Whether you plan on making money off of your music, or you’re simply a music industry enthusiast, learning about the various moving parts within the industry – like music publishing companies – is a must.
Though what music publishers do isn’t quite as exciting as what music promoters – or heck, roadies – do, their impact and reach is a powerful and far-reaching necessity.
What Does a Music Publishing Company Do?
Music publishers typically handle some of the behind-the-scenes business facets of your music.
They take care of things like: registering your songs with a local or national performance rights organization, registering copyrights for your songs, helping you sell your songs to a TV show or pop artist (if that’s the path you are choosing for your music career), auditing licensees that use your songs, and sometimes even collecting money that’s owed to you for performances of your songs.
It’s a business wherein people pay for the right to use a song.
So, if you’ve got your music written and recorded, for example, before you release it, you should register each of your songs with a music publisher.
This way whenever your song is performed or broadcast (like on the radio, in a movie, on a music streaming service, in a restaurant, at a concert, etc.), you earn and collect money that you are entitled to for each of those broadcasts or performances.
This is especially important in case your music becomes incredibly popular, as it will be played more often and in more situations.
It would be a shame for you not to get paid for your work, after all.
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How Do Music Publishers Make Money?
Music publishers are first and foremost a business.
They’ll do everything in their power to protect your music, but they’ll also make the deals they need to cover their own costs and turn a profit.
They primarily earn revenue through licensing fees, and royalties collected from their songwriters and producers.
Publishers keep a percent of the money that songwriters and producers bring in, as they share each song’s copyright, licensing, and royalty rights, the latter of which includes both mechanical and synchronization royalties.
Publishers use this money to pay for their operating expenses, which includes paying rent on their offices, paying their staff, purchasing supplies and equipment, and covering taxes, insurance and other expenses.
They also spend money on making sure your music is always protected.
Just to provide some context as to the kind of money we’re talking about, here’s what some of the biggest songs have pulled in.
By January 2012, Adele’s “Someone Like You,” had earned $3.9 million in track sales, $5.8 million in album sales, and $882,700 in songwriting royalties. Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” by the same time, had earned $6.5 million in track sales, $1.5 million in album sales, and $728,000 in songwriting royalties.
And as long as these songs remain popular and collect radio play time and plays from streaming sources, they’ll continue to earn money, thanks to music publishers.
Though this money is split between several sources, including the publisher and songwriter (though additional sources are certainly possible depending on the particular situation), the amounts are still quite impressive nonetheless, and prove how invaluable signing up with a music publisher truly is.
How Much Money Does a Songwriter Make Per Song?
Songwriters are guaranteed to receive 9.1 cents per song (in mechanical royalties), but that isn’t the only way for them to earn money.
Their songs can bring in revenue if they appear in another media source, like a movie, TV show, commercial, or video game.
A song can also earn money every year just from appearing on the radio or online streaming sources – like YouTube or Spotify – as well as anytime they are performed in concert by the original artist or a cover band.
What you will earn on your music depends on a variety of factors, from what music publisher and performance rights organization you sign up with, to how popular and well-distributed your songs get.
It’s worth noting that the majority of music publisher deals can end up with copyright owners receiving as much as 50% of all generated royalties.
Before you choose a music publishing company to work with, be sure to research all of them so that you can find one that best aligns with your values and needs.
You should also seek legal advice if you are unsure about any fine print.
The 5 Biggest Music Publishers in 2019
Now that you understand what these important industry players do, it’s time to learn what the major music publishing companies are and what their reach is.
You may even find one that you feel is a good fit for you and your music (or fangirl out because you end up with the same company as your favorite singer or band).
Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Sony/ATV is the top music publisher.
They hold over 3 million copyrights, and work with some of the most prominent artists within the industry, including: The Beatles, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, Michael Jackson, Queen, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, The Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Pharrell Williams, Hank Williams, and Carole King.
As of the first quarter in 2019, Sony/ATV continues to hold its position as the top publisher, and grew its market share up to 22.52% from 21.2% in the last quarter of 2018.
The publisher has also seen an increase in the quantity of its songs receiving radio play time in Q1 2019, with 58, up two from Q4 2018.
