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Music Publishers: What They Do
by Jeffrey & Todd Brabec

To better understand the role of the music publisher (which is, in effect, that of an agent, manager, lawyer, and business advisor to the songwriter), the following represents a brief summary of some of the music publisher's responsibilities:

Singles and Albums:

One of the primary roles of the publisher is to secure commercially released recordings of the songs it controls. The publisher must have an effective staff of professional managers (those who actually promote the songs) who not only know what artists are recording and the type of material needed for a particular session, but who also have a good working relationship with record company A&R executives, producers, recording artists, and managers.

After a song has been initially recorded and released, the publisher will try to secure commitments from other recording artists or producers to include the composition on future albums or singles. To accomplish this, the publisher may re-demo the song with a different arrangement to adapt it 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).

The test of a good publisher is not necessarily how many records by other artists it can secure during or immediately after a particular song is on the charts (although that is extremely important), but also the number of records it can secure during the many years following a song's initial chart activity. It is not unusual for a strong publisher to get hundreds of separate recordings of a good song. Continual song promotion represents one of the real services of a music publisher.

Proper Administration:

Another necessary and important service provided by the publisher is that of proper administration of musical compositions: registering copyrights, filing necessary information to mechanical and performing rights organizations, auditing record companies and other licensees, bookkeeping, negotiating licenses, checking the correctness of incoming royalty statements, and collecting monies due. Considering the complexity of the music industry, the hundreds of thousands of music users throughout the world, the lack of detail on many royalty statements from licensees, and the amounts of money involved ($500,000 to $1 million being not unusual for a worldwide hit song), this service is vital.

Television and Movie Music:

Another important area of concentration is the promotion of songs for television series, made-for-TV movies, and theatrical motion pictures. Standard and contemporary songs are a mainstay of these media, and whether the song is used as a theme, background music, trailer, or actually sung or performed on camera, the writer's and publisher's earnings can be substantial.

For example, 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. Since many films have soundtrack albums and hit singles, additional royalties will be generated by tape and CD sales, digital subscription services, licensed downloads and streaming, as well as from radio and television performances of the songs on the soundtrack. When the motion picture is finally broadcast on one of the television networks as the "Movie of the Week" or on one of the pay television services (e.g., HBO, Showtime, the Movie Channel), additional royalties will be distributed by ASCAP and BMI. And after its initial network or pay television broadcast, a movie may be shown for years on local off-the-air or cable television stations throughout the world, with additional royalties being generated.


An important activity for the publisher is the promotion of songs for use as part of advertising campaigns. There has been a growing tendency on the part of advertising agencies to use well-known songs (standards, Broadway music, classic rock, contemporary hits) as important parts of their promotional messages.

Infringement Actions:

An important responsibility of the publisher is protecting its copyrights and enforcing the exclusive rights that it has been granted by the songwriter and the copyright laws. Considering the number of actual and potential users of songs throughout the world (record companies, film producers, television companies, video distributors, book publishers, sheet music firms, Web sites, magazines, video and audio sing-along booths, jukebox operators, restaurants, retail stores, theatrical productions), this responsibility is both far-reaching and difficult. The good publisher will spend a great deal of time and money to ensure that its songs are not used without permission and compensation.

© Jeff Brabec, Todd Brabec.
This article is based on information contained in the book "Music, Money, And Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Industry" written by Jeffrey Brabec and Todd Brabec (Published by Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales/435 pages).