If you’re a songwriter, it‘s important for you to learn as much as possible about music publishing.  Whether you’ve signed a publishing deal, administer your own publishing, or work without any publishing entity, you need to ensure that you know how to claim all the royalties that are owed to you.

Signing a deal with a publisher

There are many obvious advantages to signing a deal with a music publisher: they can constantly, actively seek licensing opportunities for your music, on a full-time basis; they strive to get the most monetary mileage out of your songs, whether it’s through recording, live performance,  or synchronization (or “synchs,” placement in commercials, TV shows, films, videogames, digital platforms, etc.); while doing so, they can negotiate fair market value for synch placements, and know what license fee a song should command in any given medium based on terms, use, and territory; they can arrange co-writing sessions with other songwriters, or participation in song camps, including some co-writers or camps that you might not be able to attain without them; and a publishing deal allows you to focus on making music, rather than having to do the labour-intensive business of exploiting your own songs.

Furthermore, music publishers can provide music-industry market intelligence to help develop a songwriter’s career. They can further that career by championing the songwriter – talking them up, getting them on panels, in showcases, included in articles, and so on. Publishers can track the writer’s income, a task likely too time-consuming for the writer to do on their own. A publisher can ensure that the writer’s songs are registered in every territory where they’re showing activity (e.g., being played on radio, performed live by other artists, etc.).  A publisher can  obtain, and submit to SOCAN, cue sheets when a writer’s song has been licensed for audio-visual use in a film, TV, or other screen production, whether domestically or internationally.

Working without a publisher

Alysha Brilla

Alysha Brilla

Singer-songwriter Alysha Brilla has taken the indie route, after spending time with a major publisher and deciding to do it herself.

“I’ve gotten some synchs and some licensing deals on my own,” says Brilla, now working on her fifth album. She adds that one of the advantages is autonomy. “I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for anything. I can sign off on everything myself, and I get to solicit and approach people myself. There are pros and cons to it, but for me it’s been the better choice.”

Among the disadvantages of working without a publisher is the fact that the songwriter likely won’t be able to actively seek licensing opportunities for their music on a full-time basis. They’ll have to spend their own time and effort chasing those deals, which takes time away from writing songs. And to go it alone, the songwriter also needs to be able to negotiate effectively when licensing their music, in order to ensure that they’re fairly compensated for their work.

In Brilla’s case, she’s dealt and consulted with artists, managers, and other publishers, so she has a good handle on negotiations. “I have a good idea of what the range is, and all the different variables when it comes to licensing,” she says. “I’m never worried about not getting an adequate amount for my music because I don’t have a publisher: I always ask for what I think is competitive.”

The value that’s potentially generated by a song placement can be substantial – and if you’re a writer, being a novice negotiator can bite you in the butt, as singer-songwriter Donovan Woods discovered all too well when he initially self-published under his own  Meant Well imprint.

“I was just writing songs on my own and I had very little understanding of anything,” says Woods, who recently signed with Concord Music Nashville, after spending three years at Warner Chappell Nashville. “I remember I licensed something to TSN to be used during the intro of a Grey Cup game for something like $104. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea. I was kind of doing it alone.”

Starting your own publishing company

Donovan Woods

Donovan Woods

Woods says  it can be an advantage to have your own publishing company in order to conduct business with a larger publisher. “When you have a co-publishing deal with a publisher, you own 50 percent of your publishing and 75 percent of the song,” says Woods. “You have to form your own publishing company to hold that publishing stake.”

“Having their own publishing company makes it easier for the songwriter to assign a publishing administrator, or a publisher,” says Michael McCarty, CEO of Kilometre Music Group, and former Chief Membership and Business Development Officer of SOCAN. “If the songwriter has an administrative deal with Publisher A, and their publishing reverts back to them when the deal expires, it makes it easier for them to newly assign the administration to Publisher B. And if the songwriter is earning significant money from publishing, then it could be tax-advantageous having half of that money flow through a business, splitting the income to pay less tax.”

