Signing contracts in the music industry is often perceived as a frightening prospect, whether it be a record, publishing or management deal, to name a few. People often avoid the conversation through fear of being ripped off or losing the rights to their music. The best thing that you can do as an artist is educate yourself in all parts of the industry. Consequently, you will reduce the chances of being taken advantage of and feel confident when negotiating a deal. Throughout this blog, we will assess the pros and cons of signing a publishing deal and when you are ready to sign one.
Publishing contracts can vary greatly across the board, from exclusive contracts for long terms or non-exclusive contacts for short periods of time. For a definition of the key terms in publishing see our previous blog: “An Independent Songwriters’ Guide to Music Publishing”.
Why are people wary?
You may feel apprehensive when being approached by a music publisher who wants to sign you. But, a good publisher will be there to develop and nurture your talent and help you progress throughout your career. Signing with the right music publisher can be the start of a mutually beneficial, long-lasting relationship that helps you as a writer flourish artistically and financially.
What are the possible benefits of signing a publishing deal?
- Time – whilst your music publisher deals with the administrative side of things, you have more time to focus on creating new music.
- A chance – if you’re at an early stage in your career, it’s a foot in the door!
- An advance, which you can put towards developing your career. It may also give you the opportunity to give up the day job and fully dedicate your time to music.
- Demo budget – they can help to fund the recording of your demos if you don’t have a home studio.
- Finding opportunities for your songs. Relying on their strong relationships with record labels, producers and artists.
- Sync representation.
- Artist development – some music publishers are very hands on with their artist development. They will put you forward for events, send you to training events and songwriter retreats.
- New writing opportunities including co-writing sessions and writing for other artists.
- Access to the music publisher’s network of contacts.
- They make sure you get paid!
- Validation/Recognition – it can make you feel good about your music and motivate you to work harder and pursue songwriting seriously.
What are the potential cons of signing a publishing deal?
- You lose a percentage of your royalties.
- If you’ve been paid an advance, this is effectively a loan which is recoupable. So, you will need to make this money back and more in order to see any future royalties.
- There is a lot of competition! There are more songs than there are publishing companies. It is a good idea to continue pitching your own songs to cover as much ground as possible.
- If you sign to the wrong publisher, you could be tied into a long term contract with a company that doesn’t prioritise your music and you’re not happy working with.
What you need to consider…
Although this all sounds great, you need to take some time to seriously consider if you are ready for a publishing contract. Some good indicators include when you’re receiving a regular, significant amount of royalties, you have experience in pitching your songs and have arranged many co-writes yourself. Once you have taken your career as far as you can and you feel as though you need help to reach the next level, it’s likely that you’re ready to work with a publisher.
In an ideal world, publishers are already contacting you at this point because you have created a buzz around your music. Then you need to consider whether the publisher is a good fit for you both personally and musically. Meet them, does it feel right and natural, like you could have an ongoing professional relationship with them? Do they have artists similar to your sound? Are you better off signing to major or an indie publisher?
Overall, there are many things to consider when signing a publishing contract. Although working with a music publisher can bring many benefits and springboard your career to the next level. It is worth taking the time to consider if you are ready for that step up and if the music publisher is a good fit for your music and ethos.