Tuesday, November 15, 2011

13 Questions To Ask About Your Publishing Contract

Music Publishers image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
Once upon a time, a publishing contract was a prelude to a recording contract. The advance was high enough that you could focus just on your music without any other distractions, and if a publisher was interested enough to take a chance, then a record label would be too.

Times have changed though. Advances are pretty small these days, but publishing is still one of the most lucrative parts of the music business. That's why it pays to ask a lot of questions before signing any publishing agreement that's been put in front of you.

The Liveunsigned.com blog recently posted a great article about this, and here's an excerpt oregarding the things you should be concerned with before you add your John Hancock to the agreement.
1. Is there an advance? Some publishers offer a good advance, but make sure that you are not signing with a company purely for this reason, you need to think about whether the deal is good for you in the long term. 
2. Is it an exclusive agreement? Many companies who arrange publishing deals for sync licenses are non-exclusive (for example Sentric or Music Dealers), but most conventional publishing deals are exclusive for a specific amount of time.  
3. What is the split? This is the amount that goes to you and the amount that goes to the publisher. For example this can be 50/50 or 70/30 in your favour. You should get at least 50% but ideally more.
4. Is your publisher the same company as your record company? This can be seen as a conflict of interests, giving the publisher/record label too much control. Even worse than this are the current 360 deals where bands allow record companies to control merchandise, live revenue, publishing and other revenue streams. Bands are often pressured to sign these for an advance but they can do serious damage to your career in the long term.
5. How many territories does the publishing deal cover? Is it just for your country or for the whole world?
6. Is there a minimum delivery commitment? This is the amount of songs you have to deliver during the time of the contract, usually around 10 songs a year. However if you only write 50% of a song (because you're co-writing with others), you might  have to write 20 songs to deliver the same amount of material to your publisher.
7. What is the term of the contract? The term is the length of time the contract covers, it could be months or it could be for decades.
8. Have they a proven record of getting sync deals? Ask to see what sync deals (for TV, Games, Adverts etc) that they have recently done for their clients. This is an area where there is a serious revenue and you need to see a proven record for success in this area before signing anything.
9. Are you a priority for the publisher? If the publisher has many similar writers to you is your music really going to get the push it deserves?
10. Is it a full publishing agreement? With this agreement the income is collected by the company then split between publisher and writer. The publisher owns the copyright on the song in this case.
11. Is it a co-publishing agreement? Here the writer receives their percentage as before but the writer also receives a percentage of the publisher’s share. This allows songwriters to receive an amount of the publisher’s share (as they are part publisher and writer), co-own the song and receive an overall greater percentage.
12. Is it an administration agreement? Here the writer does not give up any copyright up on the song, the publisher acts simply as an administrator collecting revenues for a percentage of the amount. These deals are less likely to be offered to artists who are unknown as there is less income for the publisher. 
13. Can you speak to some of their current clients? If possible ask to speak to some writers who are already working with the company and see what they think. Try and find out if the company pays royalties on time and how they treat their writers.
Remember to always seek legal council before you sign any agreement, but it's especially important to find someone well versed in publishing. This is a time when your personal attorney or the family real estate attorney just won't do.
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David Das said...

I would add that an aspiring publish-ee should also check to see who owns the masters of any songs created during the term covered by the agreement.

Many publishers will offer a demo budget in order to record demos of the songs written. However, as most of us know, "demos" are usually fully-produced nowadays and sound more like masters. So, being that the publishing company pays for them, it's often assumed that they own them, but do they?

If the songwriter wishes to put said "demo" on iTunes to give it wider exposure, does the songwriter clearly own the master? If the songwriter writes 10 songs in a year and wants to release it as an indie album, who owns the master?

Important questions, and the answer should be clear in the songwriter-publisher agreement.

Phil Ogden said...

Sentric are, in fact, an exclusive publisher. For sync, it's the assignment of the master rights that are non exclusive.


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