- Music Publishing FAQ
- Music rights, publishing & revenue streams explained
- Types of publishing rights
- How to make money with music publishing
- How to collect publishing royalties
- How to get a publishing deal
- Final thoughts
For starters, it's important to understand there's a clear distinction between a song and a recording. A composer or songwriter creates musical works with elements such as melodies, lyrics, or the composition that form a song. That's one side of copyright, called publishing rights or compositional rights. That side is the focus of this guide.
Next to that, an artist or record label records said song, which relates to the copyright of the actual sound recording. Or, in other words: the master recording. That side of copyright is called master rights.
Before further reading, it's important to understand the terminology in music rights might feel a bit outdated. Traditionally speaking, a "producer" was the person in the studio overseeing and coordinating the recording process—working with music composed, written, and performed by others.
Since the rise of electronic instruments, digital samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, and MIDI, this obviously drastically changed. Producers turned into composers of music.
In today's digital age and current times of collaboration, this means you can wear many different hats as a 'beatmaker'—and thus be entitled to royalties on other levels as well. Even when you're just credited as a "producer" on a release, you can also be a composer, songwriter, and/or session musician.
So keep in mind when we use words like "producer," "composer," "songwriter," or "performing artist" in this guide, the roles can be interchangeable or refer to the same person. This all depends on the situation of how the song was written, produced, and recorded. So read this guide with your own role(s) in the back of your head for a better understanding.
No, those payouts do not include publishing royalties. Now, here's where it gets interesting. Remember when we mentioned in the intro you're leaving money on the table if you don't have your music publishing in order? Distributors and services like DistroKid pay out reproduction royalties for the master recording of a song for streams and digital sales. This does not include publishing royalties. Typically, the same goes for what a record label (if you're affiliated with one) pays out to you.
So you need royalty collection societies, a publisher, and/or in addition a global publishing administrator like Songtrust to collect the royalties you're owed for your musical works. Without that, you're missing out on royalties for your music. That's why understanding the basics covered in this guide is crucial.
In short: when clearing a sample, you need permission from the rightsholders on both sides of the copyright (master rights & publishing rights). When interpolating or replaying an existing piece of music you don't 'use' the actual master sound recording but the composed song, which means you typically only need permission from the rightsholder(s) on the publishing side.
For a more detailed explanation of these different rights in relation to sampling and sample clearance, you can bookmark Sample Clearance Demystified: How to Clear a Sample and our Music Sampling Guide for reference after finishing this page. In addition, this insightful overview debunks myths and misconceptions about sampling and clearing samples.
In that case, you need to inform your publisher that your new song contains a sample and that a certain percentage is shared with original rightsholders. We recommend sharing the "cost" of the sample equally. In other words: the percentage due to original rightsholders comes off the top.
Example: you have obtained a Tracklib license for a 15-second sample of a Category C track. This means you will share 10% of the total publishing pie with the original publisher(s) and songwriter(s). 90% goes to you and your publisher.
Let's say that you have a 30% (publisher) / 70% (you) publishing agreement with your publisher. This means that for this song that contains a sample, you get 63% as a songwriter, your publisher gets 27%, and original rightsholders get 10%.
When music gets publicly performed, performance royalties come into play. Performing rights relate to both public media (radio, television…) and public places (cafes, restaurants, music venues…) including live performances. Performance royalties are typically split 50/50 between the composer(s)/songwriter(s) of a song and the publisher. In case you're not signed to a publisher, you own the full pie of the performing rights.
Neighbouring Rights also relate to the music being played in public (see Performing Rights). But the difference is that neighbouring rights are paid out to the owner of the sound recording (such as a record label) and performing artists (such as session musicians and featured artists) on a song, instead of to the composers, songwriters, and publishers. However, the U.S. does not have neighbouring rights.
Instead of neighbouring rights, the U.S. system works with Digital Performance Rights. This relates to non-interactive digital streaming services such as satellite radio and digital radio (such as SiriusXM and Pandora). Digital performance rights in the U.S. do not recognize broadcast radio, unlike neighbouring rights in other parts of the world.
Mechanical Rights come into play when the music gets mechanically reproduced and distributed. Traditionally such as copies on CD, vinyl records, or cassette tapes. But in this digital age, interactive streaming and downloads (which you can see as digitally reproduced) are also covered by mechanical rights. Just like performance royalties, these are paid out to songwriters/composers and publishers.
Mechanical rights are often overlooked or deemed confusing. Why? Because interactive streaming on DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music triggers both performance rights and mechanical rights: first because the song is "publicly performed" (performing rights) and secondly, because the song is "digitally reproduced" (mechanical rights). On non-interactive streaming like Pandora, however, the song is broadcasted and not reproduced so only performing rights are paid.
As the term implies, sync rights are related to when music gets synchronized to video. This happens through an agreement (a synchronization license) between the owner of a composition and an end user to use the song in a visual format like a movie, on a DVD, or BluRay. For podcasts, permission can also be granted through such sync licenses.
Since Tracklib is a platform for sampling, it's important to note that with uncleared samples in your music, you cannot chase sync opportunities with your work because you don't "own" the full rights to a song. That's why to make sure you don't miss out on any potential revenue, it's essential to always clear your samples.
Keep in mind that payouts like mechanical royalties and performance royalties are owed to the songwriter and/or owner(s) of the composition, not the artist. That's an important distinction to make. However, the artist and songwriter can of course also be the same person.
