FAQ
Q: What exactly is music publishing?
A: When a songwriter writes an original song, they own that song. If that song is successful, they will earn royalties and they may choose to give control of their song to a Music Publisher who will handle their royalties in exchange for a small percentage. Music Publishing is a business that works with songwriters’ rights.
Q: How do I publish my songs?
A: To ‘Publish’ means to make available to the public. Nowadays, it usually implies giving control of your song to a Publisher. If your song is successful, you will find great interest from Publishers to ‘publish’ your song. If you do not do a deal with a Publisher, your song will be ‘unpublished’ in a music business sense but, if you are well versed in the music business, you may still collect all your royalties.
Q: If I’m the performer on a track but not the writer, do I still earn royalties?
A: Yes, but they are Performer Royalties and not Songwriter Royalties. Usually these are paid to you from the record company you have a contract with, though some (airplay royalties) will come direct from the copyright society, PPL. (www.ppluk.com)
Q: As a songwriter how do I make money?
A: As a songwriter you should earn writer or ‘publishing’ royalties every time a record containing one of your songs is made or every time one of your songs is played publicly. These are called ‘mechanical’ and ‘performing’ royalties respectively. This is because your songs are a “copyright”.
Q: As an artist how do I make money?
A: A contracted artist also has rights and, similarly, should receive royalties every time a record of one of their performances is made and every time one of their performances is used publicly. So an artist also receives artist’s mechanical and performing royalties.
Q: What are royalties and who pays them?
A: Royalties are how a creative person earns money in the music business. When a record company puts out a record, it has to pay one royalty to the artist (according to the contract it has with the artist) and one to the songwriter (a share of the songwriter royalty of 8.5% of dealer price) each time it presses a copy. Before a radio station can play the tracks on air, it has to make the same double payment via two yearly lump-sum royalty payments: one to the artist/label’s collecting society (PPL) and the other to the songwriter/publisher’s collecting society (PRS).
Q: What are Copyright Societies?
A: Much of the collective work of royalty collection in the UK is done by ‘Societies’. MCPS is one of the songwriter/publisher societies that control the record industry whereas PRS controls airplay and other types of public performances. Similarly, labels and their artists will join PPL for airplay royalties. But Societies are not pro-active and the monies they pay out will depend largely on the information they receive, especially in respect of overseas earnings.
Q: What are ‘master rights’ and who owns them?
A: The master right is basically the ownership of a finished recording before it becomes available commercially. These ‘rights’ allow the owner to license the recording to other record companies, often in other territories or countries. Usually whoever pays for the original recording of a track (i.e. the record company or producer) owns the ‘master right’.
Q: Who makes money from a master recording?
A: Initially, the owner of the ‘master rights’. The owner is then obliged to share any profits made after deducting any expenses incurred. This payment is what is referred to as a royalty. The amount that the artists and/or songwriters receive in royalties is dependent upon the rate dictated by their contract.
Q: How else can a master recording generate money?
A: If the master rights owner licenses the recording to a label (e.g. for a compilation album), the money it gets back for licensing its master recording will include monies for the artist. However, it is always the releasing label that will have to pay the songwriter’s royalties.
Q: Who gets paid when a track is played on the radio?
A: When a radio station plays that recording, it pays three separate royalties: one to the songwriter (via PRS), one to the label (via PPL) and a third to the artist on the label (again via PPL).
Q: How will I know if I’m making money abroad?
A: An artist should be informed by their label (who will be in control of any licensing requests from abroad) and will be paid by their label. A songwriter may have a little difficulty if they are just relying on the Copyright Societies. A Publisher may be the better option for overseas monies.
Q: How can I get my money from other countries?
A: For songwriters, a Music Publisher is definitely the best option. A Publisher will have local contacts in most territories and will have a specific interest in your royalties. A Society will have agreements with local overseas societies but their inter-society relations are sometimes very awkward when it comes to chasing specific royalties for one member. For artists, look to your label and to your membership of PPL.
Q: Do I have to have a publishing deal to collect my songwriting royalties?
A: No, because the Copyright Societies do most of the front-line work for both Writers and Publishers. So you can be just a member of the Societies MCPS and PRS. But the Societies have tens of thousands of members and millions of songs to control. If you are well organised and have easy royalties to collect, the Societies can be a good option. However, if you want the job done properly a good Publisher is worth their percentage.
Q: How do I go about setting up my own Publishing Company?
A: The traditional British way of publishing is for a Writer to assign their songs to a Publisher. In the US, Writers more usually trade under their own publishing identities and, if they do a deal with a larger publisher, they do it as a Publisher to Publisher deal. The American model is usually preferable to the British, if only because it makes writers feel more in control of their own destinies. However, although you can trade as your own Publisher, you often need to do an Administration deal with an established Publisher because of your inexperience within the business or because the copyright societies will not allow you to join if you do not have enough recorded songs in your catalogue. Setting up writers with catalogue identities and then administering those identities is an area that Westbury has made a much more common option in the business over the last 25 years or so.
Q: What happens if someone samples a part of my song?
A: Don’t ignore it (unless it is only a few hundred copies) but don’t panic. Sampling is now commonplace and most companies will eventually pay a reasonable royalty if they know they have sampled your tune. First, you have to decide if they have just replayed a bit of your song (in which case they will have to pay a royalty to you or your publisher) or used the original master (in which case they will have to pay a royalty to the original label also). If, for example, they have used the chorus from your song but added their own verses, you could reasonably expect to be credited as a 50% (or even more...) co-writer of the new song. A little bit of skill is needed here, so an experienced Publisher would be an asset. If you are just the artist, your label will be working out a deal with the other label and you should receive a share of this deal.