More than ever, music publishing income is key. It’s essential to manage and exploit your musical repertoire, and look at alternative means to generate revenue streams in this realm.
Earning a living from art. It’s what every artist wants. But it can be hard, particularly for musicians. The competition is fierce, the supply of music is huge and the barrier of entry at an all time low, especially for electronic music. Younger generations only stream and pirate, and physical sales are declining. Only the most successful acts are able to make ends meet through just record sales.
To make this happen you need to understand music copyright and music publishing, and it’s a tough nut to crack. An incredibly dense subject, because of the constant changes in regulations and the non-universal laws and treaties. One country does it differently than another, and that makes understanding the different rights and systems hard. Every musician would be wise to grasp the basics of these principles, if only to know how to best delegate this to someone else.
Copyright is the most important asset you have as a musician and understanding it’s concepts and how to maximize income from it can turn around your career, make you money and help you get exposure.
I originally intended this guide to be a part of a larger article about all the possible income streams musicians can generate, but seeing as this subject required such deep explanation, I’ve dedicated a whole post to it. More on alternative income streams later.
This article has laid out the essential concepts of copyright and music publishing, and unveils a plethora of ways to generate income from it and how to maximize those streams. Take your time to read this guide, and do dive deeper into the particular subjects via the links I’ve provided.
Publishing income is the cornerstone of a musician’s income. In essence, publishing is the act of commercially leveraging music of composers and songwriters and getting them paid for it. This can be done by writers themselves or by an assigned representative – a publisher.
We will proceed with the fundamentals of music copyright, so that you can form an understanding of the different rights pertaining to music and the different methods to exploit these. For more reading on publishing, check out this article.
There are many ways to use musical works and generate revenue from them, and I highly recommend you find a publishing agent to do this for you. They will register your works with the right associations, administrate your royalty income and most importantly, create commercial opportunities. Both writers and performing artists can benefit from working with a good publisher.
Of course, you can decide not to do this and manage your repertoire independently. Beware that this is a very time consuming and diligent task, as the publishing landscape is intricate and highly technical.
A publisher typically takes a 30-50% cut of a writer’s royalties depending on the deal you negotiate, with the lower percentile more probable for artists with more clout. In some countries this rate is fixed (for example, The Netherlands, where publishers take 33.33%.)
Publishers can also offer you an advance on your future royalty income, which may be interesting if you’re in need of funds for equipment or to cover recording costs. Taking an advance might result in having to hand over a larger royalty share to the publisher though.
Standard publishing deals have a duration of 3-5 years. Take note that your contract will not expire if you haven’t recouped (earned back) your advance within that term. Take care to never sign away control over your works permanently, nor to completely transfer ownership. Your intellectual properties are your most vital assets as a musician. Handle with care.
Time to pay extra attention. This right here is the hidden cream of the crop. Synchronization is the usage of music together with visual output; commercials, video games, movies, tv shows, trailers, TV shows and such. Good synch deals can lead to massive exposure and big dough.
In order to use a track for a ‘synch’, the users need multiple licenses: a ‘synchronization license‘ from owners of the composition (typically the publisher on behalf of the writers) and also a ‘master use license‘ from the owners of the sound recording (typically the label) if they’re using the master. Also, royalties are due for ‘public performance’ of the composition and master, as the visual output is likely displayed to many people.
In typical synch deals, clients will pay a ‘synch fee’ for these licenses, which is a ‘buy out’ of future royalties for a flat fee, or pay an advance on royalties together with a lowered royalty rate. Synch deals are mostly scored by a publishers, who chase these opportunities for the writers and catalogs they represent.
The synch market is very interesting because it is wide open and there are plenty of opportunities. There are no set fees for synchs and high tier synchs can score into the tens of thousands of dollars. This is the case when charting pop records are synched to big Hollywood movies. Also there’s a lot of exposure to be gained. Think of the soundtracks of hit series…. bound to increase those artist’ record sales, not even to speak of public performance royalty income.
There are different ways to make money from synching: using your existing catalog, by creating custom music and through monetization of YouTube videos. The latter is theoretically a form of leveraging existing music, but is so different in application that it deserves special treatment. All of these methods are lucrative both financially and for exposure.
I’ve jotted down a drawing of the dynamics of synching. The left box represents the ‘musical composition copyright’ and the right the ‘sound recording copyright’. Level 1 concerns getting the initial synch, level 2 is about public performance of that synched work.
Synching your existing catalog:
To score synch deals for your music, opportunities need to be created where your music is matched up with visuals. You can pursue these opportunities yourself, but have much better chances if you have a designated publisher doing this for you.
The clients that bring in the biggest synch business are: advertising agencies, video production studios (can be movies, TV, other video), big corporations, video game studios. There are publishers that focus solely on scoring synch deals from these clients. Many of these work on an exclusive basis for single tracks, or on a non-exclusive basis for total catalogs. Both typically claim exclusivity on a track as soon as a synch is scored.
Typical music publishing agreements are exclusive and cover all the work of a composer, so if your publisher does not actively pursue synchs, you’re missing out. If you are signed exclusively with a publisher who doesn’t, you can propose letting other publishers score synchs and have them divide the spoils. A tricky proposal, as all publishers want the full pie, instead of a piece. A strong counter-argument would be that they’re better off taking a smaller cut off a big chunk of revenue, than the full share of revenue.
Assuming you’re not exclusively signed, you should upload your catalog to a number of non-exclusive synch publishers. Most of these have online libraries where they showcase the repertoire they represent, and label it according to style and mood. Their clients can then browse their libraries in search for that specific track they need.
Also they have creative agents that actively match tracks in their catalog to the client’s wishes, and sometimes even offer ‘custom music’ opportunities. More on that later.
When signing up to these publishers, be wary to check how they register your tracks with the Performance Rights Organization (PRO) in your country, in case of a synch. Some fraudulent parties re-title the tracks so that they do not just collect royalties resulting from their synch, but from everything. If the track in question is a charting hit, then that’s trouble. Screen for this in the contracts for you, looking for anything ‘registration’ related.
To maximize this revenue, make sure that your publisher is actively pursuing synch opportunities if you’re exclusively signed. If you’re not, increase your odds by uploading your catalog to multiple non-exclusive synch publishers. Then foster personal relationships with them. If you have a decent-sized catalog with quality music, which you register and label correctly, you’re inevitable going to get business. Make sure to have instrumental versions of all your music to upload, as roughly 75% of all synchs are instrumentals.
Alternatively, you can look for opportunities independently by offering your catalog to the music supervisors of the clients mentioned prior. Your odds will be much better when working with someone who has a reputation for filtering out quality material though.
Continue reading this article via this link at Digital Music News