If you write songs –on your own, with others, or in a band – one of the most important things you can do is develop a clear understanding of how music publishing works for performances.

Yet music publishing for performances can initially seem quite confusing, especially to young songwriters who are just starting out. It’s not unusual for me to receive a blank stare when I first start explaining music publishing to a songwriter. And that’s understandable; this stuff can be complex.

A good starting point is a diagram about publishing revenue from performances on radio, television, the internet, live concerts, etc., as paid by SOCAN.

Publishing Figure One

Typically, the publishing revenue from performances in a song is divided into the Publisher’s Share and the Writer’s share, in equal halves. The entire pie represents the total revenue generated from the music publishing for performances. If you never sign any form of publishing deal, you as songwriter get 100% of the publishing revenue and rights, meaning you receive the full pie above.

From here, signing a publishing agreement involves dividing up the red half of the pie on the left, the Publisher’s Share. SOCAN will pay out the Writer’s Share to the actual songwriter (or a corporation controlled by the songwriter, which is often the case for songwriters who want to funnel their publishing revenue through a corporation rather than through themselves personally, for tax purposes).

The three main types of publishing agreements for performances are:

1) Publishing/Administration Agreement: Often artists want to retain ownership in their publishing, but hire a third party to make the most of their catalogue of songs. This includes shopping the songs for film and/or TV placements, and making sure that the correct amount of publishing revenue is being collected for the catalogue for performances around the world. The Publisher/Administrator can be a useful ally in making sure your songs are generating the most revenue possible from performances around the globe.

In this scenario, the publisher/administrator doesn’t actually own the copyrights in the songs, but administers those copyrights for a percentage, ranging from 10 to 25 percent of the performance revenues from those copyrights. So you give up a percentage of your performance publishing revenue in the hope that the publishing administrator will help your catalogue generate more revenue to offset their fee. For example, in the diagram below, the Writer retains full ownership of both pie halves, but gives up 10 to 25 percent of the Publisher’s Share of performances. So in a 20 percent Pub Admin deal, the Writer gives up 20 percent of only the Publisher’s Share of the pie (that is, 20 percent of the 50 percent Publisher’s Share), which equals 10 percent of the overall publishing revenues being generated by performances of their catalogue. The Writer’s Share remains untouched. So the Writer is left with 90 percent of the overall publishing pie, as follows:

Publishing Figure Two
2) Co-Publishing Agreement:
The Co-Pub deal is the norm in the business today. The Publisher and the Writer co-own the copyrights in the songs, and the publisher administers the copyrights in them from performances. The standard Co-Pub deal involves half of the Publisher’s Share going to the Publisher, meaning we’re left with a 75/25 split of the total ownership pie in favor of the Writer (that is, 50 percent of the Publisher’s half of the pie is given away to him, or 25 percent overall). The overall split of publishing revenue from performances is 75/25 in favor of the Writer, so the Writer is left with the following:

Publishing Figure Three
3) Buy-Out Agreement: Buy Out deals are not as common today as they were in the past, and are typically seen when a significant advance is being offered for the Writer’s catalogue. The Publisher owns 100% of the copyrights in the musical works and has sole administration rights. The overall split of publishing revenue is 50/50, as the Writer is left only with the Writer’ Share of publishing revenues from performances.

Publishing Figure Four

What Does a Music Publisher Do?

Generally speaking, music publishers administrate, promote, exploit and protect your catalogue of songs throughout the world, for the life of the copyrights in those songs, or until they revert to the songwriter after a specified period of time. The two key earnings sources for music publishers are mechanical royalties (royalties from sales of records, compact discs, and digital downloads), and performance royalties (royalties earned from the public performance of songs), which include synchronization royalties from having songs included in a film, TV, or other screen production.

Until the 20th Century, a publisher’s main function was administrating printed music in all its forms. However, as 20th Century technology extended the use of music, so the responsibilities of publishers similarly widened to include the licensing of music on records, radio, television, films, concerts and, more recently, tapes, compact discs, satellite and cable distribution, karaoke, video games, computer software, CD-ROMs and other forms of multimedia, etc.

