What Do Music Publishers Do Anyway?

man in the black jacket with cd

As you do your research on the business side of music, no doubt you’ve come across the term “music publisher.” You might have an idea what managers or booking agents do, but music publishers?

In a way, the publishers in the music industry work pretty much the same as book publishers. They both work with the artist to help make the final output a reality. But of course, there are differences.

The Three Types

In music, there are three types of publishers. The first is what people call an administrator. This is usually a person or a company who will handle the registration, licensing, and collection process of the music. For a small commission of course.

Then there are the independents. These provide the same services as administrators, but they can also help with creative services as well as give small advances to musicians.

Thirdly, there are the majors. Major publishers are the ones you hear about in the media and in most musical events. Some of these include Sony, BMG, EMI, and Universal. The one big difference between the majors and independents are the huge cash advances given to the artists.

The three types above are all similar in function yet separated by the amount of cash they can advance to artists. For first-timers, it’s best to start with administrators or independents first. You can go for the majors once your star starts to shine too bright for them to handle.

Music Publishing 101

No matter what tier your publisher is, the roles of each are virtually the same. Publishers should know who their artists are, what kind of music they play, what they are recording at the moment, and so on. Aside from their own artists, they should also have a good working relationship with record executives, producers, managers and other artists as well. This is because, once a song has been recorded, the publisher must secure commitments from these people for the album and singles.

Another duty publishers have is to deal with the administrative side of the business. The things musicians have no interest in handling themselves. These include registering of copyrights, filing the proper information to performing rights organizations, auditing licensees and recording companies, general bookkeeping, collecting payment, etc. While boring to the musician, these are all vital if you want to secure your rights as an artist.

General marketing and promotion is also a part of a publisher’s duty. From the use of songs in movies to advertisements, television shows to background music, all these can net substantial income and should be pushed by the publisher.

While all these may seem overwhelming, these are by no means the only duties of a proper music publisher. If anything, the sheer amount of work a publisher has to deal with for each artist only proves their importance to any musician.

The Search

How do you pick a publisher that’s right for you? You can’t just knock on their doors and ask. Aside from the absurdity of the idea, you need to make sure you are protected. Before talking to any publisher, make sure you consult a music-business lawyer or your manager (if you have one).

However, you should know that even if you have chosen a publisher, it doesn’t mean they will take you in as a client right away. They would also need to do their homework on you. They would listen to your music, determine if your sound is right for them, and think about your potential for earning. After all, this is a business.

If a publisher of your choosing hasn’t called you back, it might be a sign that your music doesn’t fit them. Given the amount of work and people they talk to everyday, sometimes they don’t have the time to call back each and every artist that comes along. If so, don’t despair. There are literally hundreds of publishers out there, and for sure, at least one of them is looking for an act just like yours.

Learn more how to jumpstart your musical career by getting the free Music Business video training series from James Taylor here.