The role of the music publisher has evolved over the years, for many music companies, it has become nothing more than a banking operation, and for some, this is at the cost of innovation and passion. But what is the role of a music publisher today? We shall discover… What is the music publisher’s role? In Ann Harrison’s Music: The Business, she explains that a music publisher’s role can be split into three simple steps: 1. To issue licenses to people who want to use music. 2. To actively look for ways to use music (i. e. putting it in an advert/film soundtrack). 3.
To collect the income from those licenses and uses. Before elaborating on these three steps, we must first acquaint ourselves with the basic terminology that comes with dealing with a music publisher: The first thing everyone in the circle must understand is the meaning of copyright: * COPYRIGHT is a protection that covers published and unpublished works. It exists at the point of creation, arising automatically. The copyright work, however, must exist in material form, for example, that of a recording or sheet music. * Helen Gammons, The Art of Music Publishing.
Copyright subsists throughout original music, artistic, literary and dramatic works; it also subsists in sound recordings, cable programs, broadcasts, film and typographical arrangements of published editions. A copyright in a musical or literary work lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author/writer dies. If it is a co-written work, then the copyright is in effect until the previous terms are met by the last surviving copyright owner. In a publishing deal/contract, there are six main commercial terms to look out for.
They are as follows: * TERRITORY focuses on what countries the deal covers (although most deals are worldwide). * TERM refers to the duration of the deal. If it is an exclusive deal (see below), then all compositions created during the term are within the conditions of the deal. * MINIMUM COMMITMENT underlines the amount of work/songs written, for the writer to meet the deal’s minimum requirements. An example would be (for a non-artist songwriter) – “five 100% controlled songs (or an ultimate percentage equivalent) released on an approved UK label in each contract period”.
This means that a writer could co-write, having 50% ownership of the song, but if this is the case, the writer would have to accumulate the lost 50% on another song. * ADVANCES are the pre-payment of your share of gross income from your songs. This is not a loan, and will not need to be repaid if you leave the deal. The size of the advance will depend on previous earnings/success, the potential earnings, competition, and how much control you have over the album. ROYALTIES are the earnings of the exploitations of your songs from which your advance will be deducted. A typical split in an exclusive deal would be 25% publisher, 75% songwriter. A typical split from a record deal can be around 15%/85% to 20%/80% (record company/songwriter). * RETENTION PERIOD is the length of time after which the writer deal (term) has expired, that the copyrights now spend with the music publisher for them to recoup their advance and make money for the writer. This period can be as short as three years, to as long as ‘life of copyright’.
Step 1 is normally done in conjunction with the collection societies, which is a non-profit organization that represent the interests of publishers, record companies, authors and performers, but the one for music publishers and songwriters (UK) is called the PRS (Performing Right Society). This collection society is specifically for composers, songwriters and music publishers and bears the responsibility of administering the public performance and broadcasting rights of music and lyrics.
The PRS is a UK company, and it represents over a million foreign music copyright owners via its affiliation with other collection societies overseas. When you join with the PRS, there is a small joining fee (of which, is constantly changing) and you basically assign your performing rights to the PRS. There is a small criteria to fulfill in order to join the PRS and that is that you have your music either being broadcast on the radio/TV, or it is being performed live. The music publisher will be esponsible for registering your (and now, their) material with the PRS (and collection societies all around the world – this may just require the songwriter to fill in a form and file it with the society, and sometimes it requires a recording and a written copy of the music and lyrics aka. ‘lead sheet’). Step 2 involves the publisher finding uses for the songwriter’s music. The most typical way (if the writer is not an artist) is to find an artist to perform, record and release the song, this works significantly well if a high rolling artist expresses an interest – it could be life-changing.
