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how to publish a song

November 10, 20219 mins read

How to publish a song: a guide to music publishing and licensing

By editor

How to publish a song

Want to publish your music? Keep reading to learn how to publish a song and earn royalties – whether it’s on your own, with your team or to get a publishing deal.

In the digital age of being a DIY artist, many songwriters are asking how to publish a song. This is a valid question. The purpose of a music publisher is continually evolving. It needs to be in an ever-changing technological landscape!

To some extent, artists and songwriters can publish their own music, but – they may find it gets harder as their catalog and network grows.

There’s a growing list of technology platforms using music in new and disruptive ways. Examples such as TikTok, Twitch and gaming platforms like Fortnite and Roblox mean it’s important that music publishing keeps up.

Fortnite music party

The metaverse will be the next huge disruption to the music industry, but it should bring a lot of “micro sync” royalties. Music continues to become a more algorithmic lean-back experience and so the importance of back catalog management and constant music pitching is becoming even more important.

Changes in the use of music with technology demand new approaches to the publishing business. The music industry must ensure artists and writers are being paid properly for the use of their work.

This can make efficient music publishing tough for an independent artist, even with a team to support them.

Whether you’re looking to cover it alone, with your team, or looking to work with (or get signed by) a bigger publisher, this post will help you understand the ins and outs of music publishing and how you can publish a song.

What does a music publisher do?

A publisher is a person or company that tries to place your music on different markets to find spots for your song or album. That spot can be a TV commercial, a song for a video game, a melody for a movie, a jingle for a radio station and so on.

Additionally, music publishers normally handle all the paperwork to ensure that your song is properly credited to you, so you’re compensated for it.

Music Publishing and copyrights

Music publishing has existed since the beginning of the music industry – way before recorded music. It is the business of generating and collecting royalties for the composition and lyrics of music and it works around the licensing of the publishing right.

All recorded music has 2 associated copyrights: master and publishing rights. These copyrights are licensed to people who want to use the music, in exchange for a license fee or royalty.

Essential reading: all about music licensing.

Royalties received for music publishing include performance royalties. These are granted when your music is played live and when your music is broadcast on radio or television. You also get what’s called mechanical royalties for sales (and streams) of recorded music.

Do I need a publisher to publish my music?

Even though it isn’t strictly necessary, the truth is that having a publisher can be beneficial for your music and allows you to focus on other things.

If you were to do the job of a publisher, you would have to build a contacts list, send emails with music and album links, follow up, fill in all the forms when submitting your songs, and so on. That would leave you with less time to focus on making music.

Additionally, collaborating with a publisher is a great way of networking and can open provide many opportunities for your music.

The difference between music publishing and distribution

People new to the music business often confuse music publishing and music distribution. Let’s better understand their differences.

Music distribution is the business of releasing a recording of music to be bought (and streamed) by listeners and fans. Released music generates master royalties, subject to how many records are sold or streamed.

If you’re looking to get your music on services like Spotify, you need music distribution, not music publishing!

Music publishing, on the other hand, is the business of generating, collecting and managing royalties for musical compositions and lyrics. As mentioned above, it involves 2 types of copyrights (master and publishing) that are collected from television, movies, radio, games, and other sources.

💡👉 Free music distribution here

how to publish a song to spotify

How to publish a song and earn sync fees

A major area of interest for a musician, songwriter or composer is sync licensing. When your music is used in films, TV, games, adverts and more, the person using the music will have to pay for a sync fee.

Some broadcasters will also have to pay ongoing royalties whenever the show, film or documentary is played to the public.

As there are 2 copyrights in recorded music, the sync license is also made up of 2 licenses: the sync license and the master license. The former would be granted by the publisher of the song, and the master the owner of the recording.

Typically, somebody “pitching” the music will be able to sign off for both the sync and mastering licenses. They could own both rights or have special contracts to act on behalf of the rightsholder. This is known in the industry as “one-stop”. Want to know how to publish a song? One of the easiest ways is to pitch one-stop music.

Read more about how to tag your music as “one-stop”.

How to publish a song for micro syncs

Micro syncs are small payments paid for small usages of music. Examples include YouTube videos with limited viewers and short-run web adverts.

Micro syncs can accumulate and result in bigger payments as the traction of the content picks up.

There’s a growing interest in music publishing towards micro syncs. This is because of the hugely growing “content creator” market.

As these huge tech companies get used to paying for licenses for the use of music, revenues in these areas grow for rights holders.

Music publishers manage the registration of songs and collect royalties from these platforms. But, for the DIY artist managing their own publishing, you could contact content creators directly:

  • Do some serious research into content creators who use music like yours.
  • Make sure they’re likely going to like the music before they hear it (get evidence they’re into your vibe).
  • Look for content creators with a big following. You’ll want creators who are likely to be monetizing their work and have some production budget.
  • Find their email address on their website, YouTube channel or socials and ask them how they license music.

Pitching a song for cover versions

With permission from the publishing owner, anybody can record their own version of a song.

Sometimes songwriters (or, more likely, their publishers) pitch songs to labels and artists. The original songwriter takes songwriting credits (and publishing royalties), but not typically the fame.

Additionally, a song being performed and recorded by an artist and becoming associated with that artist doesn’t make it their song.

Music publishers pitch for or accept offers from other artists who want to use the song. When this occurs, it is called a cover version.

Covers can be very valuable. You can use cross-genre or era to create new attractions and audiences for the original song.

New recordings of cover songs also generate new publishing royalties.

how to publish songs for covers

Finding work for your music catalog

A lot of the work and business involved with music publishing is about creating and managing relationships.

