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.

recording contract with the now-defunct EMI Records, nor had he written professionally. “We shopped his music and were able to get him a song on the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack,” says Cooper-Gilstrap. “After that, people were interested in him as both a songwriter and an artist. The publishing connection opened the door for him.”

Another difference between large and small music publishers is in the amount of advance money a songwriter can receive. Most co-publishing deals will offer you a recoupable advance. The amount of your advance will vary based on whether you are a new or established songwriter, the size and popularity of your song catalog and whether the publisher is large or small. On average, new songwriters can expect to receive $50,000-$150,000 in advance money from a large publisher, and $10,000$50,000 from a small publisher.

While many songwriters are lured into co-publishing deals because they are offered sizable advances, Rosario stresses putting the concept of an advance into proper perspective. “You have to remember that in exchange for its co-publishing services, a publishing company receives ownership of a percentage of your copyrights,” she explains. “It recoups all advances out of your portion of the catalog’s earnings.” In short, after signing a deal, the publishing company will earn its 25%-75% of the royalties, and will take your royalties, too, until your advance has been repaid.

Co-publishing deals can offer songwriters sizable advances and substantial services, but they also offer publishers one major benefit: long-term earnings. Most deals cover a service term of three to five years. Since a co-publishing deal actually provides the publishing company ownership of a percentage of a songwriter’s copyrights–even after its services to the songwriter have ended–the publishing company can continue to make money off any songs in the catalog at the rime of signing. And unless negotiated differently, a publishing company can retain its ownership until the end of a song’s copyright.

Rosario advises songwriters to try to negotiate a “right of reversion” clause into their co-publishing contracts. This would limit the amount of time a publisher can hold interest in your copyright. She adds, however, that this can be a difficult concession for new songwriters to obtain. Established songwriters, however, can more easily limit the time a co-publisher can retain ownership in their copyrights.
This was the case for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis when they signed a copublishing deal for their company, Flyte Tyme Tunes, with EMI Music Publishing three years ago. The terms of their deal call for an eightfigure advance and a 50150 split of the publishing royalties, with EMI’s interest decreasing over the life of the five-year deal. When the deal expires, so does EMI’s interest in their copyright.

“We were able to cut a deal like that because we held 100% of the publishing on our songs,” says Jam. “There were no skeletons in the closet.” The prolific songwriter/producer explains that after writing the S.O.S. Band’s chart-topping single Just Be Good To Me in 1983, he and Lewis decided to set up their own

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