What Is Music Publishing?

Bobby Coston

Music publishing deals with the ownership and exploitation of copyrighted music. Through music publishing, copyrighted work is sold for use in areas such as radio, performances, movies, TV, record sales, and streaming. Publishing provides a variety of avenues for an artist to earn a living while working in the music industry.

“Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.”

John Lennon

Live performances, club appearances, autograph sessions, and speaking engagements can get you a one-time check, but publishing your music can result in continuous payment for years—based on the popularity of your music. Ever wondered how some of these older artists are still able to buy homes and cars, and make investments without newly-released music? Then you should learn as much as possible about music publishing.

Infusing a knowledge of the power of music into your creative processes will help you better understand how to craft your music. Today, the way music is received and heard is very different than even ten years ago. The older knowledge base that informed the music business won’t help new artists collect a steady revenue.

The breakdown of industry data and a thorough music history lesson won’t hold the attention of most creative-centric minds. At Bandbasher, we’ll try our best to provide you with a  “comprehensive crash course” in music publishing.

“People like big hits and we’ve got big hits. If they spill over into other formats that means we’ve done our job. We’ve helped expand the country footprint.”

Scott Borchetta, president/CEO of the Big Machine Label Group

The Breakdown

Most artists who hope to make a living from their music are familiar with the general definition and goal of music publishing. With that in mind, let me start off by letting you know that organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and PRS are not publishing companies, but are rather performance rights societies. Their job is monitoring songs plays, collecting fees from entities that use copyrighted material, and paying a percentage of those fees to the copyright holders. Major companies pay big bucks every year to these agencies, so you’ll need to have an understanding of their importance to make sure your ventures are headed in the right direction.


Simply put, royalties are the funds you receive as payment for the use of your music. There are different types of royalties, so let’s break them down real fast for you. 

  • Mechanical royalties

A mechanical royalty refers to royalties paid for the use of sound recording material (digital downloads, streaming, CD’s, vinyls, etc.).

  • Performance royalties

Performance rights are geared toward the use of music for radio play, professional sports games, as well as use and performances in live venues.

  • Synchronization royalties

These royalties are paid when music is used in film or a television soundtrack. These royalties differ because publishing companies generally audition songs on the artist’s and/or copyright holder’s behalf to music directors for use.

  • Print Royalties

Print royalties are paid based on the sale of printed sheet music.

Keep these types in mind when creating your next tune. You could end up making millions from performance royalties alone, if your music is able to create an impact that crosses different genres and engages a very large fan base.

This summer’s breakout hit and the most streamed song of all time, “Despacito” is a largely Spanish-language pop hit that audiences around the globe love.

Do I need a publishing company? Can’t I start my own?

If you’re just starting out in the music industry, maybe you haven’t released a full album yet, then you don’t yet need a publishing company. Registering with a publishing company doesn’t guarantee you any royalties. The first thing you should worry about is that you own the rights to all of your original music. So when your music is bought and played, you receive full payment for your creation.

But keep working, and you’ll get to a point where you may find yourself enlisting the work of a publishing company.

“We’re no longer in the music business–it doesn’t exist anymore. We’re in the multimedia business.”

-Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager

Why you may need a publishing company: 

If you make music that is geared toward a large audience, then seeking out a publishing deal might be the right path to take. Usually, artists that are already commercially successful fare better in securing publishing deals before new artists. Publishing companies license songs to be used in a variety of mediums, so going with the “hot” artist can seem like the better gamble.

Companies sometimes offer advances if they believe work will bring a strong return on that investment. Another benefit to artists, are deals where the publisher helps the artist obtain a provisional record deal to pay for recording demos. Know that these advances are generally offered to artists with proven track records.
The most common deal between songwriters and publishing companies is an even 50/50 split. They take that 50% because they’re able to accomplish way more than an artist o their own. But beware, assigning your copyright to a publisher allows them to make decisions about the placement of your song—even if you disagree.

This is just a part of the music business.

Is Bandbasher a publishing service? 

Bandbasher is not a publishing service, nor do we monitor the use of music (like BMI or ASCAP does). Bandbasher offers a platform to learn the music business, network with other creatives, and create projects in a secure and stress-free environment.

Our main purpose is to educate and provide a strong foundation for every independent artist by teaching you the main ideas in publishing, contracts, and many other things you’ll need to know.

It’s a big business, the creation and consumption of music, and we’re here to help.

Step one in making money from your music is distributing it. Whether you make physical copies or make it available for download, this video gives you options. See our video on Music Distribution for more info on the topic!