“If your company is incorporated, your tax rates are only 12 percent,” explains Phil Goldband, a Managing Partner at Toronto-based Gold Entertainment Accountants. “Had you not incorporated, you’d be roughly at the 40 percent tax rate.”

But you have to ensure that your publishing company runs as an above-board business. “You’ve got to open up a separate bank account, and you’ve got to keep track of your expenses. Anything you pay on credit, you have to keep the invoices,” says Goldband. If you do start your own publishing company, you’ll also need to ensure that when you claim expenses, those expenses remain within the confines of business. For example, if your dog is your company mascot, don’t claim the food it takes to feed him as an expense. “If you get too aggressive, you’ll be double-taxed – both on the corporate and personal levels,” Goldband advises.

Goldband’s colleague, Oksana Bernatonis, says that if your songwriting income is fairly low, it might be prudent to wait before you take the step. “If you’re saving more than $3,000 to cover [the] costs [of incorporating the publishing company], then it’s worth it,” she says. She also says that in order to apply and receive certain large grants, being incorporated can sometimes give you an edge: “Some grants that people apply for require a corporation. To get $50K or $100K in grants, you have to incorporate.”

Your songwriting income will determine whether you’re ready to start your own incorporated publishing company. “If your songs are earning under a few thousand dollars a year, it doesn’t likely justify the costs of incorporation and maintenance of the company,” says entertainment lawyer Kurt Dahl. “There are a few scenarios that might indicate that the time is right. If you find yourself licensing music internationally, entering a sub-publishing deal with a foreign publisher, or being offered a co-publishing deal from a third-party publisher, the time is right to incorporate your own publishing entity.”

You don’t have to go the incorporation route: another alternative is being a sole proprietor.

“Sole proprietorship is the same as being self-employed,” says Bernatonis. “So instead of filing a corporate tax return, you would file just the regular personal tax return at a graduated rate. You’d have to report everything, so there is no tax deferral.” While there are no fees to establish your sole proprietorship, you’d also lose any potential tax breaks you’d receive by incorporating your music publishing company [such as tax deferral from one year to the next, in a high-earning year].

“And once you reach $30,000 in income, you have to pay HST and register for a business number with the Canadian Revenue Agency,” Bernatonis adds. “Royalties are usually zero-rated, so there’s no HST on royalties. But you still might want to register, because you can claim HST back on any expenses you’ve paid.”

Another big difference is that if legal issues pop up,  you may have more protection if you’ve incorporated your company, and be more vulnerable as a sole proprietor.

Whatever path you choose, rest assured that SOCAN will be there to collect your royalties and ensure that you get paid.

Steps to Start with SOCAN

If you’re applying to become a SOCAN member publisher, membership isn’t automatic, although the qualifications to become a SOCAN publisher member aren’t strenuous.

Whether you’re setting up your publishing entity as a sole proprietorship or an incorporated company, before deciding on, or registering, a publisher name for the entity with the appropriate governmental registry, we recommend that you contact our Information Centre at 1-866-307-6226 to verify that there’s no other SOCAN publisher member already using that name.

If you’re starting a sole proprietorship for your publishing, to apply for SOCAN membership, you’ll need to provide a copy of the sole proprietorship document (such as a statement of registration issued by the appropriate governmental registry), and either your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or business number, for tax purposes. If you’re providing a business number, we’ll require a document that shows that the number is associated with your particular sole proprietorship. For more details on registering a sole proprietorship, click here.

If  you’re starting an incorporated company, to apply for SOCAN membership, the company must meet at least one of the following two criteria:

  • The company owns at least five copyright-protected musical works written or co-written by a writer member of SOCAN (e.g., you), or by a Canadian; or
  • The company is entitled by contract to receive the publisher’s share of the performance credits of at least five copyright-protected musical works that were written or co-written by a writer member of SOCAN (e.g., you), or by a Canadian.

And to apply for membership, you’ll need to provide a copy of the relevant publishing agreements to demonstrate that the company meets one of the above criteria .

For more information on registering a corporation, click here.

