Types of Music Contracts | Enroll Today | 1500 Sound Academy icon

There are seven main types of music contracts, although some aren’t very common. Music publishing contracts can vary widely depending on many factors, so it’s important that you do your homework before you sign on the dotted line.

We’ve put together a brief overview of the different options, so you can make an informed decision. Of course, the music industry is incredibly complex, so we strongly recommend taking a music business class and talking to a lawyer before you even think about music publishing. After all, the music industry can be tough, to say the least, and one mistake can devastate your career.


1. Co-Publishing Agreement

Out of all of the types of music contracts, co-publishing (co-pub) agreements are the most frequently used. Under this agreement, the music publishing company and the artist are partners, and both parties co-own the copyrights to the music. Terms can vary widely, but a 50/50 split is common.

Of course, there will be negotiations until either both parties are satisfied with the split of copyrights and royalties, or an agreement simply can’t be made. Because these are often long-term contracts with a strong commitment required, it’s common for publishing companies to provide the artist with an advance to sweeten the deal. 

These types of music contracts can be tempting, especially if there’s an up-front payment included. However, don’t be allured by music publishing contracts that offer a one-time advance in exchange for a large share (or all) of your copyrights if you’re not 100% comfortable with the deal. That mistake could come back to haunt your career in the future.


2. Administration Agreement

An admin deal is often the most desirable option because it allows the artist to retain full ownership of their copyrights. The artist self-publishes their music and licenses it to the publishing company. In these types of music contracts, the music publishing company receives only a share of the royalties, typically 10-25%.

As you might expect, administration agreements aren’t very common and are typically reserved for very popular artists who have a lot of negotiating power. To make a profit with admin music publishing contracts, the publishing company needs to be able to exploit your music and generate royalties by getting placements in movies, commercials, TV shows, video games, and so on.


3. Purchase Agreement

A purchase agreement, also known as a buy-out, is when the publishing company purchases 100% of your copyrights, giving them sole rights to administer the music however they see fit. Naturally, these types of music contracts come with considerable risk, but the up-front advance can be quite substantial. 

While you will lose out on future royalties by taking a buy-out, you can still earn money through performance revenue. However, losing the publishing rights to your full catalog is a big move that often leads to regret. Again, sometimes even a large advance isn’t worth the long-term loss.


4. Other Less Common Contracts

The three aforementioned publishing contracts are the most common music publishing contracts you’re likely to see, but you may also run into these types of music contracts:

  • Sub-publishing agreements are when the publishing company allows a sub-publisher outside of the U.S. to use your music, but you still retain the rights.
  • Collection agreements are similar to administration agreements. The main difference is that the publishing company doesn’t promote your work, they just collect and distribute royalties.
  • Exclusive songwriter agreements are when the publishing company essentially contracts the artist to create music for a designated time period. During this period, the publisher has exclusive rights to all music created. The artist receives an advance for their uncreated work, so these types of music contracts are typically reserved for established artists, as the publishing company needs to be confident that they’ll recoup their investment.
  • Single song agreements are when the artist gives the rights to one song (or multiple individual songs) to the publishing company. Typically, the artist receives a one-time advance, and the publishing company can use the song(s) however they see fit.

Sign Up for a Business Class Today

We’ve only covered the basics here—music publishing contracts can be very complicated. Before signing any type of music industry contract, it’s crucial that you learn the ins and outs of the industry so you can protect your rights and land a deal you won’t regret. Being aware of the different types of music contracts is just the beginning.

We offer live online music business classes so you can advance your career without making blunders that are all too common in this business. Our faculty consists of renowned industry leaders who will guide you on your journey and help you achieve your dreams. Apply today.