From the Ground Up: Music Publishing & Key Points

by on December 25th, 2010
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Creating an Independent Record Label is something attempted and failed far more than it’s done successfully. That notion is obvious in the music business, after 11 years of navigating it. There’s a major factor involved that a majority of young entrepreneurs overlook or never fully understand when getting a record label started: Publishing. Initially, many who start out are in the same boat.

A traditional sense of the word publishing sparks connotations of literally “publishing” an artistic work, like a poem or a piece of music on CD; and speaking literally, that’s a valid thought process. However, publishing as it relates to the music industry means the right to collect performance royalties for the air-play and performance of a musical composition.

When a successful artist like Paul McCartney is sleeping, for example, his dreams basically generate cash. Radio stations worldwide, somewhere, are simultaneously spinning most of the hits he penned and owns publishing rights for, like “Hey Jude” or “Yesterday.” Obviously one of the most accomplished musicians of all-time, the royalties McCartney generates in 1 week, most artists won’t generate in 1 year or even an entire career. The avenues for making that money are the same for a young label entrepreneur, though, and with a strategic, educated approach to starting a record label, thriving is possible. Do the homework on publishing and the music must be quality, let’s not forget the obvious. “Quality” is quite subjective.

Without investing in legit promotion, the publishing may be worthless to you. Scout out promo avenues and take into consideration the reputation of a promotional entity first, its outreach capacity (how many hits, email list size, etc.) and their presentation quality. In other words, steer clear of sketchy Ning networks, poor business acumen, and learn to evaluate through smart observation. Practice by doing simple Google searches on promotional companies and social media services (Twitter, Email Campaigns) within the genre you occupy.

Digital streams such as YouTube views generate royalties now ( With the advent of the digital age as digital album sales eclipsed physical sales for the first time in industry history last year, companies like Sound Exchange are collecting on digital air-play and streams. In the years ahead, it’s safe to assume the trend will continue, with physical copies eventually being phased out of the picture altogether ( Can you imagine a record shop only being a nostalgic location? The time is upon us.

What does this mean for publishing? That’s a broad topic in its own right, but by covering all bases now through proper channels and investing in promotion, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the Independent Label. Maybe…

At the end of the day, physical/digital distribution and radio air-play (traditional and internet) will decide the fate of an independent music label, and soon, the physical copy will be irrelevant. Publishing is key.

There are many resources on publishing and collecting royalties like these:

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