The subject of music publishing is one that many beat makers, producers, and recording artists seem to skip over when it comes to music business. This is part of the reason why many of them end up “stuck” or locked in to contracts/situations that they wish they could get out of. Even industry veterans still need to brush up on the ins and outs of the music game from time to time to ensure that they are operating in their best interests. Music publishing has caused many people to “pull their hair out” because of all the confusion it can potentially cause, but the subject does not have to be a difficult one. The following will provide you with some of the fundamentals of music publishing.
Music Publishing 101 with George Howard
1. Music Publishing Basics
To first understand music publishing you need a clear understanding of how the copyright law works. In a nutshell, as soon as you create your work AND it is “fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device”, it is granted a copyright. You are not required to register a copyright with the Copyright Office however, in order to sue someone for damages for using your work without permission or illegally, you should register a copyright.
As it pertains to the music business, the law recognizes two separate copyrightable works: musical compositions and sound recordings. It is important to note the distinct differences between the two.
A. Musical Composition
A musical composition is, in its simplest form, the melody, lyrics, beats, rhythm, and arrangement that make up a “song”.
B. A Sound Recording
A sound recording is a musical composition in fixed “tangible” form (usually CD’s, records, mp3’s after they have been mastered).
Note: The music publishing business makes money by licensing musical compositions and sound recordings.
As a musician, YOU ARE YOUR OWN PUBLISHER by default. You do not need to have a third party company or entity license your music for you. You can do it yourself. However, many musicians choose to have someone else handle these tasks so that they can dedicate more time to creating beats, instrumentals, songs, etc.
2. How To Make Money Through Publishing
Understanding the copyright law and the fact that you are your own publisher presents you with a great opportunity to make money as a music professional. The following are some of the most common ways to get paid through the “publishing” of your music.
1. Synchronization License: This license allows the licensee the right to take a song and combine it with a video work such as a film or TV show.
2. Mechanical License: This allows the licensee to record and distribute a song via “phonorecords” (Tapes, CD’s, MP3s, etc.).
A. Compulsory Mechanical Licenses
If a song has been made available to the public (intentionally), U.S. law allows anyone to record their own version of that song and sell it by acquiring this kind of license. They do not have to ask permission or negotiate with the copyright holder, but they do have to pay a standardized royalty rate based on number of physical sales, downloads, etc.
Example: Someone does a cover version of a song and decides they want to sell the music for profit.
B. Negotiated Mechanical License An negotiated mechanical license is one where the licensee is is not granted mechanical rights via statutory law, but instead negotiates terms with the licensor. The Harry Fox Agency is an organization that handles the process of obtaining negotiated mechanical licenses.
3. Maneuvering In The Industry
For beat makers, check out established independent producer, Epik The Dawn’s Youtube page for his take on the pitfalls of the music industry as well as tips on how to be successful in the music business. You will also find great tutorials on how to mix beats, instrumentals, vocals (FL Studio, Pro Tools).