Signing the contracts for a music publishing deal is a dream come true for many musicians, but that dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if you’re not careful. Before you start making big moves, you must understand the ins and outs of music publishing rights. Of course, taking a music business class is the best way to ensure that you’re protected—knowledge is power! Here’s a quick rundown of the basics to get you started.
Publishers vs. Distributors
Both publishers and distributors collect royalties, but they generate two very different revenue streams.
- Publishers collect royalties for the compositions.
- Distributors collect royalties for the masters (recordings).
In other words, if you get a music publishing deal, your publisher will try to get your music featured in movies, commercials, and other publications. If you work with a distributor, they’ll get your music listed on streaming platforms like Spotify, for example. Some companies offer both services.
Publication vs. Distribution Lawsuits
Take the well-known case: Metallica, et al. v. Napster, Inc. Metallica wasn’t happy with their music being illegally distributed by Napster and other peer-to-peer music sharing services because the band members weren't receiving royalties. A distributor’s job is to ensure that you get paid whenever your copyrighted music is shared, purchased, streamed, and so on, and Napster was skipping the middleman, so to speak, so nobody was getting paid.
On the other hand, let’s look at an example of a copyright infringement based on a music publishing deal. When Vanilla Ice famously used the iconic dun-dun-dun-dundundun-dun bassline hook from Queen and David Bowie’s song, “Under Pressure,” the judge ruled that the slightly modified track infringed on Queen/Bowie’s intellectual property ownership, and in turn, their music publishing rights.
Similarly, Robin Thicke and Pharrell were sued by Marvin Gaye’s family because the artists’ song “Blurred Lines” was too similar to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” However, in this case, it wasn’t the hook or melody but the overall vibe and feel that was too similar.
So, as you can see, a music distribution deal ensures that your music ends up on profit-generating platforms, while a music publishing deal ensures that you have recourse options from powerful legal entities if your music and/or intellectual property is used without your permission. Additionally, your publisher may be able to protect you if you accidentally create music too similar to another artist’s intellectual property (or prevent that composition from being published in the first place).
Of course, things can get a lot more complicated than that, but understanding the differences between publishers and distributors is an essential first step.
Know Your Cut
If you’re considering a publishing deal, always make sure you spend some time shopping around. Always read and re-read the terms, and then have a good music lawyer analyze it for you. While terms vary depending on many factors, publishing deals typically last 3 to 5 years, and copyright ownership is usually split 70/30, with the majority share going to the copyright owner who created the music.
Enroll at 1500 Sound Academy Today
Navigating a music publishing deal isn’t something to be taken lightly. Many brilliant musicians and producers have lost their music publishing rights, paid massive fines, and experienced other hardships because they didn’t do their due diligence before signing on the dotted line. We offer both on-campus and live online classes that empower you to create and manage your business. Enroll today so you can proceed with confidence tomorrow.
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