Music Publishing 101

Understanding music publishing can be quite a puzzle, especially with all the technical jargon out there. So, let’s break it down into very simple terms.

What is Music Publishing?

At its core, music publishing is about the rights and royalties associated with the composition of a song. This includes the melody, lyrics, and the overall structure of the song. It’s not about the recording of the song (which is the record label’s territory), but the actual music and lyrics themselves.

The Role of a Music Publisher

A music publisher’s job is to ensure that songwriters and composers get paid when their music is used. This can be when the song is played on the radio, performed live, used in a movie or TV show, or even when it’s streamed online. They manage the rights to the song and take care of licensing, making sure that the appropriate parties pay for using the music.

SOURCE: What is Music Publishing? Defining Licensing, Placements & Syncs

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs): BMI, ASCAP, SESAC

This is where Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) like BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and SESAC come into play. These organizations are responsible for collecting performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers.

When a song is played publicly – say, on the radio, at a concert, or in a restaurant – these organizations make sure that the songwriter and publisher get paid. They track where, when, and how often the song is played and distribute royalties accordingly.

ISRC vs Music Publishing

While the ISRC is focused on the recording of a song, music publishing deals with the composition (lyrics and melody). However, they are both part of the larger ecosystem that ensures music creators and rights holders are compensated for the use of their work.

Music Publishing is Not…

  1. Record Labels: Record labels deal with the recording of a song, including the production, promotion, and distribution of albums. Music publishing, on the other hand, is all about the song’s composition and lyrics.
  2. Direct Song Sales: Music publishing doesn’t involve direct sales of songs to listeners (like selling albums or singles). It’s more about the usage rights and royalties from those uses.
  3. Artist Management: Music publishers don’t manage the artists’ careers. Their focus is strictly on the song’s rights and royalties.

In Summary

Music publishing is an essential part of the music industry, focusing on the rights and royalties of song compositions. Music publishers work alongside PROs like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC to ensure that songwriters and composers are compensated when their music is used. It’s a different world from record labels, direct song sales, or artist management, but it’s crucial for the financial wellbeing of those who create the music we love.

Remember, every time a song is played, there’s a complex mechanism working behind the scenes to ensure those who created it are rewarded for their work. That’s the heart of music publishing.


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