The Essential Guide to Music Publishing: Royalties, Copyrights, and Administration

Music publishing is an integral part of the music industry that deals with the business side of making music. It involves managing the rights to songs and compositions, collecting royalties generated by a song’s usage, and ensuring that songwriters receive their fair share of the earnings. In this article, we will explore the world of music publishing, including copyrights, different types of royalties, the role of music publishers, everyday publishing deals, and the industry’s future.


What is Music Publishing?


Music publishing involves the administration and exploitation of musical compositions. It encompasses various activities, including copyright registration, royalty collection, and licensing. When a songwriter creates a song, they automatically hold the copyright to that work. However, music publishing companies help songwriters manage their rights and maximize their earning potential. Music publishing companies provide valuable services to songwriters by handling the administrative and business aspects of their music. Some key roles and activities involved in music publishing include:
1. Copyright Registration: Music publishers assist songwriters in registering their compositions with the appropriate copyright authorities to protect their rights.
2. Royalty Collection: Music publishers track and collect royalties on behalf of songwriters from various sources, including performances, radio airplay, streaming services, and public performances. They ensure that songwriters receive proper compensation for their work.
3. Licensing: Music publishers negotiate licenses to allow others to use the songwriter’s compositions. This includes granting permissions for recordings, sync licenses for use in TV shows and movies, and licenses for performances and public use.
4. Promotion and Marketing: Music publishers promote songwriters’ compositions to various outlets, including recording artists, film and TV producers, advertising agencies, and music supervisors. They pitch songs for potential placements and seek opportunities to showcase the songwriter’s work.
5. Song Placement: Music publishers connect songwriters with recording artists, producers, and A&R executives for potential collaborations and placements. They help to place songs in albums, films, TV shows, commercials, and other media formats.
6. Creative Feedback: Music publishers often provide feedback and guidance to songwriters to help them develop their craft and create commercially viable compositions. They may offer suggestions on song structure, lyrics, melodies, or production choices to enhance the marketability of the songs.
7. International Representation: Music publishers often have global networks and relationships with sub-publishers worldwide. They ensure songwriters’ works are protected and exploited internationally, maximizing earning opportunities in different territories.
8. Administration: Music publishers manage a songwriter’s catalog, including contract negotiation, catalog management, accounting, and financial reporting.
Music publishing companies play a vital role in assisting songwriters in protecting their rights, maximizing revenue streams, and connecting their compositions with opportunities in the music industry.


Copyright is the legal protection given to creators of original works, including songs and compositions. It grants the creator exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and perform their work. In music publishing, copyright ensures that songwriters maintain control over their music and have the right to authorize or prohibit its use by others. It also allows songwriters to receive royalties whenever their music is used or performed publicly. Copyright protection begins automatically upon creating a work in a fixed tangible form, such as writing down lyrics or recording a song. However, registering the copyright with the relevant government agency provides additional benefits, including the ability to sue for copyright infringement. Copyright protection typically lasts for the creator’s life plus 70 years.

Types of Music Publishing Royalties


Music publishing has several types of royalties, each representing a different income stream for songwriters and music publishers.

Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical royalties are paid to songwriters and music publishers for the reproduction and distribution of their music. These royalties are generated when a song is downloaded or physically sold, such as through CDs or vinyl records. In the digital age, mechanical royalties are paid for streams on platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming services.

Public Performance Royalties

Public performance royalties are earned when a song is publicly performed through live performances in venues or broadcasts on radio, television, or other media outlets. These royalties are collected by performing rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC and then distributed to the songwriters and publishers based on their registration and reporting.

Synchronization License Fees

Synchronization license fees are paid when a song is combined with visual media, such as movies, TV shows, commercials, or video games. These fees allow the music to be synchronized with the visual content, and the revenue is split between the music publisher and the songwriter.

The Role of Music Publishers


Music publishers play a vital role in the music industry, advocating for songwriters and helping to monetize their creative works. They are responsible for various aspects of music publishing, including publishing administration, scouting for talent, negotiating music rights, and promoting compositions.

Publishing Administration: Registration, Collection, and Audit

Publishing administration involves registering songs with performance rights organizations, collecting royalties from various sources, and auditing the royalty statements to ensure accurate payments. By handling these administrative tasks, music publishers save songwriters valuable time and effort, allowing them to focus on creating music.

Publishing A&R: Scouting for Talent and Developing Songwriters’ Careers

Music publishers are involved in the A&R (Artist and Repertoire) process, which includes scouting for talented songwriters and developing their careers. They provide guidance, support, and opportunities for songwriters to collaborate with other artists, producers, and industry professionals, ultimately helping them grow and succeed in the music business.

Negotiating the Music Rights

Music publishers negotiate licensing deals and contracts on behalf of songwriters. They ensure that songwriters receive fair compensation for using their music and protect their rights. By leveraging their industry connections and expertise, music publishers help maximize the value of a songwriter’s catalog.