At 23, Jeune Rebeu displays stunning lucidity on Business et sentiments 3, the third instalment in a triptych of albums that saw him evolve both on a human and artistic

“I don’t see it as a duality, but rather as to things that complete each other,” says the Montréal-based rapper when asked on the scope and meaning of the title of his trilogy which started unfolding in 2018. “People tend to but business and feelings in opposition, especially in the rap world. Some will be more revealing of their feelings while the tougher ones will say they’re more business minded. . . And I’m not talking specifically about the macho rappers, but rather the ones who play a game and hide [a part of themselves]. More to the point, I’m talking to rappers whose masculinity is misplaced. I just try to be as authentic as I can. I am a sensitive person and I try to rid myself of the shyness about my sensitive side that others repress.”

Young Rebeu has long been a sensitive one. He remembers hearing two songs that left a lasting mark on him when he arrived in Québec in the early 2000s: Parce qu’on vient de loin and Seul au monde, by Corneille. “It was a tough period for me. ‘Not only was I coming from far away, but there was death in my family back in Tunisia,’ he confides. ‘There was a sensitive side to Corneille’s music that spoke to me. I didn’t speak French that well when I got here, but I felt a connection to his emotion.’

Twenty years later, the young rapper’s destiny intersects with that of Sonny Black, the multi-instrumentalist who composed, arranged and co-produced Corneille’s brilliant first album, from which these two powerful pieces came. Like a little nudge from fate. ‘It’s crazy!’ admits the young man who benefited from Black’s expertise and rigour as artistic director and principal composer of BS3. ‘I really dug the way he works. He made two of my songs way better than I could even imagine.’

With its warm sonic signature where acoustic guitar, trap rhythms and Latin influences reign supreme, Business et sentiments 3 marks a leap forward in the career of Jeune Rebeu. Ten years after his introduction to rap, which took place during a rap writing and interpretation workshop at a community centre in Côte-des-Neiges, the artist based in the borough of LaSalle has clearly evolved immensely, far beyond his collaboration with Sonny Black.

Somewhere between the spontaneous side of the first part of the trilogy and the more melancholic one of the second, Business et sentiments 3 strikes a balance between the rapper’s strengths and emotions. This girl he has been talking about for three years, this ‘Valentina’ who has coloured the writing of a sizable chunk of his trilogy, has now left his life.

The result: Jeune Rebeu sees more clearly now.

At least that’s what he shows us on BS Story, a striking five-minute-plus conclusion that sums up the Business et sentiments era. Time to move on. ‘I was in a cabin to write, last August, and I’d just gotten out of that relationship. I wanted to mark the occasion,’ he says, devoid of any hard feelings. ‘I had no regrets. I thought it was a shame [that everything ended], but I had no regrets. I just wanted to tell it the way it happened. Some people have a diary. My diary is my songs.’

He was lucky to benefit from another small gesture by the hand of fate: he met Dubmatique’s OTMC (aka Ousmane Traoré). ‘I met Ousmane at the moment I lost that relationship,’ he says, still a bit shocked. ‘Life is balance. Everyone needs to find their balance.’

At the time, Traoré was putting together the basis of what would become Yokobok Records, his brand new record label. ‘I played him the demos of BS3, and he really liked them. He said: “Let’s go! You’ll be my label’s first contract!” the young rapper remembers. “We’ve gotten to know each other better, since then. We’re friends, business partners. We’re constantly giggling.”

Now on a solid professional track alongside one of the best-selling rappers in Québec’s history (Dubmatique’s La force de comprendre has sold over 100,000 copies), Jeune Rebeu has grand ambitions. “For the longest time I’ve had a ton of ideas, but no tools. Now, with Ousmane, I have the tools I needed to flesh out the ideas I dreamt of,” he believes.

BS3’s opener, J’suis pas désolé, embodies the “business” side of the title-cum-mantra of his trilogy. “Je fais ça pour le butin/Pour marquer le but hein ?” he claims, evoking both his mission and his “empathy, hidden somewhere in the cold (freely: “I do this for the loot / To score the goal, y’know?”).

“Money to me is a vector of ambition and dreams. It’s not an end in itself,” he nuances. “When I rap about money, it’s not with stars in my eyes. I’m not at all attached to brands or luxury. Unlike others, I understood early on during my childhood that money wasn’t going to save me. But I do know it can help me reach my goals. It’s all a question of knowing how to invest it wisely.”