Another brilliant method of getting your music heard is through music synchronisaton or ‘syncing’ – this is when a piece of music is laid over a piece of video to enhance the viewing experience. When songs are ‘synced’, it is a win-win – the video production company benefit from having a professional composition on their video, and the writer and publisher benefit from their music being heard. For example: if you write a contemporary ballad, it might be their prerogative to look into music synchronization in a television drama (e. g. he close of a Grey’s Anatomy episode), or an easy listening acoustic folk song for an advert aimed at the younger audience. Syncing can span across all different kinds of media such as film, radio and video-gaming too. Step 3 of the publisher’s role is to claim his and the writer’s earnings from aforementioned endeavors from the collection societies (briefly touched upon in step 1). If the music publisher is on a grander scale, then it is likely that he/she will have companies in many major countries internationally, along with only a few independent music publishers (such as PeerMusic) with a similar system.
Smaller music publishers will not have adequate resources to fund such an elaborate scheme, so they appoint local publishers to represent their interests there (sub-publishing; see below). There are four basic types of publishing deals, these are listed below: * ADMINISTRATION DEAL – If you are a songwriter with a vast collection of songs that could potentially earn a viable amount of money, but you don’t have the time or the wherewithal to self-publish by registering with collection societies and managing the role of royalty tracking yourself.
Under this agreement, the publisher possesses the right/license to administer said composition/s, but this is not the same as copyright. They can permit/license the use of said songs within different realms of media such as recordings, tapes/CD’s, television (series/adverts), film/DVD etc. , and collect royalties from all music users. This is usually for a specified period of time (term), more often than not around the span of three to five years, and in return for this service, the publisher will negotiate an ‘administration fee’ ranging (usually) between 10% – 15% of the gross income earned during the negotiated ‘term’.
Certain advantages of this deal are more control over songs, no pressure to deliver a specific amount of material, you keep your copyrights (unless there is good reason for you not to), you can request to be consulted on any controversial use of your material, whether it be associated with violence or simply inappropriate. Disadvantages of this deal would be no advances. * SUB-PUBLISHING DEAL – The sub-publishing deal is for the artist that does not wish to assign all copyright, but does wish the publisher to find new ways of making an income off of their material (songs).
This deal consists of transferring ownership of copyright, but there is no general statistic, deals/decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. An advance isn’t out of the question, but it would be contingent on how much of the rights are being handed over to the publisher; that being said, any advance would be small as the reduced assignment of rights means the publisher will not be earning as much compared to an exclusive deal, for example.
A sub-publishing deal is an appealing choice for smaller publishers who wish to operate abroad, and they can do this without having to set up a company overseas; instead, they use an overseas company to execute the right to use some or all of the rights in the specified country. * SINGLE SONG ASSIGNMENT – This deal is restricted to a single song, with which the publisher will be assigned the rights of the song and find as many uses for the song as possible.
Because it’s a small deal, it is easier to estimate and exploit it’s earning potential, and depending on that, a small advance will be distributed and all the usual accounting and licensing will be carried out. The term of rights can be negotiated; you can either assign the rights for life, or you can arrange a ‘rights period’. Your control over the song’s exploitation may be small – to prevent the publisher being hindered in making money from the song – but you will have an acceptable level of control in terms of lyric changes and commercial usage. EXCLUSIVE PUBLISHING AGREEMENT – This is probably the most important deal, as for every songwriter, this stage in their career is a definitive one. As Ann Harrison explains in Music: The Business, getting an established publisher behind them in this circumstance means that they have arrived, that someone else has faith in their work and is prepared to put money and commitment behind that conviction. Under this agreement, the songwriter agrees to assign the rights of all compositions (songs) written during a certain time-frame (aka. Term – agreed upon with the publisher).
An example of a usual term is two years from a specified date or one year (with four conditional options). You are guaranteed a percentage share of the income earned on songs during, and usually a proviso for weekly or monthly payments (contingent on the scale of which your agreement is drafted). The weekly/monthly payments made to the writer are treated as ‘advances’ , which will ultimately, be recouped from the songwriter’s future royalties. These royalties will be made from record sales, downloads, sheet music, music synchronization, television, film, video-gaming etc. he advantages of this sort of deal is that of stability – the writer is guaranteed a more reliable and steady income as opposed to some previous deals, as the advances help financially while the royalties (which take six months to one year to reach the writer after they have been transacted) are processing. In addition to these deals, newly-founded ‘music companies’ have scoured the planes looking for other innovative ways to grasp the sources of revenue made by their recording artists.
