regularly put you in writing sessions with songwriters and producers if you ’ re an artist , or if you ’ re a songwriter , they should put you in writing sessions with artists and producers . They should pitch your music for inclusion in television , films , and commercials . Publishers should earn the right to collect a share . But how do you make sure a publisher is working for you from the outset ?
When you sign a publishing or a label deal , it ’ s very much like a marriage . Publishing deals are often for multiple years , so you want to be sure you know who you ’ re getting into business with or you might find your publisher sitting on their hands and collecting a percentage on your work while you hustle to find writing sessions yourself .
Normally publishing companies will try to woo you before you sign with them so you can get a sense of the opportunities that they will provide . They might put you in sessions , introduce you to some of their clients , or introduce you to their team . So , write a list of questions to ask , and here are a few that I find helpful :
For one , determine how big their sync team is . How many people are on their team ? What do they all do ? Ask them to name some of the placements they ’ ve secured over the past six months . Ask them to name some of the other artists , producers , or writers signed to them . Call the management teams of the other artists , writers , and producers that are signed to the publisher to ask what their experience has been like . And don ’ t just call one of them , call at least three . It ’ s important to sign with the right team for you , and asking these questions will save you headaches down the line .
Once you get a contract from the publisher , realize that the attorney who drafted the contract for the publisher is normally going to put in terms that benefit the publisher because , after all , they ’ re hired by the publisher . Makes sense , right ? If you want changes , you have to ask for them . Don ’ t be shy ! Hire a representative that understands publishing deals and advocate for yourself ! Here are a few tips :
ADVANCES An advance is not a gift , it ’ s more like a loan . Publishers and labels are in the business to make money , and not to give it away . The royalties you earn pay back the loan . So , if you receive a dollar , the publisher will take their 25 % fee ( half of the publishing ) and the balance ( or 75 cents ) will be applied against the money the publisher advanced to you . Depending on your standing in the music industry and how much bargaining power you have , sometimes only the publisher share will be applied to your advance , but for most people , the publisher and writers share are applied .
Advance money is a reminder of how important it is to know what your publisher is doing for you ! Your advance isn ’ t free money , so if your publisher isn ’ t doing much to help your career , your advance is not going to be recouped ( or paid off ).
One provision you want to include in a publishing deal is the ability to pay off your advance so you can have your catalogue back . The amount you pay back is not going to be the amount you owe , but something like 110 % of what is owed . And again , if you don ’ t ask , your publisher is likely not going to include these provisions , which means your catalogue will be tied up forever ( possibly ). And with the years , it could just collect dust !
ADD A “ CATCH-ALL ” PHRASE As you may understand , with changing technology we cannot always predict what medium a composition could be used in in the future . As such , normally when I get a publishing deal from a publisher ’ s attorney , I see a phrase that states you , the “ creator ,” are entitled to a share of monies from sources specifically set-forth and outlined in the contract . That isn ’ t to your advantage as there could be different sources of income not specifically outlined in the contract or sources not anticipated and later developed . Instead , add that you get 50 % of “ all other monies not referred to in this agreement .”
GET A REVERSION You know that phrase , “ If you don ’ t use it , you lose it ?” It very much applies to publishing deals ! When you ask for a “ reversion ,” it means that if a publisher doesn ’ t exploit , license , or generate any income with the composition , then the composition , after a period of time , should revert back to you . Publishers should not have a right to collect your songs and have them sit in their catalogue if they ’ re not helping you make money with those songs . We call those people song sharks . Here are a few types of reversions :
• Automatic Reversion : An automatic reversion is when a songwriter with a lot of bargaining power can ask for reversion of all compositions , whether or not the compositions are recorded .
• Partial Reversions : this means you get back administration rights to your share of the composition , but the publisher keeps the administration of theirs . For example , if you have half of the publisher ’ s share and all the writer ’ s share , you get 75 % of the song ’ s income . A partial reversion gives you the right to administer 75 % of your share , but publisher keeps administration of their 25 %.
Sometimes publishers will agree to a reversion , but make it tough for you by requiring that you provide them with written notice to get the songs back on a particular date or within a particular period of time . Make sure to put that date in your calendar right after you sign the agreement . Set an alarm on your iPhone , call your lawyer , tell your mom to remind you ; whatever you have to do !
Before we wrap up , here are a few other quick tips to keep in mind :
Share of publishing company advances : You should share in advances and guarantees that are specifically for owner ’ s composition .
No “ Sweetheart ” deals : This means that if the publishing company is affiliated with a record company , there should not be any “ sweetheart ” licences , or licenses at less than a customary rate . Licenses between publisher and affiliate companies should be at “ arms-length ”.
Children in music : If you ’ re a minor or parent when the publisher wants to sign you / your child , the publisher may seek something called affirmation of a minor ’ s contract . Make sure that if the publisher seeks judicial approval of the publishing agreement , that the publisher pays any attorney fees and costs .
With this knowledge in your back pocket , your publisher will earn their share and work for YOU ! I hope your next song goes Diamond faster than “ Old Town Road !” Be blessed !
Dani Oliva is an artist advocate , speaker , and music attorney focused on helping talented creators thrive in the music business . Follow him @ olivaesq and find out more at www . olivaesq . com .
Sindee Levin is an entertainment lawyer and music publishing administrator with more than 30 year of experience . Find out more at www . sindeelevinmusic . com .
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 11