Do you have all the tools you need? It works in that same general way with songwriters and publishers. If a songwriter has all of the tools they need to publish and do the administration for their song catalogues, they have access to all of the things they need to register songs, collect money and license their music, and they have been trained in how to make sure all of those things are done correctly, then they surely don’t NEED a publisher. Although these trainings and making the connections and take almost a life time to get accessible and it is not as easy as it looks to be, and the publishers and at times producers basically spend their life time learning experiences and making the right connections for this. Writers might decide that it’s not worth their time to do all of this paperwork, but they probably COULD if they wanted to. On the other hand, most of writers don’t know how to license songs, negotiate sync fees, register songs with PROs, pay out for demo splits, or collect money – especially from foreign sources. So, they need either a publisher or an admin company to do those things for them.
Admin vs. Publisher. Admin companies typically charge 15-20% of the money they collect to provide all of those services. Publishers, if they do a “full publishing” deal are taking 50% of the song. The big difference is that admin companies don’t own any of the song. They are just getting paid from income that comes through while they are doing the admin. Publishers actually own 50% of the song, and they own the controlling interest of the song. In exchange for that higher ownership interest, the publisher has a lot more incentive to get your song recorded. So, publishers usually provide song pitching services and writer “management” type services. That would include developing their writers and setting them up with opportunities. As a songwriter advances in their career with some success, they are usually able to progress to a co-publishing deal in which the writer only gives up half of the publishing or 25% of the song. If you have a good publisher and they are working hard for you, then a writer with a co-pub deal is really only giving up around 5% more income than they would with an admin company.
Seldom is it smart to jump on the first offer. A bad mechanic is way worse than no mechanic and can cost you more in the long run than starting with a good one. The same goes for publishers. Don’t jump on the first offer you get from a publisher without checking them out thoroughly and without getting a lawyer to review your contract. I for example did the same mistake. I jumped into my first publishing contract because I was very excited about it and signed with a representor of a giant publishing labels (one of the 3 main labels in the world). But I rushed into it and it was a huge mistake which wasted 3 years of my life. The publisher promised a lot and delivered literally nothing! During these 3 years I pitched around 500 songs and I got zero cut. Earned not even a single cent! But the publisher used my songs and sold them to artists under his own name and claimed he wrote those songs (which I got to know about it much later) and earned a very decent money. After this incident I checked my contract with a lawyer, which I had to do so before signing the contract, and based on the contract there was nothing I could do about it!
Each writer has to decide on their own what the value of a publisher is to them. If you can define what you need most from a publisher, it can help you sort out which publishers you should even consider. Or if you need to consider one at all.
Hangi Tavakoli is our in-house established and professional music producer with 20 years of experience in songwriting, music production, mix and mastering. He has written and produced more than 5,000 published songs to-date, including some major hits in international scale.