Bespoke gets a lot of emails every week enquiring about publishing – some with specific questions on what publishing is, others asking to meet to chat through publishing, some asking to be published by Bespoke. We love to empower the songwriter… so much so that they might not even need us for any of these! Do you even need a publishing deal? Here are a few things you can do to get off the ground without one and hopefully put a bit more money back in your pocket.
Remember: publishing money is owed anytime your song is ‘used’. So the only question is – are your songs being used?
ARE YOU SONGS BEING PERFORMED LIVE?
By you or anyone else – you can collect money for these performances through PRS. It’s now £100 to join, but this can be earned back with approx 17 gigs in UK small venues (club size). Not bad, eh? You get 100% of the royalties without a publisher and everyone from Paul McCartney to Joey McJoeFace is a member of PRS. I mean, EVERYONE. If you do any songwriting in any form you’ll need to be a member, if you’re published or not yet. There’s literally no reason not to be. If you see your songwriting growing, or having any kind of career in music, it’s worth becoming a member sooner rather than later.
You can also get ‘public performance’ royalties for YouTube plays, Spotify and Soundcloud streams, as well as from other digital stores (all additional to the sales/direct streaming revenue), so SIGN UP!
ARE YOUR SONGS REPRODUCED AS SHEET MUSIC/CHORD CHARTS?
The right to reproduce any part of your song – digital or physical, lyrics, melody or chords – belongs to the writer (before publishing). No one can reproduce the song in these forms without your permission, or they need to licence the right from you, and pay ya for it! You can legally demand digital chord charts, lyric reprints, guitar tabs of your song be taken down.
Any physical print form is unlikely to happen without the book publisher getting in touch (with a licensing offer) so shouldn’t be any legal battles there, and this is also only likely to happen when a music publisher is pushing for it. So then it’s up to you where you allow the lyrics/chords/melody to be reproduced and for what rate. Is it a good marketing opportunity? Will it build the profile of the song? Will it help the song be covered/performed by others? Removing illegal versions also drives people to the legal ones where you get the profile or the royalty. Run a tight ship.
DO YOUR SONGS GET RADIO/TV PLAY?
Every little bit of airplay (radio and TV) generates a royalty. How does this get paid? Through our old friend, PRS. A single Radio 1 play can be worth around £60 for the writer, and all you need to do is sign up to PRS. If you know your song has been played on a smaller station (or even a BBC Introducing station) you can report it to PRS and they will chase that income for you. Every play generates a royalty, so make sure it’s coming back to your bank account and not just sat unclaimed at PRS.
PRS has an unclaimed royalties list; have a check regularly to see if anything of yours has been reported but not correctly associated to you.
HAVE YOUR SONGS BEEN RECORDED AND RELEASED?
… by you or by anyone else? If so the recording will be generating mechanical royalties – owed by the record label (whoever owns/released the recordings) to you as a writer. These tend to be collected through MCPS – it’s only £50 to join as a writer and, before a publishing deal, 100% of those royalties go to you.
For physical albums manufactured in the UK the label pays MCPS – or you directly (or your publisher) – a rate of roughly 8.5% (the dealer price of the physical product, pro rated to the number of tracks, and your songwriting split on those tracks). For digital sales the stores (iTunes, Amazon etc.) pay MCPS direct at the point of sale, excluding the US where you need to go direct to the label/whoever released the tracks. Going direct to a label is tricky, particularly if it’s a major (though your music is unlikely to be released by a major without a publishing deal in place) so this is where getting a publisher on board comes in handy.
If you’ve self-released your music you won’t need to worry about mechanical royalties from US sales as they’ll automatically filter back to you in the sales revenue. For UK digital sales simply sign up to MCPS. Some manufacturers wont let you press CDs/vinyl until they know you’ll be paying MCPS the mechanical royalty, but you can get an exemption from MCPS if you’re also the publisher/song copyright owner – otherwise the money just travels to MCPS and back again minus their admin fee.
As with PRS there’s also an unclaimed royalties section on the MCPS website to make sure you haven’t missed any releases.
ARE YOUR SONGS SUNG IN CHURCHES OR SCHOOLS?
Songs performed live as ‘acts of worship’ are excluded for owing royalties through PRS. However (as with the reproduction of your music in print), the reproduction/projection/
STUFF YOU WILL NEED A PUBLISHER FOR
We’ve touched on a few of these – some the publisher is essential for and some are just very unlikely to happen without a publisher backing you, pushing your songs and collecting money on your behalf. These include:
- Print deals with book publishers (sheet music, lyrics, chords)
- US mechanical royalties direct from other labels
- Synchronisation – licensing and accompanying royalties (though you can still collect any subsequent arising PRS royalties)
The administrative part of a publisher’s role (the only part if you want/have an admin deal) is to collect all the monies for all the above uses on your behalf and pay them to you (minus a 10-20% cut for doing so). In a full blown publishing deal it’s the publishers job to increase the frequency of the uses in addition to administrating the financials. You’ll want a publishing deal if you want all the above uses increased beyond what you can do yourself, but until then there’s a lot to be getting on with to make sure any money you do generate flows back to you correctly.
Note that in the UK there is no need to (and no mechanism to) register the copyright. As soon as the work exists in any form the copyright for the work is automatically owned by the author (and that ‘form’ of the work is owned by whoever paid to make that ‘form’ of the work).
Another guide going over similar stuff – how to make some money out of publishing without a deal:
A GENIUS map of the whole music industry, how each entity interacts together and where the moolah flows from and to: