“Publishing” is a word in the music industry that strikes fear and confusion into artists.
I’d like to clear that up with this post, showing that most of the horror stories from the past have been eradicated, and that your publisher is not only a huge ally but also a crucial revenue stream.
There are two main sets of rights in a piece of music: the recorded master and the written song. Every artist on my roster writes their own material or music for others; so although this is not the case for everyone, let’s assume that the artists we are referring to in this piece write their own material. The past decade has allowed artists to have as much control as they want in every way over their recordings. At the same time, there are a slew of forward thinking publishers who have evolved as well.
When I first bring up publishing to an artist, there are often fearful, saying that “I have to own my publishing”, and they are like a wounded animal concerned about even taking a publishing meeting in the first place. One thing I’d like to highlight is that there are different types of deals a writer/artist can strike with a publisher, including administrative or “admin” deals in which the writer/artist owns their rights. In the past, this option may not have existed, but if an artist is adamant about owning their rights, working out an admin deal should not be a problem with most publishers.
On the same topic, don’t fear co-publishing or “co-pub” deals. Most of these deals are not the horror stories many artists have heard from the pre-digital era in which a writer signed their catalogue away for a sum of money that seemed high at a time, but didn’t benefit on the works past the signing.
Of course, have meetings, get an ethical attorney, and get to know everyone at your publishing company, not just the point person who signed you. Note that, when I have done co-pub deals for young artists, that means the company is that much more invested in their career from an early stage. Of course, we always want to ensure there is a reversion, as the artist is the one creating the material. But if we’re doing a deal for an artist in their 20’s, the idea is that when the term is up, we can re-negotiate for better terms, and ideally an admin deal, once the artist is bigger.
I am honoured to be modering a publishing panel at this year’s midem (Jan 28, 10.40), with two of the most brilliant publishers in the modern era: Justin Kalifowitz of Downtown and Mary Megan Peer of Peer Music (see her recent midemblog post on D2F Publishing here). I have had the pleasure of doing deals with both of these companies that addressed issues that artists run into every day in the modern music industry. Many publishers realise that artists may not have a label infrastructure to fall back on and offer funds up front to help with promotion. Justin is someone who is on the pulse of the tech and start-up communities, taking what he learns in those worlds into his role as the president of Downtown. Both companies are well aware of collecting globally in formats and mediums that constantly change in the digital era.
Where should an artist begin though, before they catch the eye or ear of someone like Mary Megan or Justin?
Many publishers will have my head on a platter for saying this, but if you are truly starting from scratch, working with a re-titling company such as Music Dealers or Jingle Punks is a great way to land a first sync and get your foot in the door. As with anything, make sure you develop real relationships with the staff of the company you work with, so they can keep you in the forefront of their minds on various levels.
Simultaneously, reach out to Terrorbird or Zync to see if they are interested in taking you on. Both companies are incredibly selective, but also yield fantastic results; all for a commission, with the artist/writer keeping all rights and additional funds.
Once an artist has a foothold in one or both of the steps above, a publisher may come calling. And because you have built yourself up on your own, you instantly have more leverage when entering into (hopefully) the publishing deal structure of your choice.
If you have more questions and are coming to midem, come on by our panel. I could listen to Mary Megan and Justin speak all day; so it is a very unique opportunity to hear how they are leading their companies and artists by constantly evolving what is best for their writers.
And by the way, if you are an artist / writer who has received any radio airplay or have already landed your first sync for any amount; there are funds that need to be collected beyond your PRO. So please, let the experts do their job and do not fear your publisher. Be excited and grateful that you have one; hopefully, they turn into a long-term partner for both you and your music.
Emily White manages (predominantly) DIY artists through her talent shop, Whitesmith Entertainment. She is a frequent contributor to midemblog: check out all her posts here! And be sure to follow here on Twitter here, especially during midem, where she’ll notably be hosting the D2F Camp conference area (details of all her sessions here).