Print, synchronization, mechanical and performance
For band or singer 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 song will appear below the title. Again, this name may or may not be someone connected directly to the band singing 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 recognise 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 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 income from publishing can come: 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 avenues, 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 pence 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.
For example “Clement Marfo & The Frontline’, a band under the development of Jar Music’s, received a synchronization deal with Sky sports to have their song “Champion” as the title song for their tv promotion of the US American Superbowl. This 6-week deal allowed the band, which at the time was unsigned, to increase their profile, which lead to them getting a recording deal with Warner in early 2011.
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 time the commercial or video will be run will also change this figure, as will how much of the song will be used. Because of all of 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 UK copyright office. This makes charging clients a little easier and offers less negotiation. The nice thing about the rate that they put in place is it is on a per-song, per-album-sold basis. This means that even if you are only getting ten pence per song, and you wrote five songs on the album that is being published that you will get fifty pence per album sold. Let’s assume that you sold to a relatively popular band and they sell one million albums, you just made £500,000 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.
The fee for these publishing companies to keep tabs on your copyrighted song often surprise people when they first bring them on board and sign, or assign, their copyright to them. A normal fee for most publishers is half. That means that anytime your song is played, recorded, printed or synchronized you will only receive half of the earnings, while the other half goes into the pocket of the publishing company that you hired. While this fee may seem pretty steep, you must also consider what the company is doing for the songwriter. In a sense they take over all obligations and hassles of having a copyright, even though the original writer still actually holds the copyright. When they assign it to their company in basically gives that company the ability to enforce the laws and fees for that person. This means that the company will be watching the country to ensure that if someone plays or records your song, you get paid for it. They will also be making sure that there are no copyright infringements anywhere, and when there are, they will be the ones taking on whoever it is infringing on your rights. In short, they hold all of the responsibility of having a copyrighted song, while you can sit back and possibly write another song, rather than worrying about missing someone using your song. Having a company take care of this for you is really one of the only ways, or at least the best way, to ensure that all of the money that should be paid to you, is being paid to you. Having this company will also make it easier for people interested in playing or using your song to get a hold of you to negotiate a fee.
Almost every record company will require that you hand over your publishing problems to a publishing company, and normally they have one that they work with exclusively. As an artist, you may try to avoid this, but if you do you will be required to keep track of your own song across the country, and possibly the world. That said, never sign with a company that doesn’t have a good reputation. This is biggest factor that you will want to look at when considering a publishing company. It would be easy for them to take advantage of you with all of the power that they have, so be sure that you are signing with a reputable one. Your last option if you can’t handle the high fees is to start your own company. A small publishing company to handle just your songs should be easier to handle, but you will need help from several different people, and you may end up paying them just as much as you would another company in the end.
Mr Greg Rendall
Publishing Manager BMI US