Universal Music Publishing Group
Universal Music Publishing is currently the second largest music publishing company.
They represent many of the most popular artists in music, including Adele, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Halsey, Justin Timberlake, Elton John, Coldplay, Billy Joel, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj, Pearl Jam, Keith Urban, U2, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Paul Simon, Britney Spears, Sex Pistols, and The Beastie Boys.
In the first quarter of 2019, Universal’s market share of the top radio songs was at 17.05%, which is down from 18.92% in Q4 2018. The publishing giant had 51 songs in Q1’s top radio songs.
Though Sony/ATV, Universal Music Publishing Group, and Warner/Chappell have long been the top three music publishers, relative newcomers Kobalt, founded in 2000, has surged in popularity and prowess within the industry.
They are dedicated to focusing on building “the music services company of tomorrow” and empowering “creators in today’s digital age.”
Kobalt publishing represents John Denver, Elvis Presley, The Lumineers, 50 Cent, deadmau5, Beck, Enrique Iglesias, Danger Mouse, Lionel Richie, Dixie Chicks, Father John Misty, and Childish Gambino. They ended Q1 2019 with a market share of 16.46%, though that slipped slightly from 17.35% in the final quarter of 2018.
Warner/Chappell represents several popular musicians and songwriters, like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Kendrick Lamar, Sammy Hagar, Ray Charles, Bad Religion, Talking Heads, Wiz Khalifa, Deftones, Madonna, Radiohead, Twenty One Pilots, Led Zeppelin, Hall and Oates, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and Green Day.
For a long time, Warner/Chappell maintained its status as the third largest music publisher, but has recently slipped down to the fourth largest. It ended Q1 2019 with a 16.13% market share of the top radio songs.
The fifth biggest music publisher is BMG. They represent the likes of David Bowie, Iron Maiden, Alicia Keys, Kylie Minogue, OutKast, Wu-Tang Clan, Deep Purple, Barry White, Annie Lennox, Blondie, Nikki Sixx, Run DMC, Ace of Base, The Cranberries, Mobb Deep, HIM, Air Supply, Yanni, RZA, Natalie Imbruglia, Robyn, and Evanescence.
BMG saw its market share slip down to 5.7% in Q1 2019, from a more impressive 8.03% in Q4 2018.
Other Notable Music Publishers
Not every publisher makes as big a splash as Sony/ATV or Universal Music Publishing Group. But there are still tons of other publishers out there that do impressive work and are worth noting:
- Spirit Music Group (Represents Belle and Sebastian, Tim McGraw, Chicago, Snow Patrol, Matt and Kim, Pete Townshend, Right Said Fred, and Smash Mouth)
- Primary Wave Entertainment (Represents Bob Marley, Alice Cooper, Count Basie, Toots & The Maytals, Def Leppard, Counting Crows)
- Wixen Music Publishing (Represents Santana, Weezer, Cake, Tom Petty, The Doors, Tim Armstrong, The Doobie Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin, Audioslave, The Interrupters, Rick James, Neil Young, and NOFX)
- Reservoir Media Management (Represents 2 Chainz)
- Big Yellow Dog Music (Represents Meghan Trainor, Maren Morris)
- Big Deal (Represents Manchester Orchestra,St. Vincent, FIDLAR, The Walkmen, My Morning Jacket, Sharon Van Etten)
- Pulse Music Group (Represents Run the Jewels, Rich the Kid, Miike Snow)
- The Royalty Network (Represents Roberta Flack, Shiny Toy Guns, Ferry Corstein)
- Concord Music Publishing (Represents M.I.A., Creedence Clearwater Revival, Billie Holiday, Marilyn Manson, John Coltrane, Blues Traveler, Cyndi Lauper, Phil Collins, Cypress Hill, Dolly Parton, Mark Ronson, Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails)
Managing and tracking the performance and broadcasting of millions of songs every year is a big business – and a lot of work.
Although music publishers do earn a good chunk of the money brought in by the licensing and royalties from your music, big and small publishers alike keep your songs protected and help ensure that you get paid whenever and wherever your music is played, making them an invaluable part of the music industry ecosystem.
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