Not a single facet of music creation slips through musician Mélanie Venditti’s fingers. While her album Épitaphes (2019) unfolded like a long, calculated, and precise farewell, her self-produced and self-released EP Projections, released on April 30, 2021, offers six unique pieces that unfold like scattered slices of life, that can be understood together or separately.

Melanie Venditti“These songs came slowly, in no particular order, over the course of two years,” says Venditt. “My album was very cerebral, as if I was writing a book, but this time, I wrote what I was living, no matter what it meant.”

Epitaphs brought us to the heart of Venditti’s mourning of her mother, in a calculated, dutiful remembrance. “This time around, it’s the opposite,” she says. “I let the music come to me.”

Obviously, 2020 was the year of pandemic self-isolation, but the stormy return of the waves of #metoo, in July, is also part of the collective memory of the past year. Regardless of what this movement evokes as a memory, trauma, or vague feeling, we have all, in one way or another, experienced or witnessed significant discomfort. “When I read some of the testimonials, I realized that it stirred a lot of stuff that I had experienced,” says Venditti. “It’s at the very heart of this EP, it truly fed my creativity.”

The result is sensitive, and she delicately underlines important observations that bring us back to the basis of the movement: the incoherence of a victim’s speech is legitimate. “It’s normal for someone who’s been abused or harassed to be unclear,” she says. They’ve experienced a trauma.” There are undeniably things that someone can never explain, understand, or judge unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

In her ethereal interpretation, Venditti addresses our relationships with others through what we love and what we hate about them. “I think that what bothers us in ourselves, we perceive more in others, and it’s the same for the things we love,” says Melanie. “It’s basic human nature to reproduce what we’ve experienced, whether it is good or bad. I was greatly inspired by that creative vibe.”

Even if it’s mainly due to lack of budget, and to benefit from the solitary time offered by COVID, that she chose to self-release her EP, Venditti doesn’t deny that there’s a “this is what I’m capable of” aspect to her decision. Producing is a another task at which she’s very adept, and she hopes to be able to do it for others in the future. “I’m competent enough to do that,” she says. “Women have a hard time saying they’re competent. And as women, we’re not afforded the opportunities to do so very often. I’ve also realized, recently, that I lack role models. There are very few women who do what I love – producing, creating songs for their project, playing on other people’s projects, and arranging.”

Venditti considers herself a musician first, and feels most comfortable in that role; songwriting came later. For “Projections,” she chose a starting point that she considers more “academic”: the piano. “What’s fun about this process is that it’s not the vocal melody that dictates the chords,” she says. “Everything starts with the music. You can see your chords more clearly on a piano. In university classes, we use the piano to understand all kinds of music theory. But if I grab a guitar, it’s often a no-brainer. With the piano, music isn’t just wallpaper for the lyrics: it has its own language.”

And when it’s time to say things and name them with words, Venditti likes little phrases that say a lot. “I’m very inspired by Philémon Cimon, who has complex ideas supported with simple words,” she says. “That way of writing touches me, and that’s what I try to achieve with my writing.”

While all the strands in the complex arc of music-making appeal to her, Venditti believes that there’s still a lot of work to be done so that women have the same opportunities as men. The chance or audacity to try things, to make mistakes, and to change course, isn’t given to women,  and isn’t innate, either. “Early in their careers, guys are much more likely to say ‘yes’ when asked to work on a project, even if they don’t feel they have what it takes,” she says. “I hope that women, in the next few years, will have more confidence in themselves, and that they’ll be given the visibility they don’t have yet. And that’s the responsibility of radio stations, big productions, and festivals, among others, because a woman who dares and speaks loudly is usually perceived as hysterical.”

The leap into the creative zone must become automatic for women, and large projects must, according to Venditti, offer a certain number of opportunities. “We need to stop hiring women to copy notes that a man has recorded,” she says. “Women need to be involved in the creation from the start. The results will be different. The creation will be that much richer. It’s time.” Indeed, it’s time.