Turning Melodies Into Royalties

The real revenue in the music business lies in the ownership rights to the hits. Here's how to publish and not perish.

in exchange for paying you an advance, collecting your publishing royalties, registering your copyrights and exploiting your songs,” he explains.

In an administrative deal, which you can also sign with a publishing company, you pay the company 5%-15% of your publishing income for collecting your royalties during the term of your contract and throughout the world. “The publisher doesn’t own any of your copyright, but he also doesn’t work to exploit your song catalog,” says Celestin.

The third alternative is to set up and administer your own publishing company. “In this situation, you will have to do all of the legwork to exploit your catalog, and you will usually still need to pay a lawyer to collect certain royalties, as well as register your copyrights,” he adds. Celestin says the best route to publishing will depend entirely, on your financial needs, the popularity of your music catalog, and how willing you are to handle business details.

Claude Mitchell, senior creative director for PolyGram Music Publishing, says the benefit of a co-publishing deal is that it offers songwriters administrative, financial and creative support. “You don’t have to worry about administering your catalog, and [the publisher] makes sure your money is collected. You also gain the contacts of your publishing company. I don’t know many songwriters who have the time and energy to develop a relationship with every [record] label. Our job is to go out and pursue opportunities. Not only on records, but TV, film and advertising.”

But Jocelyn Cooper-Gilstrap, founder and owner of Midnight Publishing, a small publishing house in New York, warns that songwriters should never rely too heavily on a publisher to exploit their catalog. “The disadvantage is that you’re competing with a lot of other writers [within the publishing company] and you have to be at the top of your game,” Cooper-Gilstrap says. “Having a publishing deal doesn’t mean you just sit back and write. You have to pound the pavement and visit A & R [artist & repertoire] reps.”

You should also be aware of the differences between the services of a large and a small music publisher. Because the larger publishers (e.g., EMI, PolyGram, Sony, Warner Chappell) are also affiliated with large record labels, they are often privy to up-and-coming album projects and can get your songs to big-name producers and A & R representatives for consideration. The smaller publishers, however, are often much more vigilant about getting songwriters’ music placed.

“Generally, the smaller company is going to work a lot harder because their catalog isn’t as large,” Rosario explains. “A larger publisher has a lot more songwriters and the onus is usually on the writer to get out and push their material and get it placed.”

It is also important to note that small publishing companies are usually more willing to work with and develop songwriters who have never written professionally. This was the case when Cooper-Gilstrap signed multiplatinum writer/producer/artist D’Angelo to her company. When she began working with D’Angelo, he had neither secured his

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