Music Industry Notes: A brief overview of Music Publishing (Part 3)

Published May 20th, 2021 | Kristina Didero

Welcome back to part 3 on music publishing. This is the last part of this series. In the last article, we discussed the different licenses involved in music publishing. In Part 3 we are discussing a few options available for songwriters to protect their works when a publishing company is involved.

Since a songwriter’s main focus is creating music, finding the time and resources to protect their work tends to be a bit of an elusive task. And unless a writer single-handedly manages all the paperwork and communication around registering their music and handling licenses, it can be hard to gather all the revenue earned from a composition. Having a music publisher actively representing one’s compositions will allow them to maximize the potential of a catalog and collect all the royalties.

Photo by Laura Balbarde

When a song generates revenue, the royalties are split between master royalties and publishing royalties. The master royalties serve the recording artist, label, and producer; whereas, the publishing royalties are attributed to the songwriter, composer, and publisher. To distinguish, the difference is in who supported it being performed and who supported it being written. With that understanding, the rest of this article will go on to focus solely on the publishing royalties. Within the publishing royalties, to keep things simple, the payments are made based on a 50/50 publisher and writer(s) split. Think of it as a pie split right down the middle.

If a writer never seeks publishing assistance, they will remain self-published and earn all of the royalties from their writer’s share and publisher’s share. If they do, in fact, choose to assign the copyright to a publisher, the royalties will be split so that the publisher will be paid from the publisher’s half of the publishing royalties only.

Publishing Administration

The simplest form of a music publishing deal is an administration contract. In these agreements, the songwriter maintains full ownership of the music but grants the administrator the power to pitch and license the music for film/tv, negotiate fees for the recording of a cover song, connect writers with recording artists, register music with PROs, and collect royalties from sales. With an administration deal the songwriter typically agrees to give 20% of the publisher’s royalties to the administrator as payment for their time and effort.

Photo by Cottonbro

A major publisher will also serve all of these duties with a few added perks. A huge benefit to working with these labels is that they have an abundance of industry connections and often also double as film studios which means the opportunity for sync placement exponentially increases. Considering their amount of resources and funds, compositions have a higher chance of being used in something that has strong marketing support on the label side. Major labels are more likely to offer songwriting agreements that can often involve monetary advances so a songwriter can focus solely on writing. Although much more opportunity is offered, major labels will also contract for a higher percentage of the royalties. This model can still generate plenty of individual reward but may be best suited for established writers.


Music publishing administrators and major publishers oversee compositions in their country of origin. However, what happens when other countries want to use home-based music? In this case, one would employ a sub-publisher, a publisher of a foreign jurisdiction. Many of the big companies have ties to foreign affiliates and can easily make contact with a sub-publisher. American PROs are also well set up with sister societies in other countries but will only be able to protect performance rights. For an indie artist who might not have the support of a major companies, it is more difficult to find a sub-publisher, but with networking and understanding, not impossible.

Although working with a traditional publisher works for many, it may not be for everyone. For writers who are choosing for a more independent route in their career, It’s important to weigh the pros and cons against what their needs are to determine a good fit.

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