Whenever a song is licensed for use in television, a performance royalty is generated every time the song airs. Performance royalties consist of two halves, a writer’s share and a publisher’s share. Half of the royalty goes to the writer and the other half goes to the publisher. Unless you assign your publishing to someone else (a publisher or library), by default you are also the songs publisher and are entitled to the publishing royalty as well as the writer’s royalty.
However, in order to receive the publishing half of the performance royalty, you need to set up a separate publishing entity, apart from your writer membership, with your PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc) in order to receive the publisher’s share of the performance royalty. This is easy to do and anyone can become a publisher. If you’re an ASCAP member it will cost you a one-time fee of $50.00, separate from your writer membership. If you’re with BMI, it will cost you $150.00. It's free to create a publisher account with SESAC.
Join ASCAP as a publisher here:
Join BMI as a publisher here:
How to become a publisher with SESAC:
When To Set Up A Publishing Company
If you’re licensing music through a publisher who takes 100% of your publishing income, you don’t necessarily need to register as a publisher. I licensed music for years through one publisher who took all my publishing income. During this period I didn’t have a publishing company to collect my publishing royalties, since 100% of my publishing royalties went to my publisher, since I worked exclusively with one publisher for many years.
Since then, I’ve signed with a variety of different libraries and companies, including several other agencies that don’t take any publishing at all, and strictly share in any upfront sync fees my tracks generate. For these placements, I’ve set up a publishing company to make sure I get both the writer and publisher’s share of any royalties my tracks generate.
If you’re licensing music through any agencies or libraries that either don’t take any publishing income, or only take a percentage of your publishing income (eg. 50%), than you should set up a separate publishing entity to collect your publishing royalties owed to you. If you don’t do this, your PRO won’t know who to distribute these funds to and you’ll be leaving money on the table.
Registering Titles As A Publisher
When you function as your own publisher, when you register your titles, you’ll also need to list your publishing company as the designated publisher when you register the titles with your PRO. If you don’t list your publishing company as the publisher and simply leave this field blank, your PRO will have no way of knowing who to send the publishing royalties to, so be sure to list your publishing company as the designated publisher for titles that you are planning to self-publish.
Picking A Name
When you sign up as a publisher, you’ll have the option of choosing whatever name you want for your “publishing company”. I simply went with “Aaron Davison Music” (ASCAP) for my publishing company. Most of the music I publish is my own, so I decided to keep the name simple and straightforward. You could certainly be more creative than this if you choose, and if you plan on representing a variety of artists and building a brand around your publishing company, than it would make sense to put more thought into your publishing name and choose a name that’s more representative of your brand. You’ll have the ability to check the availability of any name or names you come up with for your publishing company when you’re setting it up with your PRO.
Anyone can set up a publishing company. It’s easy, painless and the cost is minimal (or free in the case of SESAC). Filling out the application and registering with ASCAP took about five minutes and 50 dollars. I was approved instantly and received my publisher account number and info immediately. If you’re planning on licensing a lot of music through a variety of channels, then setting up your own publishing company is a no brainer.
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So you’ve spent a few months in the studio, meticulously crafting a collection of amazing songs that you’ve poured your heart and soul into. You’ve mixed and mastered your music diligently and you’ve played your songs for friends and family, who all agree you’ve created nothing short of a masterpiece. You’re extremely excited and proud of the music that you’ve spent so much time and energy creating. Now what?
Well, if music licensing is your goal, now is the time to embark on a “Music Licensing Campaign”. This is the part of the process where you shift your energy away from the actual writing and production of your music to focusing on the business part of music licensing. In my last blog post I talked about how I shift back and forth between periods of music creation and music marketing, where I’m focused more on the business side of music.
A music licensing campaign is a deliberate, well planned and well strategized period of time where you focus on the goal of licensing your music. The focus during this period is connecting your music with the right companies and the right people who can help you move forward.
Here are some key things to consider when embarking on a Music Licensing Campaign:
Have Clearly Defined Goals – First and foremost, before you do anything else, sit down and clearly define your goals. Are you hoping to get your music placed in tv shows? Films? Ads? Do you know where your music best fits? Are you going after high end placements or “low hanging fruit”? Do you make production music that best works in the background or is your music better suited for “big sync” like films and ads?
If you’re new to sync licensing you might not know the answers to all these questions. Spend some time really researching and thinking about what your specific goals are related to music licensing. There is a broad range of music that is licensed in a broad range of different projects and mediums. Figure out what areas you’re most interested in pursuing, based on the kind of music you make and your specific goals, and pitch your music accordingly. Don’t just blindly pitch your music anywhere and everywhere.
Research The Types Of Companies You Want To Approach – Once you’ve determined what your specific goals are related to licensing, the next step is to find libraries and agencies that are congruent with your goals. It doesn’t make sense to just throw your music randomly against the wall and see what sticks. This could actually backfire if you end up signing your tracks to music libraries that are actively undercutting other higher end libraries and agencies.
There’s a case to be made for both going after a high volume of low paying placements for something like production music and going after higher end, more lucrative placements in films and ads. But it doesn’t really make sense to try and do both simultaneously, with the same tracks. Figure out the kind of placements you are most interested in going after and the kinds of placements your music would work best for and pitch your music accordingly.
For example, if you want to pursue high end, lucrative placements in films and ads, then you should narrow your library and agency search criteria to those types of companies. It’s pretty easy to figure out the sorts of placements companies specialize in by looking at their website and their list of credits and placements. Look for places you think you would be a good fit for in terms of your goals as well as the kind of music you make.
Make Sure Your Website, Social Media And Tracks Are In Order – Prior to launching your campaign, make sure everything is in order in terms of your tracks, your initial email pitch, your website, bio, social media presence, etc. The more “on point” your entire presentation is, the more receptive people will be. If you know you need to tighten up your online presentation, do this first, before you start reaching out. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Stop And Reflect – After a period of three to four weeks of actively pitching your tracks, stop and reflect on what’s working and what’s not working. Have you been getting a lot of interest? Has the feedback been positive? Mixed? Negative? What areas can you improve upon for your next campaign? Are there certain things that seem to be consistently holding you back?
I ended a campaign recently that went really well. I signed with three new companies that specialize in film and advertising placements. One was exclusive for three tracks, and two others were non-exclusive for 15 tracks. There was one other company that was also very promising that expressed interest in my music initially but wanted more links to my social media, Spotify, etc. After sending the requested links I didn’t hear back from them. It could be that they’re simply busy and haven’t had a chance to respond yet. Or it could be that they looked at my social media metrics and didn’t want to move forward based on something they saw.
Either way, I have a new goal to work on for my next campaign and I have more clarity around what areas to focus on and I'll plan to improve my social media and online presence going forward. To a certain extent, it is primarily about the music when it comes to licensing. If the music isn’t right, nothing else you do will really matter. But other factors play a role as well. Having strong social media and an overall solid marketing campaign will help “seal the deal” in terms of winning people over and encouraging people to want to work with you.
Bottom line: You’re not going to be a good fit for everyone, but the more on point both your music and overall marketing is, the more companies will want to get behind you. Leave no stone unturned.
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