Music Publishing 101 – A quick and simple guide to Music Publishing

Music Publishing can seem overwhelming with Synchronization Royalties, Mechanical Royalties, Performance Royalties and more to understand. In this article we’ll explain everything you need to know about Music Publishing, without getting complicated.

Music Publishing; what does it mean, how does it work, how can artists get paid from it, is it really all that complicated? If you’re confused about Music Publishing then you’ve come to the right place. It can easily seem like a complicated topic but it’s really not and we’re here to explain it in the simplest way possible so that you can understand it and maybe even begin your own journey into the world of music publishing.

What is Music Publishing?

Before diving into some of the more specific terms and processes, let’s start at the beginning.

To publish music is fairly self explanatory: it is making music publicly available. This can be as simple as playing it live but usually refers to when a piece of music has become commercially available, for example selling it on CD or uploading it to Spotify, Apple Music, and other digital platforms.

The word ‘publish’ literally means to produce something and sell it to the public. Once your music is out there and available, it has been published.

Music Publishing itself however is referencing the copyrights surrounding your song and/or release that has been published.

This is where a lot of the confusion can come from. Music Publishing as its own term is all about the business of how copyrights apply to music once they’ve been made available to the public and how the artists, labels, and rights-holders earn from their published/licensed works.

What does a music publisher do?

A music publisher is a company or organisation that manages the compositions on behalf of songwriters. They will be in charge of licensing the tracks published and performed by an artist, as well as often being involved in promoting the artist and their music, and sometimes also helping them make decisions for their career.

What are Composition Royalties?

These are the royalties that are generated from the composition of the song – not the recording of the song. This applies to lyrics, the chords, the melody, and all of the elements that make that song unique on paper.

Unless the artist themselves is the songwriter, the Composition Royalties will always go to the Composition rights holder. This may be a songwriter that isn’t the artist themselves or their publishing label.

As an example:

Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ was written by Dolly Parton, therefore, Whitney (and/or her record label) own the recording of the track, but do not own the composition – these rights are kept by Dolly Parton.

This means every time Whitney Houston’s version of the song is played she only claims royalties for the use of the sound recording which she and her record label own. Dolly Parton is collecting the publishing royalties for the use of her composition.

What are Mechanical Royalties?

These are collected when a composition is re-produced. This used to primarily apply to physical pressings of a piece of music onto CD, Vinyl, Tape, and so on. Now this also applies when a piece of music is reproduced in digital form for streaming or digital downloads.

What are Performance Royalties?

These are generated every time a composition is publically broadcast, whether it’s the recorded version of a track or a live version of a track. Performance Royalties are collected when tracks are played on the radio, performed on TV, played on stage, played in a public store and in many other cases of public broadcast.

Payment is generated from radio stations, venues, business-owners, and whoever is responsible for the establishment in which music is being played. These are normally collected by collection agencies like PPL and PRS for Music in the UK; ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the US; and SOCAN in Canada.

Writing about music, listening to music, and occasionally playing music.

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