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I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
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I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
Join Now
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I Heart Songwriting Club is a global community of passionate songwriters who love to help and inspire people to become great songwriters!
Join Now
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What is Music Publishing and How Can It Help Songwriters? A Conversation with Rachel Kelly

Based on the Podcast Episode: “ What is Music Publishing and How Can It Help Songwriters? A Conversation with Rachel Kelly” – Episode 41, The Magic of Songwriting with Francesca de Valence

Music publishing is an area of the music industry that is complex and hard to get a handle on so we ask publisher and 2019 Billboard International Power Player, Rachel Kelly all the hard questions: What is a music publisher? How do they support songwriters? And do you really need a publishing deal?  With over 20 years’ experience in music publishing, Rachel has held executive roles at both major and independent publishers including Downtown, BMG Rights Management, Alberts Music, and Warner/Chappell. This conversation is a solid overview of music publishing and how they can support songwriters.

What is a music publisher and what do they do?

Music publishers represent songwriters and exploit their catalogue in exchange for the ownership of publishing rights for a period of time.  The day to day job of a publisher is to take care of the business admin of registering songs and collecting royalties. A really good publisher will expand a songwriter’s network and arrange collaborations. Another important function of a publisher is to pitch songs to other artists and pitch for sync opportunities.  All of this allows a songwriter to be able to focus on being creative and writing songs.

How does a publisher pitch a song to an artist?

When artists are looking for songs to record, their management or label A&R team will go to publishers to find songs for the artist. They submit briefs to publishing companies that provide insights into what the artists are looking for in their upcoming projects, and will often include references and a deadline. The turnaround time for submissions can be really tight and most of the time a songwriter won’t have time to write something to the brief, so the publisher will pitch a shortlist of songs from their demo library. This is known as an A&R pitch.

What’s the next step in an A&R pitch?

Once the pitch is done, there’s usually no feedback. But if it’s good news you will hear back and the next step would be a conversation. As a songwriter you get the first right of refusal, but most songwriters jump at the opportunity to find a home for their song with an artist. Once the songwriter approves the artist recording the song, the next steps are different depending on the label, the artist, or the timeline for release. They could be recording next week or next year, but sometimes, it can take years. If the artist wants to record the song, then the song goes ‘on hold’, meaning that no one else can pitch it. Sometimes the artist’s recording doesn’t eventuate as things can change direction. If the artist does record the song, then the publisher will collect royalties on the song and distribute that to the songwriter.

Don’t ‘sell’ your songs

Selling a song is where the ownership and rights of the song changes hands and the original songwriter has no say over how the song is used, and no rights to the song. As songwriters we want to keep the rights to our songs as that’s how we can make money over time. It is not best practice to sell the ownership of a song unless there’s a bigger conversation around selling your entire catalogue.

Some examples of where artists are selling their catalogue, is where legacy artists like Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks, at the end of their career, sell their entire catalogue as a financial opportunity. Read more about the sale of catalogues of legacy artists here. Another example is where a publisher sells their catalogue to another publisher.

Pitching for sync

An A&R pitch is where a song is pitched to an artist to record. A sync pitch is different again. Rather than pitching demos to artists, the sync team at a publishing company pitch masters to music supervisors and television networks to exploit a song in a film or television show. Not every songwriter is an artist with masters, so there may not be potential to leverage this part of your catalogue.

Sync pitching is a full time job and can be time intensive so having a proactive and efficient sync team is so valuable. Submissions to briefs happen in real time, so if something’s connecting, then you have to have everything ready and the capacity to be able to make edits in real time. A songwriter/artist’s job is to have final mastered recorded files, access to vocal/instrumental versions, and clean lyric versions ready to go. Sometimes the music supervisor will want the songwriter/artist to make small changes to the song. Being open to make small changes and then mix and master that in a quick turnaround is crucial to the process. Deals can fall over because artists can’t get edits back in time.

A publisher who pitches for sync needs to understand their writers and know what they’ll likely approve, or not approve. It can affect the publisher’s relationships with music supervisors if they pitch a song and then have to pull out because the songwriter isn’t in agreement with the pitch opportunity. |

What are examples of publishing deals?

A lot of the time a full publishing deal is an exclusive songwriter agreement, where the publisher owns the publishing rights for a period of time. With that often comes some money upfront in advance and creative frontline value to build relationships and creative opportunities. Those creative frontline opportunities are limited to the reach of the publishing company. For example, multinational publishing companies (both major or independent labels) have resources globally. They can talk to teams in other territories to expand opportunities for the songwriters.

A publishing admin deal is where the copyright stays with the songwriter and timeframes are shorter. This deal is like a license not ownership and at the end of the deal, all rights revert back to the writer. It’s also not about relationships, so if you want to build relationships then you might want a full publishing agreement. It depends on what’s important to you. Either way, if you’re presented with a publishing agreement, have a lawyer to look over agreements.

How to get a publishing deal?

A publisher is looking for a songwriter who has it together and has a plan. They want to work with someone who is going to work as hard as they are. Some of those relationship courtships can take a year or more.

How can a songwriter get a publishing deal, and what can they be doing now to be available to those opportunities?

  1. Have your admin in order
    • Have your songs registered with your PRO
    • A track sheet in a spreadsheet
    • A bio
  2. Be networking and connecting  – get out and about and get to know people in the industry. It’s all about relationships.
  3. Practice co-writing – be open to writing for other artists and with other songwriters. Get the word out there that you’re available to write.

Do you really need a publishing deal?

The ways publishers can help songwriters is three-fold, they:

  • take care of business admin of registering songs and collecting royalties
  • expand your network and arrange collaborations
  • pitch songs to artists and for sync opportunities

The reality is not every songwriter will get a publishing deal, so for many songwriters, pursuing these things will be their sole responsibility. And if a songwriter can go after these opportunities themselves, or the elements of these publishing deals that most serve their goals, then they may not even need a publishing deal.
For example, if a publishing deal isn’t on the cards for you, you can build your own relationships with artists to get your own cuts.

Want to expand your songwriter network but you’re not published?

If you’d like to learn how to co-write and have your songs recorded by other artists, and you’re not published, check out our co-writing course to elevate your songwriting career opportunities.

By |2024-03-25T12:31:07+10:00March 21st, 2024|0 Comments
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