Music Publishing Deals Explained


Writer’s Share vs. Publisher’s Share

Whenever the song is created, there are two equal shares of royalties attached to it. So, even if there’s just a single writer working on a song, the composition will be split into two parts: the writer’s share and the publisher’s share, each worth 50% of the composition. So, If you’re credited as a writer on a song (i.e. it wasn’t a work-for-hire situation), whatever you do, you will always own the writer’s share of your copyright. The ownership of the writer’s share can’t be assigned to a publisher — it’s paid directly to the songwriter by PROs.

Writer's Share / Publisher's Share Splits
Writer’s Share / Publisher’s Share Splits


Contractually, the role of a publisher is to collect and maximize the publisher’s share on behalf of the songwriter in exchange for a percentage of those royalties. That also means that without a publisher (or a self-established publishing company) songwriters get only the writer’s share — 50% of their royalties. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to get your micro-publishing company started, as both the PROs (collecting public performance royalties) and MROs (collecting mechanicals) have developed solutions that allow songwriters to self-publish their work. Besides, as a songwriter, you will have to establish your publishing micro-company anyway — unless you want to give out 100% of your publisher’s share and go for a full-publishing deal.

3 Types of Music Publishing Deals

The split between the publisher and the songwriter — and the nature of the work the publisher will do on the author’s behalf — depends on the type of publishing deal. There are few common publishing scenarios that became industry standards throughout the years — so let’s through them one by one.

1. Full-Publishing Deals

The full-publishing deals used to be the standard of the industry back in the day. A fully published songwriter assigns 100% of their rights to the publisher. The full-publishing deal covers all the material songwriters will create during the duration of the contract — usually with some kind of contractual obligation for a minimum of number of songs written. For all the compositions written, the songwriter will assign lifetime copyright to the publisher — the publisher will own his share forever.

In exchange, the publisher will provide full-circle services to the songwriters, proactively promoting the published material, pitching the songwriter across the industry and so on. In addition, the publisher will put forward an advance, recouped by the writer’s share until made whole.



Revenue Splits Under a Full-Publishing Deal
Revenue Splits Under a Full-Publishing Deal…………….. Even though full-publishing deals are less common than they were 20 years ago, they still have a place in today’s industry. As it usually is in the music industry, the share of revenue assigned to the company is a function of the total investment into the artist’s career and the risk taken on by the partner. 
Accordingly, full-publishing deals are more common if the publisher sign with a perspective, yet unknown songwriter, implying that the company will dedicate a lot of resources into developing the artist’s career, while the songwriter doesn’t have a sufficient track record. Risky investment = more return for the publisher. That’s the essence of the deal.
2. Co-Publishing Deals
Co-Publishing deal is the most common contract in the publishing industry nowadays. Under the co-publishing, the songwriter’s micro company and the publishing company put the composition out together — hence the “co-” part — divvying up the publisher’s share 50/50. So, the songwriter ends up getting 75% of the royalties: the writer’s 50% and half of the publishing share, or the other 25% of the overall copyright, owned by songwriter’s micro-company.
Revenue Splits Under a Co-Publishing Deal
Co-Publishing deals are commonplace for the mid-level songwriters, that are still in need of the promotional support from the publisher but have enough negotiating power to skew the deal in their favor (compared to the full-publishing agreement). The co-publishing deals also have some “duration of rights” to them, meaning that eventually, the songwriter will get the entirety of their rights back. It might take a while, though — the duration of rights is set up on a case by case basis, ranging from 2 years to 20 and more.
Otherwise, the co-publishing deals are a lot like traditional full-publishing. Publisher will provide an advance (recouped by the songwriter’s share until made whole) and actively work the writer’s career — pitching the compositions, maximizing sync opportunities, financing the recording of demo material, setting the songwriter up to write for prominent recording artists and so forth. The songwriters, in their turn, will commit to the minimum number of songs deliverable under the contract duration.
For both co-pub and full-pub deals, the sync fees splits will be defined on a case by case basis. Essentially, the publisher will maximise and collect all the sync revenues, and distribute it according to whatever the individual deal is — once again, it will come down to the negotiating power of the songwriter.
3. Administration Deals
Administration deals are a whole other breed of publishing services. Essentially, under the admin deal, the publisher has only one role — collecting and auditing the royalties on behalf of the artist. In that case, the songwriter keeps full control over the copyright, paying the publisher 10-25% of the publisher’s share in the form of an “administration fee”. Accordingly, the publisher earns a percentage of the revenue only while the deal is still in place, without any sort of “duration of rights”. For that reason, the admin deals are usually longer than the co-publishing once, stretching up to 5 years.
Revenue Splits Under a Publishing Administration Deal
Administration deals are commonplace for the well-established songwriters and recording artists writing their own compositions. Put simply, Jake Gosling and Max Martin don’t need the publisher to promote their compositions and get them in touch with performing artists. They’re already big enough to get all the representation they need from their publishing “already-not-so-micro-company”. They do, however, need someone to register their work with all the CMOs around the globe, audit and claim their royalties, look over (and renew) countless sync, and so on. 
So, the triple-A songwriters usually go for administration deals — keeping full control over their music, while maximizing the incoming royalties. The same generally goes for the artists that write music for themselves, focusing entirely on the recording side of the business. If the only person you’re writing for is yourself, and plan for it to stay that way, there’s no point in getting a full-blown publishing representation. That is precisely why most of the distribution aggregators, like TuneCore and CDBaby, offer publishing administration deals in addition to distributing their music to the likes of Spotify. 
What Does the Future of the Music Publishing Industry Hold?
Without a doubt, publishing is an integral part of any songwriter’s career. But what does the future hold for the industry? One could argue that the trends we see today across the publishing business are not that different from what we see on the recording label side. 20 years ago, “artist” deals were a norm across both recording and publishing.
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