So when it comes to streaming, for example, you receive master recording royalties via a distributor (or a record label if you're affiliated with one). The publishing royalties are issued to publishers, collecting societies (see next section), and global publishing administrators per territory.
That's why it's essential to have your publishing in order. If you don't, you miss out on revenue streams outside of the master royalties you do get via a distribution service like DistroKid, UnitedMasters, Amuse, or SoundCloud.
Good To Know
What affects royalty rates?
The royalty rates mentioned below are average numbers, not predefined pay-per-stream rates. Essentially, different artists on the same platforms are paid different rates. How come? There are many variables affecting mechanical and performance royalties. Factors include subscription tiers and pricing, territories, the number of streams and subscribers within a territory, and the negotiated agreements between labels and distributors.
Mechanical royalties in the U.S. are paid on an on-unit basis of $9.1 cents per physical copy or download—which might be upped to 12 cents in the near future. For digital download mechanical royalties, the same rate of $9.1 cents is owed. When a track is longer than five minutes, a mechanical rate of $1.75 per minute applies. Outside of the U.S., the mechanical rate is around 8 to 10 percent of the sold unit or digital download. But this varies per country.
There's no set rate for performance royalties. This differs quarterly and depends on variable factors such as the number of license fees collected by Performing Rights Organizations (PROs).
The royalties paid by your distributor or record label (if you're part of one), are the master recording royalties. Besides that, streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Amazon Music pay both mechanical royalties and performance royalties. The mechanical royalties are the same for streaming as for digital downloads (as both are "digitally reproduced"): $9.1 cents per stream, or $1.75 per minute for songs longer than five minutes.
The performance rights are generally paid out by DSPs to performing rights organizations (PROs). They then distribute the revenue to songwriters and publishers. There's no set royalty rate here. This is negotiated by a streaming service with a performance rights organization—typically around 6% of a DSP's total revenue, taken from the All-In Royalty Pool which includes both mechanical royalties and performance royalties.
Last year, a collection organization called RME (pronounced as 'army'; an abbreviation of Rights Made Easy) launched as today's answer to a rights management organization. RME helps songwriters and composition rightsholders to collect royalties from user-generated content (UGC) on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. With platforms like TikTok getting more and more important in today's musical landscape, this is a fairly new revenue stream worth exploring for producers, creators, and songwriters alike.
Mechanical Rights Organizations (MROs)
In the U.S., organizations like the Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports INC (MRI), and the more recent organization Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) cover the collection and payouts of mechanical royalties. Outside of the U.S., mechanical rights organizations include MCPS (UK), AMCOS (Australia), and CAPASSO (South Africa).
Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)
Performing Rights Organizations like BMI and ASCAP collect performance royalties. For a full list of PROs around the world, you can use this handy overview in Tracklib's Licensing section. This way you directly know which organization represents artists in your home country.
Collective Management Organization (CMOs)
Alternatively, you can sign to a collective management organization that handles both performance and mechanical royalties. However, in many territories (including the U.S.), there are no such CMO societies. Also, CMOs worldwide such as GEMA (Germany), SACEM (France), or Buma/Stemra (the Netherlands) aren't always linked to one another.
Although Songtrust and Sentric do not replace a PRO, the global publishing administrators help songwriters collect publishing royalties worldwide across different territories. Distribution partners like Tunecore and CD Baby also offer publishing services in addition to their payouts of master royalties.
First, it's important to know that music publishing revenue/ownership is split into two halves: the publisher's share (50%) and the writer's share (50%). The latter always belongs to the songwriter and can never be affected, represented, or sold. If you sign a publishing deal, the publisher's share will be affected depending on the type of deal you make. More on that below.
If you never sign a publishing deal, that means you retain 100% of the music publishing. However, that doesn't mean you magically receive publishing royalties—you still need to have those collected via a PRO, MRO, CMO, and additional administrators like Songtrust and Sentric.
Now, let's dig into different types of publishing deals. These are three main types of agreements:
With a publishing administration deal, the third party doesn't own your music but administers it. By giving up a certain fee (typically ranging from 10% to 25%) of your publisher's share, the administrator's aim is to generate publishing revenue with your music which is then shared as per the agreed percentages.
This deal is a commitment for the long run: the other party co-owns your music, with the publisher's share split on a fifty-fifty basis. Thus, both parties get 25% of the publisher's share. Remember: the writer's share (the other half) is untouchable, so this co-publishing deal comes down to 75% for the writer and 25% for the publisher. Such an agreement usually lasts for the lifetime of the copyright duration. In exchange for this deeper relationship, the artist gets an advance or a bigger sum of money for such a deal.
In this scenario, the publisher owns 100% of the composition copyright—with an even bigger advance or lump sum in return. Again, the writer's share (50%) remains intact and still belongs to the songwriter. That means any revenue is still split 50/50 between the new copyright owner and the original songwriter.
Music publishers administer, exploit, promote, and protect your catalog. Their goal is to generate revenue mainly through mechanical royalties ("mechanical" reproduction of your music), performance royalties (when your music is publicly performed or played), and sync licenses.
This is somewhat similar to how a record label markets and promotes the master recordings as released on a vinyl record, Bandcamp, digital download, or released on streaming platforms to generate the most sales and streams. A music publisher, similarly, promotes the music to be reproduced and thus so to speak "published" in the most possible ways.
Think of radio airplay, television or video game sync deals, hearing music at public places, music covered by other artists, or signing off on sample clearance requests and interpolations. All of this generates new publishing royalties and thus new revenue streams for the songwriter(s)—and the publisher(s).
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