The Music Publisher Entrepreneur
1 June 2018
Entrepreneurship is the process of designing, launching and running a new business. The people who create these businesses are called entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship has been described as the “capacity and willingness to develop, organize and manage a business venture along with any of its risks in order to make a profit”.
To start a Music Publishing Company, it is essential that you have the rights to music compositions and/or songs plus the drive and the energy to take risks. Many publishing houses start with songs written by the startup entrepreneur. If you are a music producer, studio owner/engineer or possibly musician and band-member, you have an advantage of being able to do your own personal demos or submit songs to prospective artists and their management team. Many musicians and band members write songs and retain the copyright. This type of music publishing is very common and means that the writer is ‘self-published’. This trend has been encouraged by the major record labels who often insist on administering these right through their publishing subsidiaries as a condition of releasing their recordings. To become a real music publisher you must acquire rights to songs that you don’t write – outside independent songwriters. You’ll need a songwriters contact to acquire the rights and some financial capital to finance demos.
To be a successful independent music publisher, what will you be up against? As Budi Voogt says: “The competition is fierce, the supply of music is huge and the barrier of entry at an all time low, especially for electronic music. Younger generations only stream and pirate, and physical sales are declining. Only the most successful acts are able to make ends meet through just record sales.”
Music Publishing requires long-term vision and contractual arrangements with each songwriter for each song that has to last for the life of copyright. In many countries Life Of Copyright is included in their national copyright law and usually lasts for the life of the writer(s) plus 75 years. In Canada, life of copyright is 50 years after the death of the Writer(s). To build a valuable catalogue, life of copyright is essential.
What other rights should you have? In general, the professional Music Publisher signs each song with a separate Songwriters agreement:
“The Writer(s) hereby sells, assigns, transfers and sets over unto the Publisher, its successors and assigns, for the world, a certain heretofore unpublished original musical composition, written and/or composed by the above named Writer(s) and tentatively entitled:
including all musical and non-musical rights therein, the title, words and music thereof (and all literary characters contained therein), the worldwide common-law copyright thereof and the right to secure copyright thereon, throughout the entire world and to have and to hold the said copyright together with all of the right, title and interest, both legal and equitable therein, including but not limited to the sole and exclusive worldwide publication, mechanical reproducing, motion picture and television (live and pay) synchronization rights and the right of pubic performance by any means, and all other rights including neighboring and commercial endorsement rights, now known or hereafter to come into existence subject to the terms of this agreement.” Quite the mouthful, but essential for a successful business.
The agreement then goes on to define in greater detail the various rights assigned such as Mechanicals, Synchronization, Print and Performance. Further clauses detail how the Writer(s) are to be paid their share of monies received. At the same time, request a ‘Short Form Of Assignment’ from the Writer(s). This form is used for copyright registrations and proof of assignment without having to show the full details of your contract.
It’s been customary for Writers and their legal counsel to balk at selling or assigning rights to a Publisher and you’ve probably heard the phrase “hold onto your publishing rights!”. The Music Publisher entrepreneur must be able to promote its brand and convince the Writer(s) of the benefits and increased income to be gained from working with an arms-length independent Music Publisher. One of the best ways to is to include promotion as part of your services. It could be in the form of causing a video to be made, presenting the songs to taste-makers, artist managers and contacts at record labels. Some labels (but not all) welcome promotion support. When one of your copyrights is released, supporting the releasing label tactfully would make you a valued part of the team. As a Music Publisher with modest collection of songs and few key writers; this is your challenge.
You may download a PDF sample Songwriters Agreement from here.