What is music publishing

Music Publishing and How it Works

If you’re an artist especially an independent one I’m sure you run into people who give you a word of advice soon as they find out you’re in the entertainment business. Everyone wants to be an expert. Even people who aren’t necessary in the field you are pursuing a career in. Yet somehow everyone knows one way or another how the industry works, all about copyrighting or what it is you need to do to “make it.” During this type of conversations I’m sure you heard someone mention the word music publishing before. It’s a very common phrase in the music industry and very, very important. Any artist whether independent, mainstream or retired should know all about music publishing. However, what is music publishing? We’ve all heard the word thrown around before but do we understand it?

Music publishing is the owning of songs and earning money from the usage of the song itself. This can refer to any musical composition or sound recording. Music publishing allows you to exploit the song and earn income from it. Exploit my be synonymous with bad terms but in the music industry it’s actually a good thing especially in regards to publishing. It means the owner of the song is generating money from the song in many forms. There are several ways to earn money as the publisher of a song. The main two sources of income are from mechanical royalties and performance royalties. However, there many more forms of income that includes print royalties, digital royalties, YouTube royalties, etc. In order to understand how these royalties work and are distributed you have to understand which form of the song does the music publisher have ownership of.

You’re probably wondering why I said which form of the song the ownership has control over. I know you may say a song is a song. Well a very important thing to remember is each song ever written, created and recorded has two copyrights to them. You have the composition copyright which is also known as the song which refers to the lyrics and music. Then you have the sound recording which is also known as the master and refers to the actual recorded version of the song.

Composition (song) = lyrics and music

Sound Recording (master) = recorded song


Each of these 2 elements have separate copy rights and separate streams of income that pertains to publishing. The composition is usually owned by the songwriter and music publisher. The sound recording is usually owned by the artist recording the song and the record label. There are certain types of royalties you receive as the owner of the composition and certain type of royalties you receive as the owner of the sound recording. Where publishing comes in is due to the fact that they are multiple forms of income you receive through having publishing rights but each form of income may refer to only the composition of the song or the sound recording of the song. Some of these incomes refer to both, some don’t. For example performance royalties are only paid out for the song composition which means it only goes to the songwriter and the music publisher. This is why understanding what is music publishing and how it works is so important. So to sum in up in layman terms music publishing is the ownership of a composition and/or sound recording with the right to exploit your ownership and generate profit from usage of the song.

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