Publishing Rights & Loyalties

What’s the deal with artists, recording labels, publishing companies and what seems like a never-ending fight over publishing rights?

For the people that aren’t too familiar with what publishing rights are. In music, these rights are put in place in favour of a songwriter, producer and/or publisher. These rights are put in place so that whenever said song is played in a commercial sense i.e. at a club, on the radio, in a movie etc. They are rewarded for it.

Now, understandably songwriters/producers should be the ones to hold publishing rights to the music. Without them, they would simply be no music to listen to. However, this is not always the case, more often than not, recording labels and/or publishing companies request at least 50% of publishing rights to any artist they sign. This means that any “royalties” that are received, are to be shared between both parties.

Normally, the percentage share isn’t as favourable as 50/50. It can be as lop-sided as 80/20, and it is not in favour of the musician/songwriter. The more of the rights you own, the bigger cut you’ll get when the royalties come knocking.

Royalties are payments made to the owners of publishing rights, whenever their content is used in any commercial capacity. This is why your favourite podcasts or reaction channels on YouTube don’t listen to or play a song in its entirety. Because they haven’t paid the royalties to do so. Meg The Stallion, Mase, Lil Wayne and Tory Lanez are just some of the recent names that have been and still are in a fight with their respective recording labels and publishing companies over publishing rights.

I did mention clubs, movies and radio being avenues to receive royalties for musicians. But there are other ways, here are the types of royalties when it comes to publishing rights.

1. Public Performance Royalties

These kind of royalties are incurred when music is played in bars, nightclubs or on the radio. Furthermore, to be in contention for this kind of royalty you have to be registered and the cut is automatically 50/50 between creator and publisher.

2. Print Music Royalties

This royalty is the least common. Mostly due to the era or age we find ourselves in. Streaming is the go-to, when we listen to music. Print music royalties are only incurred when copyrighted music is copied onto paper and then distributed. I believe this would be in the form of sheet music.

3. Mechanical Royalties

In my opinion, this is the most common type of royalty. It is incurred when copies of music are made, played or purchased. This is in the form of CD’s, vinyls, digital downloads and streaming.

You know how we open up Spotify or Apple Music and stream that favourite single or album. Or how YouTube videos incur income when it hits a certain amount of views? That’s mechanical royalties.

4. Synchronisation Royalties

Remember “Pump It Up” in 2Fast2Furious? Well, Joe Budden (and his recording label at the time I’d assume) got a shit load of synchronisation royalties from that. These kind of royalties are incurred when copyrighted music is paired with visuals. It could be in a movie, an advertisement, even video games. If you’ve ever watched something accompanied with music.

Synchronisation royalties were paid.

Owning the rights to your publishing, is like owning the rights to your likeness, your personality. One of the things other than music, that draw fans towards an artist in the first place. Having such a minuscule cut or even none at all would be disheartening and I can sympathise with the musicians that are fighting for control over the rights to their own.

In conclusion, not only musicians, but creatives as a whole shouldn’t be so quick to rush into a contract because of the short-term advantages. Be that the signing on money or perks. Recording labels, publishing companies and businesses as a whole will flash a couple bands to bait you in and use it to manipulate you. Because at the end of the day, it’s business.

You should think about the long term when signing a contract and even when you do. You shouldn’t be putting pen to paper lightheartedly. Be certain that the deal in front of you, is a deal that’s good for you.


The song of the day goes to a musician that escaped and won a nightmare of a publishing rights battle…

Song of the day: Lil Wayne – Lollipop

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