The Role of Music Publishers

In the age of popular music, the music publisher quite often discovered, recorded, supported and promoted songwriters for their entire career. Dick James, an English Music Publisher, got Lennon and McCartney their first cover recordings before they became huge international artists. He repeated the feat again by turning Reginald Dwight into Elton John. Barry Gordy promoted and developed a stable of young black Detroit songwriters and performers into worldwide hit-makers. The songs are still alive long after the artists have retired.

One of the primary roles of the publisher is to secure commercially released recordings of the songs in its catalogue. It is necessary to have a good working relationship with record company A&R executives, producers, recording artists, and managers. Securing ‘cover’ recordings from other recording artists or producers may include the re-recording of the song for promotion in markets other than that in which it had its initial success (for example, changing the sound from rock ‘n’ roll to country). Continual song promotion represents one of the real services of a music publisher long after the original recording was issued.

An important part of the music publishers duties is that of proper administration of musical compositions which includes registering copyrights, updating information at mechanical and performing rights organizations, auditing record companies and other licensees, accounting and bookkeeping, negotiating licenses, checking the correctness of incoming royalty statements, and collecting monies due and, most importantly, paying and accounting to the songwriter(s). This service is essential.

Synchronization rights and the promotion of songs for a television series, videos and full length theatrical movies are important uses and a key revenue source. New song material and standard songs together with the original recordings are in demand today by all media companies and the writer’s and publisher’s earnings can be substantial.

A song used in a motion picture earns an initial synchronization fee for its inclusion in the film. If the motion picture is shown in a foreign country, the song will earn performance royalties. Soundtrack albums and hit singles with additional royalties will be generated by physical sales, digital subscription services, licensed downloads and streaming, as well as from radio and television performances of the songs on the soundtrack. Network Televison broadcast or on one of the pay television services (e.g., Netflix, HBO, Crave TV, the Movie Channel) will generate performance royalties distributed by your PRO. Additional royalties could continue for years on local off-the-air or cable television stations performances throughout the world.

A music publisher has the responsibility to protect its copyrights and enforce the exclusive rights that it has been granted by the songwriter and the copyright laws. This responsibility is both far-reaching and difficult. There are potentially hundreds of users and uses throughout the world and the good publisher will spend a great deal of time and money to ensure that its songs are not used without permission and compensation.

A new generation and changing music tastes will renew the music landscape. The new Music Publisher must be a music person foremost but also the role could include that of manager, lawyer, agent and business advisor to the songwriter. There are many creative ways to find and develop a catalogue of music copyrights and as new digital rights reforms are embedded in copyright laws throughout the world a new age will dawn for those willing to take the opportunities ahead.

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