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How To Start And Operate A Music Publishing Company

Starting a music publishing company can be a lot simpler and much easier to operate than you may think – but you need to follow certain rules.

There’s no question, the amount of revenue generated every hour simply by controlling the copyright in just a handful of songs, can run into millions. The income from one evergreen alone, for example, can be enough to pay the salary of a small publishing house for several years.

Curiously, people often make the mistake of thinking they have to invest heaps of money into this business to have any chance. Actually, of all the fields in the entertainment industry, music publishing can be the least expensive. I have known individuals to start up on less than forty dollars, and make huge sums consistently, year in year out.

To get started you need to determine firstly the genre of music that most interests you. Some people like to work on “Country Songs” or “Hip hop” “Dance” “Blues” “Jazz” or even a general catalog of music. Whatever music you consider – bear in mind if you want to make money, your music needs to have commercial appeal.

Next, you’ll need a publishing agreement (sometimes referred to as a “publishing assignment”). You should ensure that the terms are fair and reasonable and preferably obtained from a reputable entertainment lawyer, one which you can also use as your template for future signings. This is the agreement between the composer and lyricist of the song, and you as the music publisher. As a music publisher, you have to be sure that the person who created the song in the first place (i.e the composer/lyricist), is the beneficial owner in the copyright. If you’re a songwriter yourself, then you have an added bonus in getting your music publishing company up and running.

By assigning the song to you as a music publisher, the author is empowering you with certain rights to exploit his work through the media. Once you control the copyright, you can start to make an income every time the song or theme music (as the case may be), is used publicly (i.e broadcast on radio, television, synchronized into a commercial, released on record, published in print, used digitally on the internet, and so on.

Although the different areas of licensing may seem daunting, most of the licensing process can be taken care of for you. For example, as soon as you’ve acquired the rights in your first few songs, you can apply for membership of one of the performing rights organizations in your country. In the United States for example you have a choice of three: ASCAP, BMI or SESAC; in Canada: SOCAN; in the United Kingdom: PRS; in France: SACEM; in Germany: GEMA; Australia: APRA, and so on. Simply go to their respective website for an application form. Every country in the commercial world has its own performing rights organization. Once you’re admitted to membership you can register your songs as soon as you acquire the rights.

Your performing rights organization (or performing right society as they are sometimes referred), will automatically license and collect revenue on your behalf on all performing and broadcasting use of works under your control. They will then pay you and, (provided he/she is a member as well) the writer as well at set distribution dates in the year. Bear in mind that, the performing right organizations’ sphere of interest is in the area of performing and broadcasting activity only. If, for example, one or more of your songs (or theme music) is released on a record – i.e cd, DVD for sale to the public, you will need to either license direct to the record company, or through a mechanical rights organization who will license and collect income on your behalf for record sales (so called “mechanical licensing”). In the USA you can join the Harry Fox Agency who will handle your mechanical licensing; in the UK: MCPS, and so on.

So, by joining a performing and mechanical organization in your own country, much of your licensing has been taken care of for you. Just ensure that you register all your songs (and whatever other music you may be acquiring – theme, background etc), with both performing and mechanical societies as and when you acquire the rights. There are some areas of licensing in which you will have to deal directly with the licensee or company wanting to use your song. Grand or stage rights for example (i.e use of a song in, say, a drama, musical or opera), print publications, synchronized use in a film, commercial etc. (note: sometimes a mechanical rights organization will offer to license a synchronized license and collect the license fee on your behalf. Some do, and some don’t. Check with the organization representing you). Your obligation of course, is to pay the writer, his her contractual share as set out in your agreement.

Once you have two or more songs, (or pieces of theme music), your catalog has started.

Many people primarily involved in other areas of music: producers, managers and artists, even record labels, often have a music publishing company

Your underlying objective should always be to build a repertoire of good earning songs, a catalog from which you are adding songs with commercial potential, continuously. Of course the point of what is commercial is down to you and despite your instincts you’re still going to take in some “deadwood” that, for all your drive and enthusiasm, you simply won’t be able to license or cover for love or money. Well, okay – so long as you’ve exploited them – you’ve done your best. You’re not going to be successful on everything you pick up. Give the rights back to the writer so he can take the song elsewhere.

Always keep in mind successful music publishing is about having a continuous evolving catalog generated from clever and shrewd licensing. Focus on building, expanding and increasing revenue streams for yourself and your songwriters, and your name and reputation as a music publisher will go from strength to strength.

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