Publishers may also actively “pitch” your songs to artists to record, and your recorded songs to radio, TV, ad agencies, music supervisors (who decide what songs are included in a film or TV show), and other music users.

It’s very common in today’s marketplace for an artist or group to write their own material. Therefore, if a recording contract is signed, strong efforts are made to sign a publishing deal for rights to the songs at the same time. In this way, additional earnings from performing rights can supplement earnings from record sales. And the songs recorded by the artist are still available to be “covered” by other artists, earning even more income.

What is Sub-Publishing?

To maximize the earnings potential of copyrights when a domestic publisher looks to exploit a song catalogue internationally, the publisher generally turns to established publishers in foreign territories. Their agreement is known as a sub-publishing contract.

The advantages of sub-publishing are obvious: the foreign publisher, ideally, has the necessary contacts to expose works in that territory and the administrative skills to collect subsequent royalties. Securing covers is part of the job, but having a sub-publisher ensures proper registration, licensing and documentation of a catalogue. Also, a sub-publisher can, through membership in local mechanical and performing rights societies, collect and distribute income generated by an original recording. Of course, major publishers with offices in many territories don’t usually require sub publishers.

So, how do you choose a publisher? Fair question. The answer really depends on a number of factors, including the track record of the publisher involved, the current state of your career, the offer on the table, and so on.


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To quote Unison Benevolent Fund co-founder Jodie Ferneyhough, “It was something that had to happen.”

Although the idea has been operational for seven years, it’s only since May 2015 that the Unison Benevolent Fund – a non-profit, registered charity that provides counseling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community – has been able to incorporate financial assistance into its mandate.

The delay had been a necessary one: in order to sustain themselves financially, Unison had a target amount of $1 million that needed to be raised in order to reach sustainability.

And although the Slaight Music Group and Music Canada ponied up $500,000 immediately to set the ball rolling, with later donations by The Canadian Music Publishers Association and other contributors swelling the charity coffers to $800,000, the final $200,000 took a number of years to realize.

“It was frustrating,” admits Catharine Saxberg, Unison co-founder and Chair, Board of Directors, “because Sheila Hamilton, our executive director, was quite frequently getting phone calls from people who were having a distressing financial emergency. To turn around and say, we weren’t fully operational yet was truly heartbreaking.”

Yet it was necessary. “We didn’t want to launch prematurely, help people for a limited amount of time, and then tell them we couldn’t help them,” adds Saxberg, who is also SOCAN’s Vice President, International Relations.

Prompted by the tragic motorcycle accident suffered by beloved Jacksoul singer-songwriter Haydain Neale, and later his passing from lung cancer, music publishing executives (at the time) Ferneyhough and Saxberg realized there was no safety net for the independent musical community and resolved to make a difference.

“This isn’t just for songwriters or musicians, this is for everyone in the music business.” – Jodie Ferneyhough

They sketched out the details on a napkin over an afternoon, and then set about the inordinately daunting task of organizing the details.

“It’s a lot of work,” says Ferneyhough, past-Chair of Unison’s Board of Directors (also a former member of the SOCAN Board of Directors).

“Getting people initially on board, getting people to buy into the concept, building the concept, finding enough money to do things like just set the company up, applying for charitable status, and finding the time to do it while we had our own jobs. Before we had executive director Sheila Hamilton on board, Catharine and I were the ones who were doing all the heavy lifting.”

Today, The Unison Benevolent Fund is fully functional, with only a few parameters set to ensure the right people qualify for funding – including SOCAN members.

“This isn’t just for songwriters or musicians,” says Ferneyhough. “This is for everyone in the music business, from the riggers to the roadies and everyone on down. All anybody has to do to take advantage of this is be in the music business. Our by-laws stipulate that you have to make the majority of your money, 55% of your income, from being in music, and that you’ve been doing it for at least two-and-a-half years.”

