The music industry means that every individual has rights to productions that they create. The rights and ownership that you have over a production means that you can further monetize and exploit your material in many areas. As with everything in the music industry, there are a lot of complexities, but we’ll attempt to highlight some of the important factors of publishing administration that you can take advantage of while continuing to educate.
In this first part of this series, we’ll be talking about publishing.
In the music industry, publishing refers to the ownership, control and commercial exploitation of musical compositions. It further refers to the collection of all royalties ensuing from the usage of musical compositions. As a couple of examples, if your song is publicly played by a band in a concert and/or used in a commercial or movie, you will be making publishing income but only if you are registered with a PRO or a performing rights organization.
A PRO is a business for songwriters, composers and publishers focused on collecting their performance royalties. There are three main PROs in the USA; ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. There is a fourth PRO currently developing and most major territories of the world have a local PRO in their region. Every individual has the ability to sign up with a PRO in their selective region. By doing so you can setup your own publishing company that will allow you to own certain music and potentially own music of others as well. Signing up to every single PRO in the world is possible but very costly and would require you to potentially have residency in every territory.
In publishing there are publishers and there are publishing administrators, which is what Symphonic is. The differences are that a publisher typically takes ownership of a percentage of compositions and exploits compositions by seeking out licensing and placement opportunities for the compositions, in addition to seeking out co-writing opportunities for their songwriters. As a publishing administrator, my parent company, Symphonic Distribution assumes no ownership of your compositions whatsoever, but rather simply charges a fee to register your music not just in your region but in 60+ countries through various PROs. Doing so directly may cost you upwards of $7,000. I do have to state, though, that if you wanted to, you could potentially have BMI, ASCAP, and/or SESAC collect for the worldwide region, but this potentially means that an additional percentage of royalties will be taken out of your payments and retained by these PROs rather than using an administrator like us which keeps registrations to each PRO specifically.
If you are an artist, what does this have to do with you? Let’s assume you’ve completed a track. You recorded it, mastered it and you distributed it to music retailers and streaming providers. Here’s what you need to know: If you haven’t registered yourself as a songwriter with a PRO, and if you don’t have a publisher or a publishing administrator to collect royalties and the publisher’s share of your royalties, you’re missing out on money. It comes into play especially for independent artists who are doing well overseas (outside of the U.S.) due to some international copyright law differences.
So, how do you know if you have royalties sitting around?
You are earning performance royalties when your songs are being broadcasted and publicly performed in some way. This includes if your song is:
- Played on terrestrial radio (think of a traditional FM radio station)
- Played on Internet radio
- Played on online streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, etc.
- Played in clubs and performed live in venues (whether by you as a performer, by a DJ in a club in Sweden, or a cover band in a pub in Nashville)
- Played in businesses (retail stores, restaurants, hotels, etc.) as background music
- Played on TV (an episode of a show, on a sports channel, in an advertisement, etc.)
Income in these categories fall under performance royalties. In addition to performance, there are also mechanical royalties.
If your music is
- Manufactured and sold on physical CD/vinyl products
- Manufactured digitally and sold in digital retailers (iTunes, Beatport, etc.) outside of the U.S.**
- Manufactured digitally and streamed through interactive streaming services (Spotify, Rdio, Beats, etc.)
Then you may have mechanical royalties.
**There’s one vital, mind-numbing trick here: In the U.S., the mechanical royalty portion, precisely 9.1 cents, is lumped into the total sum delivered from the retailer (iTunes, Beatport, etc.) to your distributor, record label, etc. But outside of the U.S., the mechanical royalty is instead allocated from the retailer (iTunes, Beatport etc.) to mechanical royalty collection societies in each territory. Therefore, if you are having high digital download sales or interactive streams in any territory outside of the USA, you have had a chunk of mechanical royalties sitting in mechanical collection societies in your top-selling territories. If you’re not registered as a songwriter with the societies, they haven’t gone to you for you to claim them because the societies don’t know who you are, and they don’t have your songwriter registration on hand. Even if you’re registered with a PRO like ASCAP or BMI, it doesn’t matter. PROs only collect performance royalties, NOT mechanical royalties.
Creating a song is sort of like real estate. It’s your property and you can make revenue in ways aside of just downloads and streams. Our advice to you is to be proactive and register with a PRO and register your music. Either that or sign up with a publisher or administrator that can help you get the work done and ensure that your property, or your musical rights are registered so that in the event you have success you can receive royalties for years to come. It may not be a lot at first but if you specifically have a large catalogue of music, it’s something I highly recommend.
Lastly, PROs don’t really reach out to you which has always been a bit of the frustrating part. It’s up to you to get your income. There is a lot more detail regarding Publishing but here’s a quick link to some guides you can get to help you.