Playbook #002: The Mystery of Music Publishing

Author: Andre Mullen

💡 Big Ideas:

1. Every artist manager should have a working knowledge of music publishing

2. Signing a publishing deal doesn’t guarantee song placement

3. Music publishing is about promotion and monetization

4. There are pros and cons in a music publishing deal

“I made a big mistake with signing this publishing deal.”

As I sat in a conference room at my client’s attorney’s office in Midtown Manhattan, hearing him make the statement out loud was both chilling and disappointing.

We had signed the deal 2 years prior to this moment and it was exciting: $200,000 advance with a promise of a bonus if a certain percentage was recouped, along with percentages favoring my client.

My client’s attorney explained everything out to the “T”. Along with my experience in publishing and understanding publishing agreements, my client was fully informed.

So why was my client sitting in his attorney’s office regretting one of the biggest decisions of his life?

I’ll share it with you and remove “the mystery” of music publishing to safeguard your client.

Signing a publishing deal doesn’t guarantee song placement. Anywhere.

As an artist manager, knowing the full scope of the music industry and having a base knowledge of different parts is your responsibility to yourself and your client.

Having a working knowledge of music publishing is one aspect you need to know.

In short, the definition of music publishing is below:

The terms to really focus on are promotion and monetization. Both of these affect your client’s financial bottom line.

You as a manager are included in your client’s financial bottom line.

My client had heard other artists’ music in commercials, TV, and films and saw the amount of money being made. He worked on songs with other artists with placements.

He signed his publishing deal believing the publisher would pitch and promote his songs for placement in commercials, TV, and films.

These two main factors – promotion and monetization – were the reason why my client was sitting in his attorney’s office regretting signing his publishing deal.

My client was frustrated with this situation.

“I hate it here.”

Let’s look at the pros my client and I discussed and the cons we experienced with signing with a major publisher.

Pro: Major music publishers are staffed with a team pitching and promoting your catalog.

What do you get when you sign a major music publishing agreement?

Their access to resources that include advertising agencies, music supervisors, television producers and more.

Their connections and experience in pitching your music to the right people quickly in many cases is something you would not be able to do on your own.

This was one of the main reasons behind our signing with this particular publisher.

Con: Getting on a publisher’s priority list can be impossible.

The short-lived excitement of being signed and getting paid brought us to the place where we realized we were a tiny fish in an ocean of hundreds of other producers, songwriters, and artists – many of whom were bigger than my client.

Despite a few narrowly missed opportunities and some low-paying song placements on a few reality shows, his agreement with the publisher didn’t bear any financial results.

Pro: Teaming up with a reputable publisher is a good look for your client.

Press, labels, and fans will take you more seriously when publishers start representing your client’s music. There is a certain air of credibility lent to artists who are represented by a major publisher.

The major publisher’s name association means songs from your client are not only good enough for placement opportunities, but solid enough to be featured in movies and TV.

Con: An exclusive contract could leave you stuck and out of control

As with any business agreement, there is a level of risk. Working with a major music publisher isn’t any different.

While my client had a modest catalog and a number of songwriter credits on records, he just ended up not being a big enough priority for the publisher. By the time we realized it, we were too late.

We were fortunate to have an entertainment attorney who had a history of dealing with major publishers. He added an early termination clause in the agreement, enabling my client to terminate the agreement after 24 months without penalty.

Here’s the play…

Like music itself, your client’s situation is unique. Some artists would greatly benefit from signing with a major publisher. For others, perhaps like your client, not looking at publishing deal as the only answer and exploring other options will be the most consistent and rewarding way.

Here are some options for you and your client before signing a publishing deal:

1. Your client can be their own publisher: Your client doesn’t need to be an established publisher to publish their songs. They can easily start their own publishing company through a performing rights organization (i.e. ASCAP, BMI, PRS) via their respective website.

2. Set up your client’s publishing administration with Songtrust: Songtrust is a publishing administration platform that collects your client’s publishing royalties from across the globe – all while maintaining full ownership.

3. Demo & pitch your client’s songs:You and your client could look into developing relationships with producers to create songs specifically for pitching for opportunities in film, TV, and advertising. This is work. However, the right placement can net your client anywhere from 4-5 figures.

4. Network: There is no substitute for the relationships you make in the industry. Connect with decision-makers not only in music, but also in film, advertising, and TV at yearly events like SXSW.

Music publishing is not a mystery at all.

In fact, it’s a real and sustainable part of your client’s business.

Get a working knowledge of it so you can an asset.

✋🏾When you’re ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:

1. Schedule a 1:1 Growth Strategy Call with me on growth, strategy, content, and monetization.

2. Promote your business to 500+ artists, artist managers, and founders by sponsoring this newsletter.

3. Here on my website, I offer resources that can help. Check out The Playbook for more information.

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