Songwriters: How to Monetize Your Work
Music publishing is a business of pennies, but those pennies can add up, especially when you consider how long copyrights last
How Songs Make MoneyA song is owned by its music publisher. Unless you're a well-known songwriter with a successful track record, publishing deals are usually done in conjunction with recording deals, and if you're lucky enough to get both kinds of deals, or a 360 deal covering your recording, publishing, touring and merchandising, you may even get an advance of money against your future songwriting income from record sales, which is known as "mechanical" royalties.
Another way to make money on a song is have it synchronized with the visual images in a film, television show, online program or webisode, videogame, or for an advertisement/commercial. That's known as a "synch" license, and usually the license fee is split 50-50 between the owner of the master recording of a song (usually the record label) and the owner/publisher of the musical composition of the song, who in turn pays 50% of their 50% to the songwriter(s). Synch licenses can be enormously lucrative, especially for uses such as hit TV shows, big-budget films, and national ad campaigns.
Self-Publish, or Find a Publisher.If you're not a recording artist with a recording deal and a publishing deal, then you can either self-publish your own musical compositions, or find a publisher.
In a publishing deal, the publisher, as owner of a song, usually keeps 50% of the income, and pays the songwriter(s) the other 50%. If you're self-published, you get all 100%. If there are multiple writers, the writers' 50% is divided among the writers in whatever splits they've agreed to. Usually splits are equal and pro-rata, but not always, depending on the stature of a writer and the relative contributions.
Why give 50% of your songwriting income to a publisher? It's a big decision. A big reason to opt for this is that a publisher can "plug" your compositions to film and television music supervisors and to advertising executives to get them licensed for those lucrative "synch" licenses. Also, publishers handle all the business paperwork: the copyright applications, the performing rights registrations, initiating disputes with competing rights claimants, copyright administration, licensing, etc.
You might conclude that, for at least the start of your songwriting career, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. The, after you've started to make money from your songwriting, you'll want to start your own publishing company, so you can own 100% of your valuable compositions.
Register With a Performing Rights OrganizationOne revenue stream from a song is from its "performance" on radio, television, and film, including streaming. You can register with a performing rights organization (PRO) as both a publisher and a writer. There are 6 PROs in the U.S., ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR, SoundExchange and AllTrack.
These organizations collect money on behalf on their songwriter, publisher, artist, and producer members, and pay their members directly for uses of their songs. ASCAP and BMI are the PROs that have been around the longest, but the newer PROs have become competitive.