In exchange for this, the publisher generally pays the writer a monthly “advance” to help them survive until they get some royalties coming in. When the royalties do come in, the publisher gets to recoup those advances and any demo costs (the publisher pays these as you demo songs) BEFORE the writer actually sees any of the money. So, let’s say, a writer has been paid $10,000 in advances and has a demo tab of $5000 when they land a Carrie Underwood cut. The first $15,000 that the publisher collects would go to the publisher to pay back that debt. If another $5000 rolls in, the publisher would keep $2500 for the publishing share and pay the writer $2500 for their writer’s share. Recouping a catalogue is important for that reason. Until the catalogue is recouped, you are spending your money in “advance”, so you’re always in a hole.
In addition, the publisher provides services to the writer such as song administration, filing copyrights, licensing, registering songs with PROs and pitching songs. Good publishers often act as writer managers by setting their writers up for advantageous co-writes and helping their writers develop their craft. The staff writer is expected to meet a quota. Generally the quota is 12 wholly written songs. If I write with two other writers, that counts as one third of a song. So, I generally have to write 25-30 songs in a year to meet my quota. The writer is also expected to turn in everything they write and to work at doing everything they can do to help get songs recorded.
A staff writing deal is very much like a marriage. A great one is the best thing that ever happened to you. A bad one can be the worst. ALWAYS consult an entertainment attorney before you sign a staff writing deal (or any legal document). Make sure you know and understand what you are getting into.
Hangi Tavakoli is our in-house established and professional music producer with more than 18 years of experience in songwriting, music production, mix and mastering. He has produced more than 3,000 and written more than 4,800 published songs to-date, including some major hits in international scale.