Growth Group | Accounting for Musicians

Songwriting Publishing Deals Are Bad Business

“Publishing deals are for broke songwriters.” This is what a grammy-nominated songwriter told me last week, while discussing what the music industry has taught her over the years. As her accountant, all I can do is smile and agree, here’s why:

song publishing pitfalls

1. Advance Royalties are Like High-Interest Loans

For example, a publisher gives you a one-time $15,000 check, and in return you give away 50% of your income from the song – for LIFE! Plus, until the publisher receives the advance songwriter royalty back in full, you receive no more money. Based on the example, this means that you will not receive another payment until that hit song reaches over $30k in royalties, if ever!

For comparison purposes, a publishing deal is much like a payday loan. You receive cash today and then pay enormous amounts of interest. The disadvantage of the publishing deal is that songwriters never stop paying the publisher, the publishing company will receive income for the life of the song. Generally $1 for you, $1 for them, all because of that lump-sum of cash they agreed to front you originally.

2. Publishers Do Not Pitch Your Songs

There just aren’t enough pluggers for the amount of songs owned by publishing companies. Your songs are generally not the publisher’s priority, therefore you’ll often be required to pitch your music on your own to win.

As a songwriter, you are an entrepreneur, and your products are the songs you write. Who better to market and sell your material than the one who created it? YOU! While it may take longer to receive cash, the pay-off will be more rewarding with a hit when self-publishing. Why? Because you keep 100% of the income from your art.

3. Songwriter Signs Away Copyrights to Publisher

For some songwriters, especially the newer ones, publishers request full copyright ownership. This leaves the songwriter with no rights to their creative property. Therefore, if you sign an agreement with the publisher and income from the song (such as sync licensing) occurs, you do not receive any income. Instead, the publishing company receives the cash from the film makers for the use of your song, if your contract only pays you royalty income.

I encourage you to explore all of your options before choosing to give away your future income and rights in exchange for a publishing deal. If you decide linking up with a publisher is best for your songwriting career, after doing your research, go for it! Just remember, in order to receive something, you have to give something. So, if you want upfront cash, expect to give long-term commitments of income.

Have you received a publishing deal for your songwriting? If so, would you accept another deal in the future?