For bands or singers writing their own songs, publishing is where a lot of the money is in the music industry. The publishing money will go only to the person with the copyright for that song, so it may or may not go to the person actually singing the song. The best way to check this is, on most CDs, the name of the writer of the songs will appear below the title. Again, this name may or may not be someone connected directly to the band performing the song. Often times song writers will work for bands to help them with lyrics and music to play, but here again, the writer of the song is the owner of it and gets the copyrights to it, and thus the publishing money. One things to recognize is that copyrights are not the same as sound recordings. Someone can record a song and sell it to another band or company and then that particular company owns that recording, but they would not own the song. The original writer will always maintain the copyright for that particular song. The reason for this is, the publishing money is connected to the copyright, so the owner will be the only one making money off of the song itself.
Being the owner of a song has its perks for sure. Essentially, no one can play your song without you receiving money for it. When another company or band wants to play your song, they come pay to you, this grants them a license to play your song. The money that you’ve just made from your song is the publishing. The more popular your song, the more people will want to sing it, and the more people that want to sing it, the more money you will make. Basically there are four different areas of how to make income: print, synchronization, mechanical, and performance. There are a couple more, but use of them is pretty infrequent.
The synchronization and print licenses tend to bring in less money than the other two venues, but they can still be additional income for the owner of the song. Also these licenses must be attained before any printing or distribution takes place. Essentially a printing license means the owner will obtain publishing fees any time his/her song is written anywhere and published. This would include a piano score or lyric pages. Most of the time you won’t get more than a few cents for each copy printed, but again, it’s still some money coming in. Synchronization licenses are a little different since they are connected to some visual image. Some easy examples of this would be any video, soundtrack, or commercial. Even television show theme songs or background music are considered synchronization. The money you can get for a synchronization license varies greatly. Generally your record company will require a free music video granted to them to promote your song, but a popular artist can ask well into the six-figures for one of their songs to be put on a big movie soundtrack. The fees connected with each license vary so much and are connected not only to the popularity of your song and band, but also to the popularity of the movie, commercial or video it will be used in. The length of the commercial or video will also change this figure, as will how much of the song will be used. Because of all this complication and range of fees, most bands and songwriters will hire a publisher to help them. These publishers will know more about the industry standards and normal rates and fees that could be applied, and thus take care of collecting and charging for each use of the song.
Another right that the copyright holder can take advantage of is the mechanical right. Coming from the term used when wax records were made mechanically, this term basically means the owner has the right to reproduce their song. This right means that any time your song is reproduced onto a record, a CD or any other form, you get publishing money for it. The going rate for this mechanical fee is pre-established by the US copyright office. This makes charging clients a little easier and offers less negotiation. Nice thing about the rate that they put in place is that it’s on a per-song, per-album-sold basis. This means that even if you are only getting six cents per song, and you wrote five songs on the album that is being published that you will get thirty cents per album sold. Let’s assume that you sold to a relatively popular band and they sell one million albums, you just made $300,000 on five songs. Mechanical rights are where a lot of the publishing money is hiding.
One of your biggest rights when you own a song is the right to prohibit performances. The performances must be public, but essentially no one is allowed to play your song without paying for it. Generally societies like BMI, SESAC and ASCAP will keep track of your song and money for you. Publishing companies will also depend on these places to keep tabs on their clients money. The reason is, it is simply too difficult for one person to track where and when your song will be played live, or on the radio. Once one of the big societies collects your money for you, they will make sure that you get it. This fee is also a decent way to make money, especially if you end up getting on a few top song lists.
STARTING YOUR OWN PUBLISHING COMPANY
Once many people have seen what a publishing company does for them, and how much they have to give up to have a publishing company working for them they may start to search out different options. This especially happens when bands have several copyrights for their songs and are uncomfortable with assigning them to the big companies. One of the options many bands will take at this point is to start up their own publishing company. In doing this, they will be assigning the copyrights to themselves essentially and will never loss any control or ownership of those songs.
It’s actually a lot easier to set your own publishing company up than most people think. In fact it will be very similar to getting your band a business license. Your first step will be to contact one of the big performing rights societies, BMI, ASCAP or SESCAC. You want to ask for a “Publisher’s Application.” You will also want to request “Writer’s Applications” if anyone in your group isn’t affiliated with at least one of these societies. Once you have this form, you will have to come up with a name for your publishing company. There will be space for many different names, just in case some of the names you would like are already taken. Other than the name you will also have to start filling in background information on the owner of the new company. Normally the entire band will be the owner(s), so you will need to put each person on the application. You’ll also have to add what type of business license the band has. Next will be the tax ID number, but you will have to put “applied for” since the business is new and doesn’t have one. Now you can simply send the form in with any fees that you are required to pay. You should get confirmation when your new publishing company is accepted.
You must realize that your publishing company that you’ve just started is a separate company from your band. That said, you now will need to apply for a new tax ID number and business license. This will be done the same way you did it when your band obtained them. After you’ve received your ID number, send that in to the society that you originally applied to. Your last step is setting up your publishing company is to open a checking account under the company name. This needs to be done because any checks coming from the performing rights societies will be in the company name and not your personal or band name.
Starting up your own publishing company is a great way to keep more of the money that you will be making, but you must be realistic about your need for one. There are times when a publishing company isn’t necessary at all. So, take a step back and look at your band. Where is most of your money coming from? If it is all from live performances and product sales, you don’t need to spend extra money on a publishing company. This is because a publishing company is most useful and profitable when your songs are being played on the radio or when you have a record deal, and if you aren’t or don’t, it wouldn’t make sense to start a publishing company, since none of your profits are coming from other people using your song. Holding off until your band makes that step will be the most profitable way to run your business.