MUSIC INDUSTRY NOTES: A brief overview of Music Publishing (Part 2)

Published November 18th, 2020 | Kristina Didero

Welcome back to a review on music publishing. In the last article, we discussed a publisher’s job, obtaining copyright, and performing rights organizations. In this section we’ll go over some of the ways to identify the different licenses involved in music publishing.

In this section we’ll go over some of the ways to identify licences. As a reminder, performing rights organizations (PROs) exist to manage the licenses granted to those who want to use music in a public forum. There are three major PROs in the United States: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. Each one works with the PROs of other countries to make sure music plays are accounted for on a global scale.

A song has two parts: the recording (master) and the underlying composition. The master recording sources the royalties for the artist, record company, and producers; whereas, the underlying composition generates the royalties for the songwriter and publisher. As a reminder, songwriters include both the lyricists and composers. At the birth of a song, the writers will determine how much each person contributed to its creation, and relatively, what percentage of the composition royalties they lay claim to.

Photo by Blaine Scot Prow

To illustrate, let’s take the example of a four-person band of which two members write all the lyrics and notes for their music. In theory, all four members are entitled to recording royalties, but only the two writers will receive composition royalties. The percentage splits can vary from song to song. Maybe Person A wrote 40% of the first song and Person B wrote 60%. For their second song, Person A wrote 90% and Person B wrote 10%. The royalties will be split accordingly.

The publisher will guarantee the writers are compensated when mechanical, sync, and print licenses are granted (to be discussed further in this article); however, to obtain public performance royalties, the two individuals must make sure they register as songwriters with a PRO.

In another example, a producer or rapper who writes a feature on a friend’s song is still entitled to composition royalties on that specific track and should ensure they are registered as a songwriter with a PRO. Collecting composition royalties does not mean that someone only writes songs for a living and self-identifies as a songwriter on a regular basis. To a publisher and a PRO, a songwriter is anyone who contributes to the composition of a song, even if it’s just one time.

We’ve talked a lot about PROs and public performance royalties, and while music publishing deals with a variety of license, the four most common are the following: mechanical, synchronization (often abbreviated to just “sync”), public performance, and print licenses.

The following is an overview of their definitions and how issuing licenses works in each of these forms:

Mechanical: Audio-only product that involves a master recording, or final recorded product (i.e. CDs, vinyl records, digital downloads, etc.); a publisher issues a mechanical license to a record label to record or reproduce copies of a song; when royalties come in from record sales the label gives the publishing cut of the revenue to the publisher who then shares it with the songwriters

Sync: Audio-visual content (i.e. film, television show, or commercial); the publisher will negotiate a licensing fee with the producer of the audio-visual platform wanting to use the music; the publisher will then collect the fee and distribute payment to the songwriters

Public Performance: Music played for a public audience where anyone can be involved (i.e. convenience stores, concert venues, amusement parks, etc.); in this case, the publisher registers the song with the PRO and the song becomes a part of the PRO’s catalog; the PRO then issues a blanket license to a public entity (who pays for it) and the licensee then has the permission to play any song from that selection; the fees gathered for the licenses are returned to the publisher and songwriters as royalties

Print: Printed notes or lyrics; a license involves permission to print, display, or rearrange music (i.e. displaying song lyrics on a website); the publisher will negotiate a licensing fee with the licensee, secure the royalties, and distribute them to the songwriters

It’s helpful to understand these licenses to be able to reap the benefits in each of these categories. In the next article, we will examine the different types of publishers in the business.

Normandie Records Industry Notes are intended to be an introductory resource for artists or young professionals who wish to learn more about the music industry.

Kristina Didero is based out of Los Angeles. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. She loves to dance and read self-enrichment books. She’s happy to sit with you till the wee hours of the morning discussing and analyzing life. kristinadidero@yahoo.com