SOCAN members in need of assistance should visit the organization’s website and register.

“There are no fees, no dues,” says Ferneyhough. “Now we know who you are and God forbid, if something happens, all you have to do is call up and say, ‘I need assistance.’ That assistance is given discreetly and/or completely anonymously, depending on what kind of assistance you need, and Bob’s your uncle.”

Due to limited funding, the cap per applicant is set at $5,000 yearly. But just because they’re finally giving out money doesn’t mean that Unison doesn’t need more of it, especially donations.

“It’s an ongoing process,” notes Ferneyhough. “It’s a lot of continuing to reach out to the industry and asking [them] to be generous on their own behalf.”

So there will continue to be fundraisers to support the financial needs of Unison, and in turn, provide emotional and emergency economic relief to those in Canada’s music community.

“We’re extremely proud of Unison and incredibly grateful for the hard work, efforts and the contributions of so many people that have made it possible,” says Saxberg. “And we’re confident that with all that assistance, we’ve built something that will be sustainable.”


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Whenever some panelist at a music industry session or workshop starts talking about metadata, most attending songwriters’ eyes glaze over and the yawning begins. But tagging your songs with data is absolutely crucial: it’s the only way to ensure that when your music is used, it’ll be recognized as yours, and you’ll get paid for its use. Here to explain, from the perspective of a music supervisor – who decides what music goes into a movie or TV show – are Valerie Biggin and Sian O’Byrne of The Song Rep.

As music supervisors, we get a massive amount of music sent to us on a weekly basis. Typically, we don’t get a chance to listen to everything, but if a certain song catches our ear, it will ultimately end up in our iTunes library for later.

The saddest thing I come across is when, as I’m listening for a TV show or movie placement and I find a great song that would fit the scene, I hit “Command  I” and, to my dismay, I find  only the song title. No contact name, no artist name, nothing… Sadly, I then delete the song and look for something else.

Our turnaround time for a film or TV program can be less than two weeks. There’s simply no time to try and find whoever sent me that song. And this happens far more frequently than you’d imagine.

Why would you spend so much time writing, playing, recording and shopping your song, only to trip at the finish line because an additional five minutes wasn’t taken to tag your metadata on the song?

We are very often asked, “How do I tag my song?” Here’s how to do it:

  • Select the song in iTunes
  • Press “Command I” (with Mac) “Control I” (with PC)
  • Select the “Info” tab (“Details” tab in the new iTunes)
  • Write the composer, performing rights organization (SOCAN), and share percentages in the “Composer” tab
  • Write the publishing and master contact info in “Comments”
  • Add any extra info you may have (e.g., Beats Per Minute [BPM], genre, etc.)
  • Press “OK”

The reason we ask for writer and publisher info, along with share splits, master info, performing rights organization – and contact for each – is that this lets us know what approvals, and how many, we need in order to obtain (or “clear”) all the permissions required to use the song. That can also be a factor in whether or not we decide to use it or move on, because multiple approvals can take up time that we just don’t have.

We’ve provided a couple of examples below.

Here’s an example of the perfect tag:
Tagging_Correct_CS

And below is an example of one that’s not up to our standards:
Tagging_Incorrect_CS

We hope you find this information helpful! Happy Tagging!
The Song Rep is a music supervision and music services company with an understanding and appreciation of the need for client confidence, unparalleled service, professional etiquette and a “Can Do!” attitude.


  1. Nathen Aswell says:

    Hi –

    They say that the only stupid question is the one that’s unasked… 🙂

    How does the tagging info get into the hands of those who need it?
    (It’s easy to tag songs in iTunes, AND won’t the info that I enter only be stored on MY computer?)

    Thanks for your time and attention. 🙂

  2. Howard Druckman says:

    Valerie Biggin, the co-author of this blog post, says that once you tag the song in iTunes the information stays on the MP3, so when it’s sent to a music supervisor and they open the song up in iTunes, the information is still there. It’s not just on your computer.

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