The Industry

An introduction to music publishing

11th January 2018

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In any given band, there’s a good reason why the songwriter always has the fattest wallet – and it all comes down to music publishing. If you’ve just written an original song, you automatically own the copyright. However, at this point, you might choose to sign a deal with a music publisher, assigning them that copyright and letting them act on your behalf to claim royalty payments whenever that song is used. Here are the three main types of royalty that a publisher will grab for you.

Mechanical royalties

Let’s start out nice and simple. When one of your self-penned songs is reproduced to be sold in a physical or digital format – from CDs and DVDs to vinyl and downloads – you can expect to receive mechanical royalties. MCPS collects these royalties for musicians in the UK – and passes them on to your publisher – but remember that you’ll need to be registered with a collection society in all the countries where your music is sold (any serious publishing company will take care of this for you).


Performance royalties

Whenever your original song is performed or broadcast in public, your publisher will have their hand out for your performance royalties, which are collected in Britain by PRS For Music. It’s worth remembering that the slightly vague term ‘in public’ covers plenty of bases, from radio, TV and film to streaming sites and live performance in bricks-and-mortar music venues. With experts estimating that 35% of all publishing royalties fall into this category, the phrase you’re looking for is ‘kerching’.


Synchronisation and sampling royalties

When your electro-pop ballad is used to soundtrack that montage of mating sea lions on The One Show – or for that matter, appears on a film, advert or video game – your publisher will shake them down for the royalties. There’s also money due when you give permission for another band to sample a snatch of your original tune for use in their own material. It’s worth noting, though, that a good music publisher won’t just wait for the royalties to roll in, but will go out to bat for you, actively pitching your material to the folks who make TV programmes, films and adverts.



Henry Yates

Henry Yates is a freelance journalist who has written for music magazines including Classic Rock, Total Guitar, Guitarist, NME and Metal Hammer, and brands including V Festival, Download, Epiphone, Yamaha, Roland and Universal. His proudest career moment was meeting Jimmy Page - and his toughest assignment was interviewing Pharrell Williams."