Why do a publishing deal?

Before contacting a music publishing company, it is important to consider what you need a publisher for and if it is necessary to sign a deal immediately. Companies specialise in different genres and are often skilled in particular fields, so not every publisher may necessarily suit your needs. A classical composer will have different requirements to a rock band or a writer penning songs for manufactured pop stars. Moreover, an act with a record deal and some chart success is likely to have other priorities than those of a young band starting out.

What should I consider when looking for a publisher?

Once you have decided what you need a publisher for, and which areas you regard as a priority, then it is time to seek an appropriate publishing company.

A musician unlikely to sell many CDs might need a publisher with a solid background in getting the work ‘synched', while a composer of contemporary classical pieces will most probably require a publisher with good connections among orchestras and festival programmers, in order to get their music performed.

By contrast, a rock band may want to go with a company which can help pay for the recording of demos and secure a major record deal. (Coldplay were signed to BMG Music Publishing prior to signing a label deal with EMI).

Some additional factors to consider include:

How quickly can the publisher pay?
Collection societies account for different royalties at various stages in the year but, where they are first paid to a publisher, it is important to know how long you need to wait for your money.

Does the publisher have an international network to collect money abroad?
If a piece of music is used in a medium which sees it aired in public outside the UK, then it is important that the publisher has the international partners to be able to monitor usage and collect royalties. This might be via sub-publishing agreements or via membership of overseas collection societies.

How should the publishing income be split with songwriting partners or other members of my band?
This is also an important factor to consider when doing a publishing deal and the model used for registering the copyrights could also be incorporated in the contract with the publisher. In the past few years, this issue has led members of acts including Spandau Ballet, The Smiths and Procul Harum battling it out in court.

Does more than one person at the publishing company love your music?
As in any company, people move on, so it is important that more than one person is enthusiastic about your work should your champion leave.

Does the publisher specialise in a particular genre?
Make sure the publishing company is actually suited to your music. Look at the roster and see which other songwriters/composers the publisher works with.

Can the publisher pay an 'advance'?
The received wisdom within the industry is that it is better to take a smaller advance in return for a more favourable deal. Ultimately, an advance is paid off by future royalties and, the larger it is, the longer it takes to begin receiving royalty cheques.

Is the publisher well positioned to help to get a record deal?
Some publishing 'A&Rs' are known for spotting up-and-coming talent and, in turn, this reputation can help to secure a record deal if this is an objective.

Does Size Matter?
A large, multinational publishing company has affiliates around the world and often boasts the additional clout required to get synchs, as well as having the legal muscle to enforce copyrights. However, some of the biggest publishers boast more than 1m titles in their catalogues, and so there is always the risk that a composer/songwriter might not get the same attention as from a small publisher. The latter might also be in a position to respond more quickly to synch or licensing requests.

Finding a Publisher

The Music Publishers Association provides contact details of all its members and also stipulates those which accept unsolicited work: www.mpaonline.org.uk/About/members/.

It is also worth contacting other songwriters/composers about their experiences. BACS has several members forums and there are plenty of other more informal online resources.

Who Should I Send My Music To?

Music publishing companies often employ a lot of staff, so it is worthwhile considering which person would be best-suited to receive your demo CD or manuscript. For example, a band or songwriter should find out which people in a company are responsible for ‘A&R' while composers wishing to specialise in ‘production' music should contact the person responsible for that area. Contact details can be obtained through company websites or publications such as the Music Week directory. However, it is worth phoning publishers to confirm to whom the demo or manuscript should be sent, as well as requesting a contact email address. The recipient can then be contacted to ask whether they would prefer a CD or MP3, and will know to look out for the work.

It is also worth noting that some large publishers, including EMI Publishing, have a policy of not accepting unsolicited recordings. In such cases, it is important to get in touch in advance and inquire how the demo will be accepted.

How do I get my music printed?

Once a manuscript has been registered, the writer(s) may wish to make it available in print form in order to either self-distribute it, or have a specialist distribution company undertake this task. A list of the latter can be found in the Music Week Directory in the Sheet Music Suppliers section.

In order to allow the work to be recognised an ISMN code will need to be obtained from the Music Publishers Association, which in turn allows a barcode to be created using specialist software.

An alternative to the ISMN code, is the ISBN number which is the internationally recognised standard for books. Details of how to obtain this can be found at www.nbdrs.com/isbn_agency.htm

The ISMN and/or ISBN must be printed on the score. Additional information worth including is the name of your publishing company, contact details and the year in which the score was printed.

Negotiating contracts and Independent Legal Advice

Before entering into negotiations it is important to think through what you want from a publishing deal and to understand where you are likely to be earning your publishing income. BACS offers a free legal consultation with a specialist entertainment lawyer and has a list of several law firms it recommends. Legal advice is also available to members of the Musicians' Union.

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