it into a tangible form, the copyright law assigns you as the songwriter with ownership of that piece of work. Owning a song means you have exclusive rights to grant or deny the reproduction, distribution, or performance of your song. You also have the right to make a derivative work or to display your work publicly.
When your work engages with the public, it starts to generate royalties. Your royalties aren’t collected automatically though, and to collect your royalties, you need to correctly register it with the appropriate societies.

The copyright law grants the copyright to the creator of the original work. Copyright of a piece of work is divided to two parts – halves – the sound recording and the composition. Owning the work as your intellectual property starts the moment your piece of work is finished, and it exists in a tangible form, such as a demo or a lead sheet etc.
However, it is advisable to register your copyright with a copyright office in your country. Filing a formal copyright protects you and your intellectual property, and whenever you are in doubt, seek legal advice or check with the copyright office. This becomes a little more important once there are multiple collaborators on a song. Whenever you work with band members, a producer or arranger, each of you own a percentage of the song and the publishing rights, and each of you is entitled to publishing royalties based on your ownership.

Collaboration, also known as co-writes, is when you work on a song together with someone else in some capacity, for example a band member, a producer, an arranger, or a fellow songwriter. As we explained in the copyright section, each collaborator claims a percentage of the song and that entitles them to a share of publishing royalties of the song.
To establish the royalty split between collaborators, all writers must agree and sign a split sheet, an agreement that states these “splits”.
While having a formal copyright registration isn’t completely necessary for a song to be recognised as your intellectual property, having a split sheet signed can prove very useful if you ever end up involved in a lawsuit regarding the use of this intellectual property. So once you feel like a song you are working on together is finished, don’t forget the business, and address the topic of writing credit with your mates.
Splitting ownership in a multi-writer scenario means you are splitting the publishing royalties from the song as one unitary whole. There is no differentiation between the melody and the lyrics and so on any more. But before you release your song to the world and want to start collecting your royalties, it is important to get this part right!

The ultimate definition of Music Publishing is the business of making money as the copyright holder of the music you write. This happens in a variety of publishing situations.
A music publisher as a publishing company is a party that is designated to receive payment on behalf of songwriters when a composition earns royalties.
A publishing deal includes publishing administration, which is the more tiresome part of publishing – the registration of a song with collection societies and with digital service providers, issuing licences.
The publishing deals, traditionally called co-publishing agreements, mean your music publisher makes an effort to maximize the commercial exploitation of your works. This happens typically in exchange for a portion of your publishing royalties. The writer however retains his writer’s share. In a co-publishing deal, a songwriter also receives an advance on future royalties.

When your song is used in some way or form, it generates profit. Royalties are percentages of this profit and they are entitled to the creator or the owner when their intellectual property is used. There are different royalties generated for the sound recording – which are collected and paid out by your label or your distributor, and for the composition of the song, which are publishing royalties.

A music licence is a legal agreement that grants a person permission to use a work, under specified conditions and for specified purposes. Licences are issued by collection societies, who also track the usage of music that is registered with them, and then pay out royalties.
A music licence has the purpose of earning you money as the songwriter and also of protecting the licensee from any consequences for using a work illegally.
There are many types of licenses, but one important thing to know is that they don’t change the status of the owner of the copyright.
To monetise your music globally, you therefore need to register with many collection societies to make sure you can track and get paid for the use of your music. This complex undertaking requires massive datasets, many codes, and identifiers, and is at the core of music publishing.

Licensing rates of collection societies vary, depending on what settings or circumstances your work is used in. The rates also depend on territory and they are subject to regular negotiation.

While understanding just how the licensing and royalty negotiations work can be overwhelming, it is a little easier to understand in what ways songwriters are paid.
Songwriters are paid in royalties and we are going to look closer at Performance royalties, Mechanical Royalties and Micro-sync royalties.
Performance royalties are generated every time a song is publicly performed. That doesn’t mean only a live performance by yourself or as a cover by another performer, but also as a recorded version at a public place: on TV, on the radio, at live venues, in a restaurant, bar, elevator, in a supermarket, at a store, at a gym, on internet radio (eg. Pandora), on a streaming service (eg. Spotify, Apple Music) and so on.
Performance royalties are collected by collection societies also known as performing rights organisations, or PROs, locally, and by collective management organisations, or CMOs, internationally. A songwriter is affiliated with one PRO where they register their works, and their collecting society collects the writer’s share and the publisher’s share of performance royalties and pays them out respectively.

Mechanical royalties are generated when a song as a physical copy or in a digital format such as an mp3 or a stream is reproduced. There are several types of media that are considered mechanical reproduction and each has a different process of collecting and payouts: records (such as a vinyl or a CD), digital downloads, streams on an interactive streaming platform (Spotify), ringtones, recorded cover songs, film soundtracks etc.

Micro-sync and user-generated content video royalties are earned from the use of your music when it is synchronised with a moving image in a small use, or on a platform such as YouTube, Vimeo or TikTok, which we refer to as UGC (user-generated content) platforms. There are different requirements and limitations to how each platform allows for revenue to be earned, and so you need to look into their parameters. Monetisation of UGC platforms is different from DSPs – digital service providers – in that they generate both performance and mechanical royalties for songwriters and publishers. Despite the limitations, try to make it a part of your marketing strategy to encourage your fans to create content with your music and maximise your royalties on these platforms.

