Being your own boss, an entrepreneur and taking control of your own career is more popular now that it ever was before. This is true and accurate for any industry. However, in the music industry being your own boss and being independent has not only reached an all-time high, it’s a trend. There are some indie artist who have built such a strong platform they’ve now obtained mainstream success while being independent (i.e. Chance the Rapper). With indie artist being more prominent now than ever before there’s a lot of information one needs to know to follow in this path. It’s not as simple as signing a contract and letting the label handle the “business side” for you. Two things any artist whether independent or not should know about are copyrights and music publishing. In order to handle both of these aspects you need a music publisher. Only thing is most people don’t understand exactly what a music publisher is and what he or she does. As an indie artist who has no corporation behind it this is extremely important to know and understand.
What is a music publisher? A music publisher is someone or some company that’s responsible for making sure all songwriters and composers who have ownership of a composition receive payment when their composition are commercially used including released recordings, CD’s, public performances, etc. There are several types of music publishers but all of them are there to guarantee the songwriter and rightful owner of the composition receive proper pay for any use of their song (composition). There are 3 common types of music publishers. You can be an independent, mini-major or major publisher.
- Independent – strictly indie, no major distribution, finances its own company 100%
- Mini-major – independent publisher with major distribution
- Major – large company affiliated and financed by either of the 3 top record companies (Warner Music Group, Sony BMG or Universal Music Group).
You can be an indie artist and have a publishing deal with any of these 3 types of music publishers. However, did you know that if you’re an artist and have songs you’ve written yourself then you are the music publisher by default. Until you sign a deal with another music publisher or publishing company you are your own publisher. This is great news for an artist or entertainer who’s already independent and want to stay independent. The only thing is now that you are your own publisher you have to know how to capitalize off your songs and receive rightful payments. One of a publisher main job is to collect rightful royalties a song owner is owed by different companies. So if you’re your own music publisher which is a great thing you have to make sure you take the time to follow the proper procedures to collect your royalties.
The first thing to do is to register yourself as a music publisher with a performance rights agency. This can be either BMI or ASCAP. Both require a one-time fee but it’s definitely worth it. These agencies will collect several different types of royalties that you’re entitled for your song. There are plenty of different royalties streams. You have mechanical, performance, YouTube, print, digital royalties and more. BMI and ASCAP won’t collect all of them but they collect some. For the ones that they don’t collect you can register with several distribution agencies as an indie music publisher to receive those. Some may say why not save yourself time and trouble and just sign with an established publishing company. The answer is simple. Music publishers take 50% of your royalty share. Most indie artists are independent because they want 100% ownership of everything. I’m not saying you should never sign with a publisher but make sure you weigh out all your options before you do. This article is simply the beginning to how to become your own music publisher as an indie artist. There’s so much more to it. It takes a lot of work, research, time and effort but it’s certainly worth it.