Such deals like the ‘360-degree’ deal or the ‘multiple rights’ agreements, are such methods labels have taken to using, to recover from the losses in the record industry. * THE 360° CONCEPT – In The Music Management Bible, Nicola Riches explains that the record company’s rights would traditionally be restricted to the artist’s recordings and (in order to facilitate the exploitation of those recordings) the ancillary rights described above. In recent years, record companies have shown a predatory interest in other areas of their artists’ activities.
This trend has been driven by the concern with breaking in new artists; when traditionally, upon signing a new artist, the record company will bear the financial brunt of the investment that is required. Obviously, this works well for the record company if there is an acceptable level of return from record sales, but in this day and age, record says are declining in favour of digital downloads and the invasion of music piracy. This means that the record companies need to recuperate this loss via other means, as the investment is no longer justified when considering the anticipated return.
This means that if the record companies are to make a similar investment in artists, they must find some way to increase the return in compensation of this shortcoming. Due to this shift, many artists doubt that they can ever expect to recoup/make enough/much money from record sales, but they need the drive and exposure of the machine that is an established record company to effectively promote their record, concert tickets and/or merchandise.
In response to this, record companies have presented the idea that if they are to invest in a record, then it wants a ‘cut’ out of the income of the artist’s related activites. “In it’s ‘pure’ form the 360° concept involves the record company gaining an entitlement to all of the artist’s services in the music business; this would extend to live performance, songwriting, merchandising, sponsorship and so on. ” – Nicola Riches, The Music Management Bible Just as with recording deals, music publishing is too suffering changes in the way it is viewed/perceived by smaller operators.
Many managers and smaller record labels have expressed an interest in handling publishing rights due to the current changes in the way artists are utilizing music, and the way people are experiencing music. Since the emergence of the ‘digital era’, many shifts in the music industry seemed necessary, one specific change would be the economic repositioning of record labels and music publishers; when before, record labels would develop and promote artists through financing the creations and distributing artists’ recordings, while the music publishers’ roles were to exploit the rights in and to musical compositions.
When something as revolutionary as the digital market changes the way the consumer experiences music, it also changes the way the industry’s cogs tick. This is where the seas part between the label and the publisher, because unlike labels, music publishers are not so tightly beholden to the sale of prerecorded music and they are more prepared to adapt to the changing ways in which consumers can obtain and listen to music. Many of the sources from which publishers can collect revenue are: * Public performance Synchronisation of songs (in connection with audiovisual works) * So-called ‘print rights’ (sheet music copyright) * Mechanical reproduction of songs on CD’s/digital downloads When a typical income stream for music publishers is mechanical royalties, and when those mechanical royalties are declining due to the piracy movement, publishers find themselves too, looking for other innovative ways to make this loss back somehow, alongside becoming more efficient at collecting these royalties and running their companies.
Music publishers have begun to take on some of the roles originally only executed by record companies, such as providing studio time for their budding artists to record demos, and some even go as far as to provide financial support to artists when out on tour, or even for basic promotion or press coverage. The reason for this is to give the artist a boost northwards and to help in ways that might be shortcoming of a record label these days.
A new method of copyright was issued in recent years when EMI (Electric and Musical Industries) were one of the first publishers to implement song lyrics onto merchandise such as T-shirts, key-rings, mugs, etc. the importance of licensing songs in video has increased too, with many publishers improving/strengthening their synchronization departments. With the existence of independent publishing companies like Kobalt, which have revolutionized the way publishers operate, publishers are striving to become more efficient, and to handle things such as royalties more effectively and systemically.
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