(photo credit: Ebru Yildiz)

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Anna is the Senior Director of Global Business Development at Songtrust, a full-service global publishing administrator built with the artist in mind.  A seasoned industry professional, an Indie band geek at heart, and a longtime advocate for independent artists, I couldn’t think of anyone better to talk to about music publishing in 2020. 

Companies like Songtrust are putting pressure on the labels by showing artists that they don’t need to sell their soul in order to sell their music. Founded in 2011, the company started with the goal of becoming the easiest way to collect publishing royalties for anyone at any stage in their career. Today, they are the most popular music royalty collection solutions in the world. Music professionals of all kinds use Songtrust to simplify music rights management, including the administration of music publishing assets, performing rights, and digital licensing.

Understanding how Songtrust operates as a publishing administrator through Anna’s eyes is also an excellent framework for learning how publishing works in today’s digital music landscape! 

More info…

What is publishing and how does it work?

Publishing” is how people refer to the royalties generated by music, which are to be paid to the copyright holder or holders. Publishing includes both performance and mechanical royalties. 

Performance royalties are generated when your music is publicly broadcasted on TV, radio, live venues, restaurants, retail, etc. – and paid to songwriters and publishers. 

PROs like BMI and ASCAP collect performance royalties for artists and songwriters. Songtrust collects performance royalties from BMI and ASCAP, and also from PROs around in many countries around the world. Which makes it a great option for artists with out-of-country fanbases to ensure they are collecting all royalties owed and maximizing their revenue. 

The key difference is that unlike the PROs, Songtrust collects mechanical royalties as well. Mechanical royalties are generated by the recording, manufacture, and distribution of copyright-protected music – which in 2020 is almost entirely streaming. 

Mechanical royalties used to mainly be handled between artists and labels, but in the streaming era, this has mostly shifted over to the DSPs (Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, etc.), as they are the ones using the mechanical licenses.

The bottom line for artists. “If you have songs that have streamed and you aren’t signed up with a publishing administrator, you are missing out on royalties.” In other words, there is a check waiting for you. Not necessarily a huge check, but you might be surprised! 

Just to be clear. Signing up with BMI or ASCAP is only one half of the story. The performance rights half. Every song has two sets of royalties associated with it – performance and mechanical. BMI and ASCAP only collect performance royalties. In order to collect the mechanical royalties, you need a publishing administrator. 

What is a publishing administrator?

There are a few different kinds of publishing companies. A publishing administrator ensures any royalties and licensing fees generated by your music are collected. Publishing administrators generally only handle administrative duties – the actual collecting and distributing of the royalties. Because they typically don’t offer services beyond administration (like labels do), terms are generally much more artist-friendly with a publishing admin than with a traditional publishing entity like a major. Another plus, publishing admins typically are paid via commission, meaning that the artist/copyright holder retains full ownership and creative control.

If you don’t have a publishing admin… you probably need one. Anna recommends Songtrust 🙂 

For two reasons:

1 ) Kill two birds with one stone by collecting both performance and mechanical royalties in the same place

2) Global affiliation and direct relationships with international PROs & MROs for streamlined collection of performance and mechanical royalties outside the US

Most of the companies you might be thinking do the same thing as Songtrust… probably don’t. As Anna says, “they work on the master side” – meaning they handle music distribution and licensing. Remember, publishing is associated with the composition of the song. Publishing is for songwriters (which may include the artist). The “masters” or master recording, is the actual recording of the song – the thing that comes out of the speaker when you press play. 

(If you’ve lost track… remember, Songtrust is a publishing administrator. So they collect publishing… which includes both performance and mechanical royalties.)

Songtrust’s main competitors are the labels. Because that’s who offers publishing deals. There are some things that labels can do for you that Songtrust can’t. Things like give you a big advance, solicit placements in TV, movies, retail, live events, etc., put you on a private jet, and other fancy label things. 

Other companies that will collect both performance and mechanical royalties in a similar way are the pro versions of Tunecore and CDBaby. (CDBaby actually partners with Songtrust to offer this service.)

Songtrust is a powerful tool in the DIY artist’s arsenal and when combined with complementary services like a synch agency, a distributor, etc. to go out and pitch your catalog for placements, there’s no reason why an independent artist can’t be collecting just as much, if not more, of their performance and mechanical royalties than an artist on a label. All while maintaining control and independence. 

What makes a good publishing deal?

When looking at a publishing deal, there are several things to consider. The actual terms of the deal, the post-term, and the rate. If you are going to receive an advance, what does that look like and what are the terms for recoupment? Remember, an advance is a loan. Songtrust actually has a list of questions that artists should be sure to know the answer to when considering a publishing deal. 

You also want to be sure that your publisher is the right fit for your audience, mainly in terms of location. Wherever your audience is located, you want to be aware of your publishing administrator’s partners in those places. Ideally, you want your publishing administrator or their partners to have a presence in the states, regions, and countries that your audience is located. Questions you can ask: Who is on the ground in the territory? What kinds of relationships/partnerships do they have in the territory?

Key Takeaways

Companies like Songtrust are putting pressure on the labels by showing artists that they don’t need to sell their soul in order to sell their music.

Publishing is for songwriters and copyright owners. 

Publishing = Performance + Mechanical Royalties

PROs = Performance Royalties Only

Songtrust = Performance + Mechanical Royalties

“If you have songs that have streamed (or are being played out in the world) and you aren’t signed up with a publishing administrator, you are missing out on royalties.”

At the end of the day, you need some kind of publisher or publishing administrator. Anna said it best, “It’s a lot of work. You need to be writing songs, performing live, working in the studio, etc. Let someone else handle the math homework.” Only this time, the math homework involves collecting your money… which is way better lol.

Lastly…. take all of this with a grain of salt. If Kanye has his way, the whole publishing game may be flipped on its head.