10 Things You Need to Ask Before Choosing a Music Publishing Partner

The term "Publishing Administration" gets thrown around a lot in the music industry, and if you're a songwriter, it's critical that you understand what it means, how it works, and what your options are. I put together a list of 10 things to know and ask before choosing a Publishing Administrator for your music, so you can get the maximum songwriter royalties possible.

1. What exactly is Publishing Administration when it comes to music?

In the music industry, songwriters earn royalties when their compositions are downloaded, streamed, and used around the world. And it's the job of a Publishing Administrator to register the songwriters' compositions around the world, monitor when and where the compositions are used, license compositions for use, collectthe royalties generated, and then distribute them to the songwriters.

For any history enthusiasts out there, the term "music publishing" originally referred to publishers of sheet music, as sheet music used to be the primary commercial use of musical compositions. Today, music publishing has split off from the sheet music business, and the large music publishers tend not to produce sheet music.

2. Why do songwriters need a Publishing Administrator? Can't I just do it on my own?

While you can go it alone, collecting songwriter royalties yourself is an incredibly time-consuming task. It can take 6-12 months to establish your identity and create accounts with dozens of societies around the world. Equally challenging is the fact that these societies don't all speak your language and pay in your currency. It's also pretty pricey to take on collecting songwriter royalties. By the time you register with all the PROs and local societies,plus pay your yearly fees, you'll likely have spent around $7,800.

3. Between what ASCAP (and other PROs like BMI and SESAC)collect and what I get from my digital music sales and streams, what other royalties am I missing?

It's important to be affiliated with a PRO like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC to collect many of your performance royalties, but there are additional royalties you're missing out on without a Publishing Administrator.That's why you need to be represented by both. For example, the mechanical royalties due from streams, downloads (outside of the U.S.& Latin America) and physical sales aren't collected by PROs. The digital stores that stream and sell downloads don't have your songwriter information, so the money goes unclaimed.

That's where your Publishing Administrator swoops in. They'll register your information with all of the stores and local societies so you receive the money your compositions are generating. A Publishing Administrator may also license and collect royalties for print, ringtones, and synchronization fees (for film and TV licenses).

4. What's it going to cost me when I sign with a Publishing Administrator?

When you're deciding on a Publishing Administrator, make sure you're familiar with the fees and commissions before you register your compositions. While some administrators charge high fees and take large commissions from the royalties they collect, others don't. Ask if you have to pay additional fees to register future compositions, or if that's included in the set-up cost. You'll get the best bang for your buck ifyour administrator's set-up fee includes registration of additional compositions down the road.

5. Are royalties really collected from all over the world?

When it comes to the collection of songwriter royalties, you hear a lot of talk about the PROs in the U.S. But these aren't the only entities that collect songwriter royalties. The PROs in the U.S. only license and collect public performance royalties. There are local societies around the globe that collect a dozen other songwriter and publisher royalty types like mechanicals for downloads and streams. Because of this, it's really important that your Publishing Administrator has relationships with all of these local societies so you don't miss out on royalties worldwide. There's no reason you shouldn't get some of your hard-earned royalties just because they're sitting in Fiji.

6. How do I know what the Publishing Administrator is collecting and where it came from?

When your Publishing Administrator collects songwriter royalties on your behalf (hooray!), you're going to want to see exactly where each penny came from and from what type of composition use. Your Publishing Administrator should be able to provide you with a statement that shows a detailed breakdown of your royalties collected: Source, income type, units, territory, period collected, amount due, and more should all be included. Because these royalties came from your compositions, you should have access to all of the information. It's all about transparency.

7. Do I lose my copyright when I register my compositions?

Different Music Publishing Administrators have different business models. Some may take ownership of your copyrights. Be aware that this does not have to be the case. Other Publishing Administrators don't take any piece of your copyright ownership.It's your music, and your rights. You don't have to give them away.

8. My Digital Distributor also offers a Publishing Administration service. Is there an advantage of having all the services under one roof?

It's not uncommon for a Digital Distributor to offer Publishing Administration. And if the Publishing Administration service is done in-house and not through a third party, there are distinct advantages of having your distribution and publishing under one roof. When you distribute your music digitally, your distributor knows exactly how many times your music was downloaded and streamed, and where it occurred. Because of this existing sales data, you've got a built-in audit trail. Your Publishing Administrator can use your data to notify each society that owes you royalties for your recorded downloads and streams.

Another advantage of having one company act as your Digital Distributor and Publishing Administrator is that all of your royalties go into a single account, and that makes things a whole lot easier for you.

9. Can a Publishing Administrator do more than just collect royalties for me?

In addition to registering your compositions around the world and collecting your songwriter royalties, a Publishing Administrator can help license your music for TV, film and commercial uses, thereby generating even more songwriter revenue. If your administrator has a Creative team, they'll work to get your music in front of Music Supervisors seeking a particular sound. Ask the administrator how they make your music available to be found. Do they have a database that Music Supervisors can easily access? Are they actively going out and pitching your compositionsto these supervisors?

10. What if someone contacts me about using my music for Film or TV? Can a Publishing Administrator help me negotiate a licensing agreement?

If a Music Supervisor wants to use your music in a TV show, film, commercial or video game, you want to make sure your Publishing Administrator will negotiate all rights and fees on your behalf. It's important that your administrator look out for you to ensure your composition is licensed legally and at the most favorable terms.

There's a lot of information to sort through when it comes to selecting the right Publishing Administrator for your compositions. It's important to understand the ins and outs of the business and work with someone you trust with your music. So check out your options, ask questions and let us know if we can help you.