As a copyright owner you also have the right to authorise your music to be displayed, reprinted or offered for sale as a copyrighted sheet, lyric reprint, guitar tabs or in a songbook. This is called print royalties.

Sometimes songwriters don’t understand the system of royalties and they distribute their songs without registering them with their affiliated collection society. Or they register them incorrectly, or they don’t have a publisher and they underestimate the work involved.
In these cases the royalty payout is interrupted. These royalties are still collected but the collecting society doesn’t have sufficient information and data to pay them out. They store these royalties, usually for up to 3 years, and a songwriter can claim them retroactively, once they fix the interruption. They are called retroactive royalties.
There is a large amount of royalties that is never matched or collected though. These unallocated royalties become black box royalties. After some time, these royalties get paid out to affiliated members based on their market share. That means the most famous names on the music scene get paid out of the money your music makes – unless you claim the money yourself! It is advisable to make the effort and go through the process of affiliating with a collecting society, registering your songs correctly, or having a publishing administrator. Sometimes royalties can be misallocated, which happens when a composition is incorrectly attributed to another writer or publisher. This too can be fixed, and a publisher can help you fix this.

Synchronization is when music is synchronized with a visual media. This is a licence and you are entitled to a sync licensing fee.
Music can be synchronized with a TV show, a web or TV ad, films and trailers, video games, YouTube videos, or other visual media such as smartphone apps or DVDs. Music can also be licensed without a fee, but in general this is subject to negotiation between the owner of the composition and the sound recording, and the entity that wants to use that music.

Once a piece of music is synchronized and the production is broadcast, it generates performance royalties also known as sync performance royalties. These are collected by a collection society and paid out to publishers and songwriters in addition to their sync fee. Royalties coming from these audiovisual performances are generated from licence fees that the broadcaster or music user pays to your collection society and they are calculated based on different variables – such as how the music is used, for how long, when it is aired etc.

In some territories, outside of the US, royalties you are due from when a film is shown at a movie theater are called theatrical royalties. Performance royalties are not paid in the United States as movie theaters are not required to obtain a licence to perform music contained in the film in this territory. If a film goes to movie theatres worldwide, it can still be a very advantageous income source.

You might want to do a cover of another songwriter’s song or use part of their copyrighted work in a new arrangement or use a sample of an existing recording. There are three main ways to do this.
If you create a new song using aspects of preexisting copyrighted work, that is a derivative work. That happens when you make a jazz arrangement of what was originally a folk song and so on. The original copyright owner will be entitled to licencing fees in this case.

If you make a different rendition or version of an original song, that is a cover. You need to obtain a compulsory mechanical license through a music publisher or the owner of the composition or a third party, in some territories. In case you perform this cover in public, the original songwriter will be owed performance royalties and paid by the collection society.

If you decide to use a piece of a recording from another song in your own song, you are still using a pre-existing material, but this qualifies as a sample, defined as a literal use. To do this, you need the permission of the sound recording owner as well as the publisher (or publishers) of the composition. You need to negotiate with them the terms of the permission to use a sample, including a licencing fee on both sides and/or a writing credit on your song.

Providing metadata is arguably the most important consideration when ensuring correct identification of your music assets, compromised data can mean losing out on your publishing royalties, having your songs assigned to another songwriter and being robbed of your credit, and it affects the users’ experience on the consumption end – for example on streaming services. That is a lot of damage you can easily prevent.
Metadata are the identifying data embedded in a music file, comprised of many text-based meta tags that are attached to a song and include all details, from the artist’s name, to songwriter credits, song title, release date, track number, performing artist, cover art, main genre and so on. This data is used every time someone puts together an artist page on Spotify, builds an organized music library, or identifies and attributes a radio spin.
Numerous parties, from performing artists to lyricists, producers and songwriters, share the revenue coming from the performance royalties and so ownership and performance rights data is crucial for the purpose of royalty calculations. Ownership metadata specify the contractual agreements behind the release. Artist credits are also the primary way for songwriters, producers, session musicians, and engineers to make themselves visible to the music industry.
The third type, what we could call recommendation metadata, consists of subjective tags that aim to reflect the contents of the recording and describe how it sounds. Mood labels, generative genre tags, song similarity scores — recommendation metadata is used to make a meaningful connection between tracks and power the recommendation engines. They become a huge differentiating factor for streaming services but also for in-house industry business, and most importantly for movie synchronization. There is a lot to know as to how different DSPs handle this tagging, and it is subject to development, but for the sake of your livelihood, do not leave this area up to chance.

For you to be paid royalties, the collection societies need to track, register your songs, and collect the royalties. We use the term “collection society” as a general term internationally, whereas in the United States, the term PRO or performing rights organisation is used.

