How Your Songs Can Start Working For You Today...

We spend so much time developing our skills as songwriters, instrumentalists, and producers, with the goal to great create music.  Creating great music should be enough to make a living doing what we love, right? 


There are plenty of extremely talented musicians out there creating great music every day, but they're not able to move forward in their career.

The truth is, having great music is important, but in order to reach that next level as musicians, and get your songs to start working for you, it’s essential that we acquire some 'next level' capabilities.  These are the skills that musicians used to rely on their managers, publishers, record labels, lawyers, and agents for, but those days are over.  As independent musicians who take their music seriously, it’s our responsibility to understand all aspects of our business.

Two of those include Publishing and Copyright.  If you think this is a boring topic, keep in mind that understanding publishing and copyrights is the foundation for generating long-term, passive income with your music... and there's nothing boring about making a living from your music!

Until I got a firm grasp of this, I was just your average, struggling musician living in a 2 bedroom apartment with 4 other people.  The successful composers and producers I was working with at the time emphasized over and over the importance of publishing.  So I made it a point to learn about it.  That's when things started to change for me. 

Once you fully understand the rights they provide, and the opportunities present within those rights, you can use those rights to your advantage.

Here’s why: 

The Publisher Controls the Copyright

As the Songwriter / Composer, you are both the Copyright Owner AND Publisher UNTIL you transfer the Publishing Rights over to another entity, and the Publisher of a song controls the Copyright

This concept is so important, that I want you to commit this statement to memory:  "The Publisher Controls the Copyright."

Granted, publishing can be somewhat confusing, and while there’s no shortage of books and articles written about Publishing and Copyright, today I want to break this down into its simplest form.

First, let’s take a quick look at your rights as the Copyright Holder

There are Four Rights of a Copyright Holder:

  1. The Right to Record via a Mechanical License
  2. The Right to Perform via a Music License
  3. The Right to Print via a Print License
  4. The Right to Synchronize via a Sync License

Notice how each right is granted via a license? 

A Copyright Holder grants Four Types Of Licenses :

  1. A Mechanical License is a license from the copyright holder, that grants another party the right to record, reproduce, or sample a portion of the original composition.   These are often granted to a record company, and gives the record company the right to use the musical works in the making of ‘phonorecords’ (CDs, records, and digital downloads) for distribution to the public.  These licenses are usually secured through the Harry Fox Agency.
  2. A Music License is a license from the copyright holder, that grants another party the right to perform the original composition in public settings.  These are often granted to restaurants, bars, music venues, and other establishments where music is either performed or played (via a radio/sound system) to the clientele of the establishment.  These licenses are usually negotiated and secured with these establishments via Performing Rights Organizations.
  3. A Print License is a license from the copyright holder, that grants another party the right to print or re-arrange the music, notes, and/or lyrics of the song.  These are granted to companies who will reproduce the sheet music of the songs.  Believe it or not, a print license must also be granted to print the lyrics inside the album's liner notes.
  4. A Synchronization (Sync) License is a license from the copyright holder, that grants another party the right to synchronize music to moving picture.  With this particular license, not only does the publisher receive payment, but the owner of the master recording also receives payment when the license is secured.  This is the type of license required to place music in films, television shows, commercials, video games, movie trailers, etc.  These licenses are usually secured through Music Supervisors and Music Libraries.

If You Only Take Away One Thing…

Remember, the Publisher controls the Copyright, and the publisher is the entity who grants these rights to others through a license.

Licenses are granted to those who want to sync (sync license), perform publicly (music license), record (mechanical license) or distribute (mechanical license or print license) music that they do not own.

These licenses provide musicians with multiple streams of income.  Music has value, and by properly licensing these songs, the publisher that represents the songwriter who wrote the composition, ensures that they get paid. 

Some of these licenses, such as Sync Licenses, not only provide initial upfront fees when securing the license, but also provide a secondary income stream via back-end performance royalties to both the songwriter and publisher.

While this is a very brief overview of what’s broadly known as Intellectual Property Rights, I hope it gives you come clarity on the various licenses copyright holders grant to others, and why it’s essential for us to expand our understanding of the rights we have as music creators.  

This allows us to fully administer all the legal rights to our music on our own, or, in the event that you sign with a publisher, are able to work hand-in-hand with them to navigate these various revenue generating avenues.

If this has inspired you, and you'd like to dig a little deeper into this topic, here is some Additional Recommended Reading:

Music Publishing - The Complete Guide: Second Edition 

The Plain & Simple Guide to Music Publishing: 4th Edition   

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