Music publishers help “work your catalog”. Firstly, this means doing things like pitching a song you write for other artists to perform and, secondly, pitching your music for sync placement opportunities.

Traditionally, publishers would work with composers and songwriters. But now, recording artists and producers are also frequently on a music publisher’s roster. This means that a publisher can always be ready to create work to a brief from:

  • Record labels
  • Production libraries
  • Music supervisors

…and more.

How to publish your own music

If you want to publish your own music, there are some steps you can take to act as your own music publisher in the most basic form.

The first thing you will need to do is sign yourself up with a Performance Rights Organisation (PRO):

What are Performance Rights Organizations (PROs)?

Performance Rights Organisations (PROs), also known as Collection Societies/Agencies, are bodies that exist to:

  • Monitor the use of music in their territory and beyond
  • Collect royalties for the usage in the form of licenses
  • Pay the rightsholders the collected royalties

There are different PROs for different territories. They all come with different costs, processes and effectiveness. Some territories have multiple PROs, so you have to do your research and choose which is best for you.

PROs are typically networked with other PROs so that cross-territory collection can take place. However, the relationships between PROs vary. If you are performing well outside of your own territory, it may be worth signing up with other PROs.

Wikipedia lists the major PROs in each territory

It’s important to sign up as a songwriter to a PRO and register your works, especially if you’re already getting broadcast or live exposure to the public. You can also register as a publisher of your song. Our advice is to do this using a publishing admin partner.

What is publishing admin?

Publishing rights are split into two parts – the songwriter and the publisher. You may have signed up to a PRO as a songwriter, but if you are unpublished you can also register the song to collect publishing royalties.

NOTE: Always make sure you discuss this with your publisher when you take a publishing deal. They will need to re-register the song with them as the publisher, which will require you to remove yourself as the publisher.

You can do this directly with your PRO. But, another way to take full control of all of your publishing royalties is to work with a Publishing Administrator.

Publishing Administrators manage and collect royalties on behalf of a rights holder. They do not claim any rights, and usually just take a small cut of the royalties they manage as payment for their work.

One of the biggest and most easy access to Publishing Admin companies is SongTrust. The advantage of using them over only your PRO is their collection network.

Vampr users get a big discount when they sign up with SongTrust.

Enter VAMPR as the discount code to receive a 20% discount on the one-off registration fee.

If you’re not yet signed up for a PRO, this is probably a cheaper alternative. You don’t need to sign up for a PRO if you’re collecting with SongTrust!

Vampr Publishing admin with Songtrust

How much does it cost to publish a song?

The cost of publishing a song depends on several factors, including:

  • Your location and the cost of registering a song copyright
  • The cost of your PRO or publishing admin
  • Potentially some software costs, depending on the size of your catalog
  • A DISCO or song-pitching subscription
  • Cost of services, such as freelancers or agencies, if you want to pitch and work your catalog beyond your own time abilities
  • Law fees as you begin to negotiate deals, especially as they grow more complex (potentially with multiple parties)

Can I publish my music for free?

Many services charge you to publish a song, but there are some solutions that are free.

If you want to know how to publish music for free, you should check out a service like Vampr Publishing. It’s free, non-exclusive and the deal is particularly favorable to the artist (65%-35% split in favor of the artist instead of the 50%-50% split that most companies offer). More on this below.

What is co-publishing?

A traditional publishing deal gives a publisher a percentage of the publishing rights. This is sometimes called a co-publishing deal.

Co-publishing deals can be very complex. They can involve:

  • Commitments to agreed quantities of work over a term
  • Long-term contracts that can hinder freedom to work outside of these commitments
  • An average of 50% of all publishing royalties are kept by the publisher
  • All royalties, including songwriter royalties, being kept by the publisher until an advance is paid
  • Sub-publishing
  • Publishing administration
  • Placement quotas before works are considered against contractual agreements

The potential benefit of co-publishing is, of course, that advance. This is a lump sum paid to a songwriter or composer upfront.

What is sub-publishing?

Sub-publishing is a partnership with another publisher. They will look after pitching, collection and administration in other territories. Different from a co-publishing deal, sub-publishers act more like overseas agents for their partner’s catalog. They take a cut of the royalties they collect but don’t own any of the rights.

Sub-publishing is very useful because there are lots of overseas royalties that aren’t covered by generic “international” collection agencies. It also gives you a team on the ground who knows the popular artists or is connected with the local film or advert agencies.

How to publish and license a song with Vampr Publishing

Of course, in the digitally-empowered era, the DIY approach can get you a long way.

This is especially true if you work with a partner who brings you opportunities and doesn’t limit you or lock you in.

Whilst working with music publishers or record labels isn’t always the best idea, with Vampr Publishing we’ve taken a different approach.

We’re listening to submissions and accepting music we’d like to be represented as part of our sync catalog. 💿🎧🔥

Rather than following the traditional publishing models, we’ve discovered the magic sauce:

  • Unlimited sync pitching to film, tv, games, adverts and podcasts free of charge
  • Non-exclusive until we get a sync opportunity (we pitch and a licensed buyer says they’re interested in the song)
  • Only a 2-year exclusive publishing contract if we do get a sync opportunity
  • Get feedback and input from A&R
  • Keep 65% of your royalties – on top of all of your songwriting royalties
  • Keep it fun – focus more on the music and less on the business!

If you want to be considered as one of our roster artists and represented for sync – sign up for Publishing and submit some music on the Vampr app now!

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