A PRO or performing rights organization is responsible for collecting revenue when a song is publicly performed. Restaurants, bars, venues, streaming services, or any other entity that uses music in public, is required to pay a PRO a licence. The PRO collects these licence fees on behalf of songwriters and music publishers and then pays them their revenue in the form of performance royalties. PROs’ rules can vary in how they pay out the publisher’s share of royalties.

Internationally, collection societies are referred to as collective management organisations. They are the equivalent to PROs but their terms can vary depending on each territory. CMOs, as with a PRO, collect and pay the writer’s share of performance royalties. They also, with the exception of German GEMA and US PROs, collect mechanical royalties. The territorial differences are important to pay attention to, especially once you have an international following.

If your PRO or CMO doesn’t collect mechanical royalties, there is a collection society, referred to as a rights management agency, that collects and distributes mechanical royalties. They track and collect when your song is reproduced.

To collect your royalties, you need to affiliate with a collection society. The first step is to register yourself and your songs. When you do that, you receive an IPI number, which is short for Interested Parties Information number (and replaced the CAE number system). This is your identification number as a songwriter and connects you to your songs. This way you can ensure that your royalties will be paid to you. 
Note: This is not to be confused with your PRO member ID or account number. 

The next step is to register your songs, informing the collection society the name of the song, who wrote it, and who has administrative publishing rights. Once you do that, you will receive an International Standard Work Code, or ISWC. That is your song’s identifier, which is unique to your song and is used to track this song and its royalties. Once you distribute your song, it is assigned an International Standard Recording Code, or ISRC. This is the song recording’s identifier. A publisher uses this to track and collect royalties. This code is issued by your distributor.
If, or when, your song is being used internationally, you are owed royalties for that. As an individual songwriter without publishing, you are in for a mountain of work to register your songs with all of them. When you come to this point of decision making, you can come to us at BrainZone Sync & Publishing, and we will help you navigate the international publishing for your career.

To make an informed choice about what publishing situation is the best fit for your career, let’s review some of the information we have discussed above. There is some very important due diligence to determine just how much work you want to put into the business side of being a creator.

When a song is complete, the songwriter claims ownership of the song’s rights, split between the master recording and the composition. As we know by now, the recording rights are negotiated depending on the situation the recording was made in – according to the terms of a distributor, or your relationship to a label, etc. However your composition ownership is a little less negotiable.

The composition is divided into the writer’s share, which makes up 50% of the whole, and the publisher’s share, which is the other 50%.
The writer’s share is the percentage of the ownership that is attributable to the author, or composer.
The publisher’s share is the share of revenue, which belongs to the songwriter unless you decide to enter into a partnership agreement with another publisher.

Reasons why to enter a publishing agreement or deal with a publisher are multiple, mainly, that you get paid in a more timely and complete manner, and that you will reach outlets for your music or synchronization deals that are otherwise difficult to attain. Before you decide on what support for your catalogue you need and want, let’s look at the difference between the administration agreement and co-publishing agreement.

When you decide to enter an administration agreement with a publishing administrator, you keep 100% of your copyright ownership and pay 10-25% of your royalties as an administration fee, for a period of 1 – 3 years. Publishing administrators have relationships with both performance and mechanical collection societies internationally and that facilitates the collection of your royalties. This type of agreement doesn’t include creative services, but they can include an advance, which must be recouped the same way as in other types of agreement.

If, however, you are considering a co-publishing agreement, you will typically keep 100% of your writer’s share and you assign 50% of your publisher’s share to your co-publisher. The details of such an agreement are negotiable, but in general this type of deal will give artists more stipulations to meet than the administration deal. Those may be a minimum number of songs that need to be of certain commercially satisfactory quality or they may be a number of songs recorded and released on a particular label. What you gain though is a partner who has an incentive to pitch your songs to music supervisors for synchronization in TV, film and advertising, setting you up with co-writes with other artists, submitting demos to labels to be recorded and released by major artists, and so on. Additionally, administrative duties are a part of this deal. An important factor to consider is giving away some of your creative control for a specified period of time, which means a publishing company will retain rights to your compositions written under the deal with them. One of the exciting enticements to consider is an advance, which is a prepayment on your royalties, which, as usual, must be recouped by your publisher before you are paid any royalties out of your compositions.

In a work-for-hire agreement, a songwriter is paid a flat fee and in exchange he gives up his composition credits and therefore any ownership and administration rights for the life of their copyright. This can consist of recording sounds for an artist that they want to use on a song, which can be a very useful experience for networking reasons, and money-earning work.

An exclusive songwriter agreement is a type of contract where a songwriter is paid a regular advance, and assigns 100% of the publisher’s share to the publisher. The publisher recoups such an advance in the usual way, and usually performs both administrative and creative duties in this type of agreement. This type of agreement is usually offered to writers with a proven track record.

As a songwriter, you can form your own publishing company, or you can decide to sign with an established publisher.
There are benefits and advantages to owning your own publishing company, such as keeping all your publishing royalties, being free to sign other future publishing deals, and protecting your business assets. However the cons – the costly, hands-on workload of administration – are important to consider, if you don’t want them to keep you from creating every day.

Whether you are considering either option, feel free to talk to our team of experts to advise you on any details.