Music Publishing

Music Publishing – Using Existing Music Publishers versus Self Publishing in Music

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of music creators struggle with the focus of securing music publishing. In today’s technology driven world there are two main ways of getting music published, either you publish it yourself or you find an existing music publisher who believes in you and your music. As a composer or as an singer/songwriter one thing rings truer today than ever before, you must think in terms of a business rather than simply as a composer of music or as a singer/songwriter as there is considerably more to marketing and selling music than that. The second thing that rings true lays in the control of the production of your music and who has that control.

Just Exactly What is Music Publishing?

Music publishing companies should be thought of differently than when one would think of a book or print publishing company in general although conceptually there is a lot of overlap in reference to the basics. Music publishing involves additional areas of focus and activity which includes locating and securing new “acts”, developing talent, plugging music to the buyers of music, copyright administration, legal affairs, royalty tracking and disbursement, distribution, production, marketing and sales of music. Licensing and sub-licensing as well as locating and securing contractors and sub-contractors are also a vital part of a successful music publisher. Each of these areas of focus takes on different activities all in support of the composer or composing/performing artist.

Types of Music Publishers

There are several types of music publishers in the marketplace today. An immediate distinction that needs to be made is that of full service versus self-publishing of music. Although not many full service publishers exist today, they none the less do exist and they perform all of the publishing functions needed by composers and performing songwriters to be successful. Full service publishers have an in-house staff for all of the major departments or functions of a music publisher. They also sub-contract out certain or specific services to other companies such as a record company for the production of the music for example. In contrast to this a self-publisher must do all of this work themselves or to sub-contract out the needed service or services they lack.

Other music publishers fall into the following publisher types;

  • Record Company companies who provide publishing services
  • Artist-owned music publishers
  • Writer-owned music publishers
  • Educational music publishers
  • Specialty publishers- single genre focus, for example.
  • Concert music publishers
  • Print music publishers
  • Copyright administration only publishers
  • Foreign music publishers

The purpose for contracting with an existing music publisher is to gain their trained abilities, their reputation, power, money and connections within the industry, all in support of your musical work. Depending upon the type of music publisher you sign with will determine the available services to you. It is in your benefit to research any music publisher before signing any contract with them.

Music Publishing – Self Publishing

Contrary to signing with an existing and second party music publisher there is the self-publishing model to consider. The following will help you to understand what is involved when you decide to publish your own music. Since you are dealing only with your own music to start out with the amount of work in each department is minimal but still all of the work needs to be done in order to gain success.

Your Own Business

There are pros and cons to self publishing which must be considered if you elect to go this route. Let’s take a brief look at some of the basic pros and cons of music publishing on your own or self publishing.

PRO – First and foremost is the necessity to start your own music publishing business. In that way you compound your value just simply by having your own music publishing business. However, you must take into consideration and assume all operating costs and you must assume additional responsibilities and duties which can be time consuming. The management of the business and employees, paperwork, communications, IT, marketing and promotion are among many additional things you must be willing to do yourself, hire employees to do for you or to subcontract out to another company when operating a business. Many singer/songwriters find this a daunting task as it takes away a considerable amount of time which would otherwise be spent writing music. If you do not have these skills and abilities or choose not to exercise delegating to others then this might not be the way for you to go and you can then move this pro into the con category. Otherwise,  if you have what it takes to own and operate your own music publishing business the rewards can be extremely good for you. Self-publishing is increasing in occurrence and it is an excellent way to go when it comes to music publishing.

PRO – There is a strong upside to owning your own business which includes 100% control of your music and 100% control over the use and placement of your music. This comes with a price but the need to sell mega-millions is removed, unless of course you are quite capable of and can market and sell huge volumes of your music on your own. The advantage is in the numbers. You keep the 50% or higher publisher’s share of the income generated from the sale of your music. Otherwise a portion of the earned income is given to an existing publisher. In some cases the amount of earned income when self published is considerably more than enough to earn a decent living when added to the writers percentage of income. In essence you need to sell only half as much music or secure half as many licenses for the use of your music as you would need to to earn the same amount of income when you use an existing or second party music publisher. If you are seeking a comfortable living self publishing could very well be your preferred choice for music publishing.

CON – The main limitation in owning and running your own music publishing company is the amount of the initial investment that is needed to start and run your music publishing company. It requires a substantial amount of money to start a new company and the costs to financially support your business until earned income supports your music publishing business may cause you to refrain from making this decision. Additional costs come into play when you consider the costs for gaining a decent and respectable reputation and presence in the marketplace.

Aside from the initial costs there are ongoing costs that need to be understood and provided for. Such things as producing the necessary hard copy materials for marketing and promoting your business as well as ongoing operating costs such as covering employee wages and benefits, rent, utilities, etc. Remember you still must provide for the costs of producing your own music too.

