How Music Publishers Make Money For Songwriters
The value of the Nigerian music industry has increased over the years because there are so many opportunities in it.
Today, songwriters no longer need to start out as performers in order to succeed in the music business because of the concept of music publishing. Some of Afrobeats hit tracks are not written by the artistes who perform them.
So how does music publishing work?
A song is written and recorded during the song-creation process; thus the song is divided into the recording of the song, known as the master, and the rights to the song itself, known as the publishing. Publishing is the act of commercially leveraging the music of composers and songwriters and getting them paid for it. This can be done by the writers themselves or by an assigned representative of the publisher.
The purpose of music publishing firms is to identify chances to manage the songs while generating more revenue, and from there, they collect and distribute the money. There are numerous avenues where music must be used, and whenever it is, someone is paid whether it be for use on film, radio, television, applications, video games, or television commercials.
Godwin Tom, managing director of Sony Music Publishing Nigeria, said recently on a Twitter Space that publishing companies perform the same duties. “There’s one of three things they may be good at which they normally do. One is the administration, which is to collect revenue on your behalf. So you sign a contract with them, they go find your money and they pay you. So the job of the publisher is to protect the interest of the composer because that’s how the publishing company makes its money. ”
There are three basic types of publishers. The first is described as an administrator, usually an individual or small company that provides a service or a small commission to the songwriter by handling all aspects of the registration, licensing, and collection processes.
The second type is called independent, which offers the same services as an administrator, but also provides creative services and offers competitive advances to songwriters. Their client lists would usually be made up of mid-level artists plus talented songwriters and producers.
The third type is called majors, which most big stars align themselves with; some of them are Universal, Warner Chappell, Sony, BMG, and EMI, and they pay millions of dollars and advances to the songwriters and artistes in order to maintain their market share. In recent years, the popularity of Afrobeats has drawn the attention of some of these majors who now have a presence in Nigeria.
It’s vital to understand the difference between the masters of the song and the publishing rights of the song, so that when someone chooses to use the cover of your songs or lyrics of your songs, then they have to pay the owner of the publishing rights.
The most crucial factor to consider is copyright and who owns the copyright of a song in order for the right to the publishing of a song to exist. According to copyright law, once a song is written, it automatically becomes your property. But you must provide proof of copyright in order to assert your ownership of the song. The technology of timestamps on your phone, or computer, and uploads to social media accounts like Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook will play a huge part in proving that you were first when it came to writing or recording the song, making it much easier in today’s society to establish ownership of a song.
Before using a song in a creative way, users must have a licence, which details the payment made to the publishing rights holders. The deal, the length of time the music is utilised, and the size of the audience the song will reach are just a few of the many variables that affect the amount that is paid.
“The other thing they do is called creative services, which are ensuring that they are able to plug your music and most of the time, they do this for higher percentages; depending on the amount of involvement and work they have to do for you, they would ask for more. This is not peculiar to publishing companies as the same applies to distributors and labels. So if a company is going to use more of its resources on your behalf, they are going to ask for more in return,” Tom said.
Although not common in Nigeria, so many international artists over the last few years have sold the rights to a lot of their music to publishing companies. Justin Bieber recently sold publishing copyrights to his 290-song back catalogue to Hipgnosis, a music publishing company, for $200 million. The reason publishing companies buy music catalogues is that they will manage that music and find new opportunities to make money from it.
Part of the business of publishing companies is managing talent who are writers who get signed on to a publishing company; the writer then becomes an asset to the company the same way the music catalogues are assets. The publishing company can recommend the songwriter to artistes to co-write songs to make the music better and collect their share of the royalties from the publishing and pay the songwriter, depending on the agreement of the deal with the company.
How do you get a publishing deal?
You need exceptional songs or a catalogue that people would pay attention to in order to land a publishing deal; this catalogue is referred to as leverage. When a songwriter collaborates on songs with several performers over time, they can utilise that leverage to negotiate better terms with publishing houses.
If you are not a well-known songwriter, this is one technique to gain good leverage working with upcoming artists over a long period and build good leverage if those artists decide to record those songs you co-wrote with them when they hit stardom.
Another approach is through industry lawyers, who are aware that part of their profession requires them to be well-versed in both the music business and current hot names. They take their time listening to the songwriters’ presentations before accepting their offer to solicit publishing houses on their behalf.
Publishers are incentivised to exploit the works they represent because they receive a share of the copyright or control over it. The share attributed to the publisher varies in different domains, with the standard in the US being 50 percent of the composition.
Janet Odunoye, a lawyer involved in licencing and publishing admin at PlugNG, said that in Nigeria, the industry standard is pretty much 50-50 between the composer and publishing company. “However, depending on what is stated on the publishing deal agreement, the ratio could be more for the composer and lesser for the publishing company.”
“An upcoming artiste or composer can decide to settle for 50-50 or 60-40 because the bargaining power isn’t so much on his side and he needs the publishing company more than they need him. A big artiste like Asake, Davido, Burna Boy or Wizkid might not want to settle for such because they are big and they make a lot from publishing; they might negotiate for 90-10 or 90-20 percentage ratio if they are feeling generous,” Odunoye added.