Short Definition: Publishers are in charge of promoting and exposing your music to radio stations, record labels, and movie/television producers. The publisher then licenses the right to use the song and then whoever uses it needs to pay. The publisher collects these fees and splits the commission in half with the song writer.
Long Definition: A Music Publisher is basically a copyright administrator. I am often impressed by how many ways a music publisher can turn music into money. Publishing companies have the capabilities to collect & generate income from your recordings. Publishing rights are the right that you have to a song that you wrote. You must be the only writer to own 100% of the publishing from the minute you wrote the song. As long as your work is original you own it. Before I go any further, I want to explain a little more about music publishing.
First of all, there is two parts to music publishing, one part is the writers share and the other part is the publishers share. You automatically own both parts unless of course you give up some of your publishing rights to a music publisher in exchange for a cash advance. After you sign a publishing contract with a music publisher, they will be able to issue licenses to companies that want to exploit your music in exchange for money. This contract is called a music publishing agreement. It is clearly stated in this contract exactly how much of your publishing the publisher owns, how many songs you / the writer must deliver, what territory the music publisher administrates your copyright in, the length of your music publishing agreement & most importantly how much you / the writer will get as an advance. You may get a healthy advance if the publisher thinks that your songs are great. The advance that a music publisher gives you is re-coupable, meaning you will not start receiving royalties until the amount of your cash advance is paid back to the publisher. What isn’t re-coupable in the music industry?
Most small publishers are not as capable of keeping track and collecting the money that is generated by your music. The Music Publisher can acquire 100% of your music copyright or you can sign a co-publishing deal where you will split the ownership half & half. In a half & half deal the co-publisher / writer owns 100% of the writers share & 50% of the publisher’s share. What kind of deal you get will usually depend on how much pull or success you have?
A music publisher is not going to put your music to work without owning a piece of it, unless of course you hire them to administer your copyright for fifteen percent. Without a music publisher it would almost be impossible to track when & were your songs are being played. Obtaining a music publishing deal is a great way to use your recordings to generate income. It is extremely important that you do not infringe on another copyright when creating your works. It usually states in a music publishing agreement that the writer will be responsible if his / her works are not original. A music publisher can generate income from your music by tracking radio play, placing your music in TV or film projects & or by selling your song or musical composition to another recording artist. As a music publisher you have the right to lease or sell your music license to a licensee. Basically, the rights to use music are leased and bought everyday.