How to Navigate the World of Publishing Deals

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The different types of music publishing deals and how to decide which one is right for you

When most songwriters are starting out on their career, they dream of being hired as a staff songwriter for a publishing company. It’s understandable – a publishing deal gives you a reliable income so you can spend more time focusing on your music while the publisher looks for opportunities to place your songs. 

However, it’s important to understand what any business relationship will mean when you agree a deal, since you’re going to have to sign over partial – or even total – ownership of your copyright to the publisher. 

Fortunately, these days there’s plenty of opportunities to get publishing deals which cater to all different levels. There are so many ways creators can get their music out there, either independently or collaboratively. There are countless platforms available for you to create, manage, administer, monetise and protect your songs. 

Here’s the Songwriting Academy’s guide to some of the different types of publishing deals you might be offered so you can figure out which one’s best for you.

The self-publishing deal

What’s that? I hear you say. A self-publishing deal?

That’s right. For most songwriters, the first step they should take into the realms of publishing is to go in as an independent artist and handle it yourself. 

This isn’t as complicated as it may seem. 

The moment you publish your music, you become a music publisher. It’s really that simple! This allows you to present your best professional self and prepares you for the next steps in your career. Understanding all the elements surrounding the release of new music will help you get to grips with the mechanics of the music business from the ground up.

The administrative publishing deal

This type of deal gives you help with managing the business side of things. Your publisher will help you with PRO registration, splits, protection, sync support, etc. 

These are useful:

It’s worth bearing in mind that while this kind of deal might feel like it’s taking a load off you, there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing some of the admin, but doing as much as you can yourself. As with any deal, pay close attention to the terms you are being offered to see if they suit you. Consult a lawyer if need be.

The co-publishing deal

This kind of deal is what most of us think of when we think of a publishing deal. Go for a co-publishing deal when:

A co-publishing deal is harder to find early in your career because you’ve got no established track record, so you’re a bigger risk for the publisher. You’re a more attractive prospect when you can bring something to the table. Even better, let the publisher find you. 

Be aware that when you’re a new songwriter, the terms of the deal might not be as favourable as you would like because the publisher is taking a risk on you – there’s always a chance your songs might not be as commercially successful as you hope. 

While these are the three main types of deal, you may find yourself being offered a different kind, including:

With any contract, always read it carefully and get input from an appropriately qualified lawyer if you can. We would always caution our students against selling all the rights to a song unless you’re being given a substantial amount of money. The music business is littered with people who sold their rights for a pittance only to later discover they wrote a smash hit but aren’t entitled to a share of the millions. 

If you don’t have a deal yet, don’t worry. Remember that every step you take creatively and on the business side of your music will get you closer to your goal. There is no right timeline for everyone. The path to a publishing deal is different for each creator. And behind all those overnight successes lies years of hard work!

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