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How to Become A Music Publisher

Music publishing is a complicated industry. Creators, licensors, and publishers need to abide by changing policies and a competitive landscape. Still, everyone in music publishing must start somewhere – at the bottom. 

Are you interested in becoming a music publisher? Or perhaps you want to build a music publishing company with global interests? 

We’re here to help. This article will emphasize all the important factors of being a music publisher. Additionally, you’ll learn about some tips on marketing and improving your music publishing business.

Songwriting: The First Step

The first step of becoming a music publisher is to actually create a song or a batch of songs. This initial process will take a long amount of time, especially if you’re a beginner. 

These are the things that you need to prioritize first:

  • Composition tools & equipment
  • Personal home studio or small office
  • A flow of constructive criticism
  • Your personal mission & vision
  • A starting network of five people in the music industry

Before creating your first song, you should draft a personal ‘mission & vision’ statement. Don’t overstep this process – it will push you forward during difficult times. Since the music publishing industry is fast-paced, you must stand your ground and brave through distractions. Your personal mission goal is the best tool for overcoming early challenges.

Once you have a collection of songs, try to gather feedback from your friends or colleagues. Take special note of how your music creates an emotional impact. Remember, the best songs deliver the right emotions with the right timing arc. You need to attain a proper balance of lyrics, tunes, beats, and general rhythm.

Eventually, as you build your music portfolio, you’ll meet people who can affect your career positively. These people are ‘connectors’ to the big players – like agents scouring for talents or a bigger organization focused on building musical content. 

The initial step of building and improving your music portfolio might take years. If you decide to enter the next stage of music publishing, you need a team of trustworthy individuals as well. 

Music Publishing: The Transition

During the transition phase, decide if you wish to publish your songs or you want to purchase rights from other songwriters. Publishing your song is easier because of the fewer number of parties involved. However, the potential for growth is also smaller.

Conversely, publishing others’ songs is ten times more challenging because of licensing policies, bottlenecks, and paperwork. The benefit? Your music publishing company might grow and bring in more profits and greater exposure later on!

Many beginner publishers fail because they couldn’t form a five-star team. You can involve your circle of friends but you should keep stock of their skills and competencies.

Here are the most valuable skills needed:

  • Promotional/teaser video creation
  • Sales & negotiation
  • Licensing review
  • General marketing
  • Talent acquisition

It takes time to assemble a competent music publishing team, so don’t rush the process. Document and refine your hiring process, and ensure that the new people in your team truly care about the music industry.

Catalogue Acquisition

Acquiring music catalogues is a long process. As a new publisher, your team should prioritize the best channels and reach out to competent songwriters. 

Your team should lay down a detailed NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement. This agreement protects your company from disclosing sensitive financial details and other legal information about the transaction. You won’t always need an NDA, especially if the transaction is clear between the involved parties.

The other important documents that you have to track are the Prospectus (data about the assets being sold), the Process Letter (detailed steps of the transaction), and the Letter of Intent or LOI (written acquisition proposal). The statements presented in these documents must be accurate and concise.

You should also take note of some important contract types like single song assignment (for individual songs), writer agreement (binding agreement between writer and publisher), and sub-publishing contract (agreement with another publisher). 

Before fully acquiring a catalogue, you need to pay attention to royalty agreements and income projection. PROs like ASCAP and BMI have detailed policies regarding songwriters’ royalties along with some adjustable processing fees.

And once you have a diverse catalogue of songs, the next step is to prepare your team for many busy days ahead!

Networking Events For Continuous Growth

Running a successful music publishing company is all about finding new areas for growth. You can find these areas on online platforms or physical locations.

But if you’re looking for a better result, you should attend networking events. Through these events, you’ll meet other people in music publishing. You might even learn some tips from successful business owners, PRO representatives, and talented songwriters. 

Also, keep an eye out for digital marketers. These professionals are always looking for businesses to partner with. 

The Importance of Trend Analysis

In music, emotional display is the main thing but trend analysis is another. You shouldn’t just create or gather songs that appeal to listeners’ emotions. Rather, you need to develop a strong research framework, allowing your team to analyze trends continuously.

If you can’t analyze trends, your music publishing company will have a difficult time catching up with competitors. Online tools will help you analyze trends, as well as free social media data and word-of-mouth. 

Over time, you must consider hiring a capable marketing manager for trend analysis. By doing this, you can now focus on securing publishing deals and other opportunities. You’ll even have more time to spend looking for songwriters or agents. 

Joining a PRO

As a new music publisher, you’re required to join a Performance Rights Organization or PRO. If you live in the US, the most popular PROs are ASCAP and BMI. These organizations have nearly the same policies and capabilities, though their fees are different. 

If the songwriters under your company are connected to just one of the mentioned PROs, simply follow the same route. It’s more difficult and costly to work with multiple PROs. 

The Perils of Licensing

Licensing is a fickle beast – a licensing or copyright error can reduce your finances significantly and turn your company into a ‘black sheep.’ You don’t want that to happen! 

Right from the start, you should research licensing and its terms. You can work with a licensing professional to help you understand terms like royalty free music, public rights, mechanical rights, and derivative works. 

Let’s take royalty free music as an example. These types of music are meant for content creators and video producers with small budgets. Through a one-time payment, users can access a big music library without worrying about licensing. As a music publishing company, licensing is the responsibility of your team. You can acquire a library of licensed royalty free music through a long process that involves multiple transactions. As the years go by, your team can sell these royalty free music tracks online without hassles.

But then again, royalty free music is not copyright-free music. Always remember that any track created automatically gets a copyright. So if your team wants to acquire a song, make sure that the copyright conditions are updated and correct. If the seller has a previous agreement with another publisher, you should be aware of it. Otherwise, your team might end up violating a copyright agreement!

You can always work with a lawyer to draft a binding agreement that covers profits, copyrights, and other relevant information. The honor system is still applicable but you still need the protection of the law. This also applies to the songwriters and composers.

Conclusion

Don’t rush the process of becoming a music publisher. Always analyze your goals and align them with the tips that we’ve shared. It may even take two years (or more) before your company can make a difference. 

Remember, the most successful music publishers are those who stayed with the grind. They also combined some important aspects of marketing, business management, licensing, research, royalty free music deals, and sales. 

So, if you’re up to the challenge, start your dream of being a music publisher today!

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