“Yes. No. Maybe.”
DISCLAIMER: If you think you have something to lose, hire an entertainment attorney to help you. This is in no way legal advice. In fact, I’m likely to be biased since I have a vested interest in both sides.
This topic comes to mind since I’m meeting with an artist on Monday afternoon to discuss one of their singles that I am interested in as well as a song submission they want me to produce. As part of my fee schedule, I sometimes will waive my fees on certain projects in return for signing a contract with N40°. I don’t sign artists. I sign songs.
WHAT IS A PUBLISHING DEAL?
Generally, it’s an agreement where you sign some of the rights of a song to a publishing company in return for a share of the royalties received by the publisher for the exploitation of the song. Depending on the publisher, there may be other pieces of the publishing puzzle such as co-writing relationships, staff that pitch music, or other relationships in the industry that the artist may be able to take advantage of.
WHY YOU SHOULD.
You have no budget or money. That’s the biggest reason. Recording high quality music typically costs a lot of money. Getting a demo of your music doesn’t have to cost much at all. There are tons of bedroom producers in the world that would be able to churn out a demo of the song, though, more often than not, these demos don’t stack up against a commercially produced song. They’re good demos. A publisher is going to put up the money to get a professional recording of your song. Sometimes, the publisher will also give you an advance to keep your writing.
You have no network or connections. Most new songwriters and artists don’t. In a nutshell, signing with a publishing company immediately gets you involved in their network. That network may not only be larger than yours but it also might be with industry players that would never be part of your network no matter how hard you tried.
You want validation. It might sound superficial but it can have a profound impact on a songwriter’s production. The validation that comes with signing a publishing deal is sometimes what a new artist or songwriter is longing for. A lot of the time a new songwriter has written in near obscurity, having only had feedback from friends and relatives. Having a publisher interested in your writing can act as a motivator that improves the writer’s work ethic and productivity.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T.
It’s a glorified loan. A publisher is going to put up the money for a professional recording of your song. They’re not going to do this because they love your song. They’re going to do this because they think they can earn from it. Most deals will require that you sign 50% of your song rights to the publisher. That means you’ll get 50 cents of every dollar they earn. However, the publisher is going to recoup the money they spent on you and your project before you see the first dime.
You aren’t always the most important thing on the publisher’s mind. Publishers are going to have lots of songs, lots of artists, and lots of priorities. Your song is one of many songs that the publisher wants to get placed. You’re not an only child in this family. You’re not going to get spoiled.
Validation doesn’t pay the bills. Just being told you write great songs shouldn’t be why you sign a publishing deal. You sign a publishing deal because the publisher can do something for your career that you cannot.
WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?
Save your money to pay for your own professional recording. While there are a lot of lofi, bedroom producers these days, there are also a lot of private production studios, also. Consider for a moment that the people that used to work at these big studios that have closed down now work in smaller production studios. There are more high end production facilities with lower rates than ever before. Expect to spend $1,000 or more to get a professionally recorded, professionally mixed, and professionally mastered song using session players. Also expect that your song, assuming the writing is great, will sound like a professionally produced song.
Network. Show your songs. Talk to people. Meet people. Move to Nashville where you can have coffee in the company of decision makers, perform in songwriting festivals, and stay busy. People you meet today will be the people that use your work tomorrow.
SOME FINAL WORDS.
If you’ve taken the steps to publish yourself, you’ve networked your way into getting some placements and/or licenses, and the task of dealing with royalties, licensing, and copyright is more than you’re interested to handle, you can now elect to sign a publishing deal. This time you’re not signing 50/50 but your actually signing as a publisher AND songwriter. That means you get 25% of the publishing now as well.
This is a very general article covering a far more complex topic than it appears. Don’t base your decision on the content of this simple post. Do some research.