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music publishing

December 22, 20234 mins read

Royalties 101: How Music Publishers Make You Money

By Salif

Music has been the soul’s expression for centuries. With advancements in technology, artists have found unique avenues to share their art. One aspect remains constant, though: the need for musicians to be compensated fairly. Whether you’re looking into music publishing or contemplating self-publishing music, understanding royalties is crucial.

music publisher

A Concise History of Music Royalties

The genesis of music royalties traces back to times when sheet music was the primary medium of musical consumption. Long before the age of social media for musicians and digital streaming platforms, royalties were introduced to ensure that composers and musicians received their due for the efforts they poured into their artistry.
In the classical era, composers primarily earned through patronage or selling sheet music. But with the advent of the phonograph in the late 19th century, the landscape changed dramatically. For the first time, music could be recorded and played back, leading to the birth of the music recording industry.
As technology evolved—through radio broadcasts, cassette tapes, CDs, and now streaming platforms—so did the mechanisms for compensating artists. Royalties ensured that every time a song played on the radio or a record was sold in a store, the artist, composer, and other stakeholders received their rightful share.
However, it wasn’t always a smooth journey. Over the decades, artists and song publishers often locked horns over fair compensation, leading to landmark legal battles and the formation of protective bodies and associations.

Traditional Music Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Navigating the vast landscape of the music industry, artists are often presented with a pivotal decision: Should they align with a traditional music publisher or venture into the realm of self-publishing? Both paths offer unique advantages and challenges. This section delves into the intricacies of traditional music publishing and self-publishing, providing a comprehensive comparison to guide budding musicians in their journey.
  • Traditional Music Publishing – Historically, signing with a music publisher was the artist’s gateway to stardom. These publishers managed the distribution, marketing, and rights of the music. In return, artists received a percentage of the revenue, while the publishers took their cut for the services provided.
  • Self-Publishing – The digital age has ushered in an era where artists can self-publish music. Tools and apps for musicians have made it easier than ever for independent artists to reach global audiences. While this route offers more control over one’s music, it also requires a deeper understanding of the industry, especially regarding royalties.

publishing music

How Are Royalties Generated?

While artists pour their hearts and souls into creating mesmerizing tunes, it’s the royalties that ensure they’re compensated for their creativity and hard work. Here are the diverse avenues through which royalties are generated.


With platforms like Spotify and Apple Music dominating the scene, streaming has become a significant revenue source. Money is earned from premium subscriptions, with a smaller portion from ad-supported streams. However, the amount an artist earns per stream is minimal, emphasizing the importance of multiple revenue streams.

Radio Play

Traditional radio and its digital counterparts offer artists both exposure and royalty opportunities. Whether it’s a local station or a global platform like SiriusXM, every play counts, leading to compensation through agencies dedicated to tracking these plays.

Live Performances

Performing live, whether it’s a world tour or a local gig, provides artists with direct revenue. Performance rights organizations play a pivotal role here, ensuring artists are compensated for the public performance of their work.


Have you ever heard a catchy tune in a commercial or a memorable scene in a movie? That’s synchronization. Artists are paid a fee for using their music in various media, providing another avenue for income.

The Potential of Free Music Publishing Platforms

The music industry, once dominated by colossal record labels and gatekeepers, is undergoing a seismic shift thanks to the rise of free music publishing platforms. Their emergence has truly revolutionized the landscape, offering a canvas where creativity knows no bounds.
These platforms, synergizing with the world of social networking for musicians, are not just tools; they symbolize the very essence of democratization. They break down barriers, ensuring that talent, rather than connections, shines through. Independent artists, who might have once felt the weight of the industry’s exclusivity, now find themselves empowered. They’re no longer confined by the dictates of traditional music publishers; instead, they have the autonomy to share their artistry directly with the world.
But the advantages don’t end at publication. The era of digital music has brought with it the boon of global connectivity. Music collaboration apps have become the bridges connecting artists from different continents, cultures, and genres. An artist in Nashville can seamlessly collaborate with another in Tokyo, creating a fusion that was once hard to imagine. These apps provide real-time feedback, file sharing, and virtual jamming sessions, enabling global collaborations that would have been logistically impossible a few decades ago.
Furthermore, with direct access to fans, artists can receive instant feedback, tailor their music based on audience preferences, and even crowdfund their projects. This real-time interaction nurtures a community where fans feel a deeper connection to the artist, leading to loyal fan bases and organic growth.

self-publishing music

Mechanisms of Collecting Royalties

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) are the unsung heroes ensuring artists get their due. They track music plays across platforms and venues, ensuring that every time your tune gets a nod, you get a penny. Linking your music to revenue is a systematic process. Song registration is pivotal. Without it, the systems in place cannot identify the rightful owner of the music, leading to potential revenue losses.
When publishing music, metadata—information about the track, like the artist, composer, and publisher—is crucial. Accurate metadata ensures the correct attribution of royalties. A slight error can divert funds, underscoring the need for meticulousness. The music industry, with its evolving regulations and norms, necessitates artists to be ever-learned. Staying updated on royalty laws can significantly impact one’s income. Numerous online resources, workshops, and courses can aid artists in this endeavor.
As the music landscape continually transforms, one truth remains: understanding and advocating for your financial rights is paramount. Whether you’re looking to collaborate using a music collaboration app or aiming for the stars with a major song publisher, always prioritize knowledge about royalties. Your talent deserves rightful compensation. Embrace the tools, both old and new, and let your music resonate while ensuring your pockets aren’t left empty.

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