Promoting the Compositions

Music publishers actively promote the compositions in their catalog to potential users, such as artists, record labels, film and TV producers, and advertising agencies. They aim to increase the exposure and commercial success of the songs they represent through marketing and networking.

Music Publishing Deals Explained


When songwriters sign with a music publisher, they enter into a publishing deal that outlines the terms and conditions of their working relationship. There are several types of publishing deals commonly seen in the music industry.

Writer’s Share vs. Publisher’s Share

In a publishing deal, the royalties generated by a song’s usage are split between the songwriter and the publisher. The writer’s share represents the portion of royalties that goes directly to the songwriter, while the music publisher retains the publisher’s share. The specific split varies depending on the agreement between the songwriter and the publisher.

Full-Publishing Deals

In a full-publishing deal, the music publisher acquires the rights to publish and administer all of a songwriter’s compositions. The publisher takes care of the administrative tasks, collects royalties on behalf of the songwriter, and provides various services to promote and exploit the songs.

Co-Publishing Deals

Co-publishing deals involve the songwriter and the publisher sharing ownership of the copyrights and royalties of the compositions. Typically, the songwriter retains the writer’s share while the publisher receives the publisher’s share. This type of deal allows the songwriter to maintain some control over their work while benefiting from the publisher’s expertise and resources.

Administration Deals

Administration deals focus primarily on the publishing administration aspect. In an administration deal, the songwriter retains ownership of the copyrights and the right to exploit their compositions. The publisher handles the administrative tasks, registering the songs, collecting royalties, and assisting with licensing in exchange for a percentage of the earnings.

The Future of the Music Publishing Industry


The music publishing industry is constantly evolving, driven by technological advancements and consumer behavior changes. As streaming services become the primary mode of music consumption, music publishers must adapt and find new ways to collect royalties and promote their catalogs. The rise of social media platforms, user-generated content, and the globalization of the music industry also present both challenges and opportunities for music publishers.




Q: What is music publishing?

A: Music publishing protects and administers the rights to musical compositions (songs) and ensures that the songwriters and copyright owners are adequately compensated for using their works.

Q: What are mechanical royalties?

A: Mechanical royalties are the royalties earned from the reproduction and distribution of a composition. They are typically paid to the songwriter or copyright owner when their composition is reproduced on physical media (such as CDs) or made available for digital downloads or streaming.

Q: What are performance royalties?

A: Performance royalties are the royalties earned from the public performance of a composition. They are typically paid to the songwriter or copyright owner when their composition is publicly performed, such as in live concerts, on the radio, or streamed online.

Q: What is sync licensing?

A: Sync licensing is granting permission to use a composition in synchronization with visual media, such as TV shows, movies, commercials, or video games. Sync licensing can be a lucrative source of income for songwriters and copyright owners.

Q: How do I collect mechanical royalties?

A: Mechanical royalties can be collected through music publishing companies, performance rights organizations (PROs), or mechanical rights organizations (MROs). You can also sign up with digital music distributors like TuneCore, which can help you collect mechanical royalties from platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

Q: How do I register my songs for royalties worldwide?

A: To ensure you can collect royalties worldwide, you should register your songs with a performing rights organization (PRO) in your country and consider registering with PROs in other territories. PROs are responsible for collecting and distributing performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and copyright owners.

Q: What is the difference between a performing rights organization (PRO) and a mechanical rights organization (MRO)?

A: A performing rights organization (PRO) collects and distributes performance royalties for public performances of musical compositions. In contrast, a mechanical rights organization (MRO) collects and distributes mechanical royalties to reproduce and distribute musical compositions. PROs are responsible for licensing the public performance of compositions, while MROs handle the licensing of mechanical reproductions.

Q: How can I collect publishing royalties without publishing my music?

A: If you do not want to handle the administrative tasks of music publishing yourself, you can sign up with a music publisher who will collect publishing royalties on your behalf in exchange for a share of the royalties earned.

Q: What are the different types of copyright in music publishing?

A: In music publishing, there are two main types of copyright: the copyright in the musical composition (the underlying song itself) and the copyright in the sound recording (the specific recorded version of the song). Different entities, such as the songwriter, the recording artist, or a music publisher, may own these copyrights.

Q: How do I split songwriting royalties?

A: To split songwriting royalties, you should have a written agreement with your co-writers, known as a split sheet, which outlines each songwriter’s percentage ownership of the composition. This agreement will ensure that each songwriter receives their fair share of the royalties.

  • Charly

    Charly is a seasoned music publishing expert, adept in rights management and royalty distribution, ensuring artists' works are protected and profitably managed. Their strategic expertise and commitment to fair practices have made them a trusted figure in the industry.

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