CON – You will need to have ample business knowledge to manage your company well. Just because you can write well and perform better than most you still need to know how to run a music publishing company. This is an additional and vitally important consideration which can make or break your success in short order. A small business owner wears many hats especially at first. You must be able to self manage your financial and time investments. Further, you must be able to network within the music community, design or have designed by others all of your marketing and promotional materials, manage your reputation, your website, etc. If you do not have a good understanding of business or the knowledge to operate a business you might not choose to self publish and to elect to seek out an existing music publisher instead.


There’s no half way here. You must commit everything and believe in yourself when self publishing. You will need to have both the knowledge and the financial resources and, as many artists do not fully realize, the industry connections which are of vital importance for your success. It is invaluable to have many “real” connections within the music business that can help you and that can speed up the process of earning a living through your music. This would include helping you by networking, hands on labor or simply their assistance in areas such as the promotion and marketing sides of getting your music published. You must have a 100% commitment when starting your own music publishing company, being “all in”, as they say.  You must also commit 100% to your business relationships to gain a high level of respect from hem and to reach towards success.

The Modern Digital World

In this digital age, with all of the available technological resources available today it is easier to consider self publishing than to seek out and “sell” your goods to an existing music publisher. Computers, networking websites and social media, as well as digital distribution makes the entire process of self publishing of music more within the reach of the average artist than at any other time in history.

The downfall is in the amount of time and the quality and quantity of available resources you have to devote to the publishing side of your music. Many artists do not wish to go this route simply for these reasons, however, when taken as a whole they offer an accessible means by which you can get your music published.

Music Publishing – Working With an Existing Music Publisher

With all of the changes currently underway as well as many other considerations locating and securing existing music publishers remains a difficult road unless you have absolutely fantastic music and quite the buzz going on. If this is the case existing music publishers will find you. Otherwise, the task of securing a music publishing agreement is a steep uphill battle. “Getting heard” is one of the most common phrases of those ariss and composers who are seeking an exiting music publisher.

Let’s take a look at some of the basic pros and cons of using existing music publishers.

PRO – First and most obvious is that existing music publishers are businesses who have thrived and survived over many years within the industry. This counts for a lot. They have connections and resources unavailable to the self publisher especially a new start-up company. If you should be one of the fortunate ones who secures a contract with a large music publisher who will actually market, promote and sell you to the world then you will have arrived at the top of your dreams. Need I say more?

PRO – Existing music publishers can provide a lot of knowledge resources and support for creative types unwilling or who simply cannot get a handle on the necessary management of a music business. These resources include the management of your act, your “music business” and the necessary resources and connections to raise your game to the highest levels while supporting you along the way. The speed to market is greatly increased through their investment in you and/or your band.

CON – Nothing is for free and that includes speeding your pathway to stardom. Existing music publishers will require from you all or a part of the publishing income from the sale of your music, depending upon your agreement with them. Most if not all will also require that you give up the majority if not all of the control of your music in the marketplace. They are taking a great risk by investing in you and your music. For this you will give up some or all of your publishing income and most if not all of your control.

CON – So you thought that an existing music publisher was actually looking for you? Gone are the days when scouts would canvass the world seeking the next big hit. Now, you need to be that great big new bright and shining star to get signed by a major label. You will need to have a large following in place before they will even notice you.

This is not stated to discourage you rather to awaken you to the task. Nowadays writing a couple of songs isn’t going to cut it. You will need not only one or two albums, maybe even three or four albums worth of new and original material but you will also need to have developed a growing following of fans helping you to create that “buzz” about you and your music. The bigger the better!

Assuming this is the case, getting your music published becomes more feasible and possible by promoting yourself and your band to existing publishers. This will help you gain exposure in the marketplace. If you take on self promotion to music publishers be certain you are creating a unique image and sound with your music and your band. Uniqueness and a high quality of sound are two characteristics publishers hope to see in a new band.

Music Publishing – The New Gig

The old days are over and now a solo act or band has to do much in order to be “discovered”. Whether you self publish or seek out an existing music publisher you will need to take your music seriously and to think of it as a business rather than simply as playing music, unless of course you are a virtuosic performer or Mozart-esque composer, in which case, if that is your calling, your efforts require an entirely different approach to the music business.

The new gig is favored for the majority of music composers and singer/songwriters. In both cases, using existing music publishers or self publishing, requires the development of a large following of fans and creating a large and respectable “buzz” in the marketplace about you, your band and your music. Yes, it takes a lot to gain fans beyond your local or regional marketplace. In order to do so your efforts need to include a number of actions, all done well by the way, to gain the loyal, wide and deep fan base needed to be heard amongst the noise. The new gig involves massive action with social media, networking, quality performances, marketing, promotion and of course excellent music! In other words, a growing business is needed to secure successful music publishing whether you self publish or seek out an existing publisher. Both require a business consciousness and doing due diligence as a business and because both require the same amount of effort getting you acknowledged in the marketplace, a little more knowledge and a little more effort allows you to keep 100% control and 100% of the generated revenue from your music.

In the end, it still boils down to creating and performing new incredibly beautiful and marketable music, believing in yourself or band and working your tail off to make it in today’s music business and for getting your music published.

Music Publishing