How to Make Money in Music Publishing

How to Make Money in Music Publishing

Ralph Heibutzki
Specializing in cultural and musical articles, Heibutzki has written for over 17 years. He has appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton" and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.
Live concerts remain the glamorous face of today's music scene. However, the real money lies in the ownership and licensing of the songs themselves. Whether you sign with an established publisher, or opt to handle the job yourself, some basic business knowledge and administrative skills are needed to succeed.

Things You'll Need

  • Business license
  • Checking account in publishing company's name
  • Computer
Show (5) More


  1. Learn How Publishing Works

    • 1
      Learn the basics of music publishing. As explains, the writer of a song automatically owns all the copyright and publishing rights. Music publishing income, in turn, is divided into writer's and publisher's shares. If you keep your copyright and publishing rights, the songwriting money is all yours--meaning, if the royalties are $100,000, you collect $100,000.
    • 2
      Sign with an established music publishing firm if you don't feel you have the knowledge or networking contacts to market your material. Use music industry reference guides like "The Songwriter's Market" to get contact information, and whether or not a company accepts unsolicited material. Unsolicited material is material that has not been requested by the publisher either through an agent or as the result of a query letter sent to them. Unsolicited material cannot be submitted without permission from the publisher.
    • 3
      Study how co-publishing agreements work, advises. If a publisher accepts your song, you own 75 percent of the writer's share, plus 25 percent of the publisher's share. If your royalties are $100,000, then you get $75,000. If you transfer all publishing rights, everything is split evenly, and you'll only collect $50,000. The publisher only earns their percentage to market your material--so, if they don't expect any profit, you probably won't get a deal.
    • 4
      Make it your business to understand all potential revenue sources. Although radio play, music and TV licenses are the most visible--and most common--avenues, don't overlook lesser-known sources, such as sheet music, Internet downloads and cell phone ringtones, which are rapidly becoming an alternative income stream for performers.

    Set Up Your Own Company

    • 5
      Evaluate your career honestly before becoming your own music publisher. Without consistent airplay or licensing income, setting up your own music publishing company makes little sense. On the other hand, if you're seeking movie or TV placements, signing up with a well-connected publisher is the way to go.
    • 6
      Join one of the three main performing rights organizations--ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC--as a songwriter and publisher, since you'll wear both hats. Otherwise, if you only join as a songwriter, you'll effectively miss out on half the income that you may have coming.
    • 7
      Request a publisher's application from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, advises. If your bandmates aren't members, request writer's applications for them, too. Fill in the name of your new company and information for each band member, which is required to show how your band exists as a legal entity.
    • 8
      Return the form and any required fees. Once your company is accepted, advises to apply for a new business license and tax identification number. These will differ from the ones made out for your band, which exists as a separate legal entity. Once you have those details, submit them to the organization that reviewed your publisher's application.
    • 9
      Think carefully before deciding on an equal split with your bandmates, no matter who wrote the song. That's because copyright protection exists for an author's lifetime, plus 70 years, and can transfer to heirs. This can be a major sticking point once your band is no longer active, according to entertainment attorney Joy Butler.
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Tips & Warnings

  • If you set up your own music publishing, have another company act as an administrator. This places the burden of collecting and distributing potential income on someone else's shoulders.
  • Don't forget to create a checking account in your new company's name. Royalty checks will be made out to your publishing company, not the people running it.
  • Do an online search to determine if your potential publishing company's name is taken. Have several alternatives ready to go, just in case.
  • If you have a band, work out ground rules for song ownership. If a bandmate contributes a part, you're still the copyright owner. However, if someone changes lyrics, or adds other distinct musical elements, they may have grounds for arguing co-ownership of your song copyright.
  • Never sign agreements without understanding the terms. If you're not sure about the implications of signing with a particular publisher, have an entertainment law attorney review the agreement.

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