SOCAN has reciprocal agreements with other Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) all over the world, which means that when your song is played in Tokyo or Tel Aviv, the songwriter’s share of royalties earned from that performance eventually finds its way to you.

This is not true, however, for the reproduction royalties generated when your song is stored on a server, downloaded to a device, or used as a ringtone in one of those far-flung locales. In order to collect those royalties, you or your publisher must be a member of the reproduction rights collective in that jurisdiction, which typically means that you have to operate a business or have a representative in the territory, hence the need for a sub-publisher.

A sub-publisher acts as an agent on behalf of the original publisher of a musical work in a particular territory for a designated term. In exchange for collecting royalties and promoting the work, the sub-publisher is entitled to a portion of the monies earned, a percentage that’s negotiated on a deal-by-deal basis, but usually in the neighbourhood of 10 to 20 percent.

“If you’re a Canadian publisher, it really behooves you to look outside our borders.” –Mark Jowett, Nettwerk One Music

Most music publishers either employ and/or act as sub-publishers, using international agents to represent their catalogues and doing likewise in Canada for foreign publishers.

“If you’re a Canadian publisher, it really behooves you to look outside our borders,” observes Mark Jowett, head of Nettwerk One Music. “There’s a big appetite for Canadian music around the world, and there are some very good sub-publishers who do more than just collect income. They can be very good partners in terms of growing your business and helping your artists.”

Since its inception in 1984, the Nettwerk Music Group has relied heavily on sub-publishers to extend its reach internationally and bolster its bottom line.
Says Jowett: “With early releases like Skinny Puppy and the Grapes of Wrath, we found that sub-publishers in a territory like Germany, for example, could act sort of like baby managers – they could sub-publish the rights and they could also recommend agents for when the act was touring in Germany, and they could liaise for us with, say, BMG in Sarah McLachlan’s case. So they performed many functions beyond just sub-publishing. They were an invaluable part of our growth internationally.”

Mark Altman, founder of Morning Music, says he employed the reverse strategy to grow his company.
“When Morning Music was founded in 1971, we recognized that our domestic repertoire was not substantial enough to generate revenues sufficient to run our office,” Altman recalls, “so we needed to enhance our repertoire by doing the [sub-publishing] work for other publishers.”

At the time, many sub-publishing agreements were for all of North America, but Altman was able to convince many foreign publishers to treat Canada as a separate territory. “As time went along we increased that business, and have maintained some of those relationships going back 40 years.” Morning Music sub-publishes the Shocking Blue/Bananarama hit “Venus” and works performed by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, among others.

The Canadian arms of major music publishers like Sony/ATV are de facto sub-publishers for their company’s writers from other territories. For instance, Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada worked hard to find a domestic home for Australian newcomer Gurrumul, now released on Justin Time Records in Canada. Similarly, Canadian signing K’NAAN is just one example of a homegrown talent who benefited from promotion done overseas by Sony/ATV affiliates.

Sub-publishing is more typically the domain of independent music publishers and it represents a significant piece of business for large domestic operations like Casablanca Media Publishing and ole.

Casablanca President Jennifer Mitchell says, “Sub-publishing is very important to Casablanca – both domestic and foreign. The majority of our business is sub-publishing catalogues in Canada, however, we have been growing our worldwide administration and co-publishing roster over the last decade and continue to see substantial growth in that area. ”

Big administration deals helped put Canada’s ole on the music publishing map: “General administration was a big part of the plan for ole initially,” acknowledges CEO Robert Ott. “We globally administer a lot of clients and there are a few that we administer only in Canada. I would say that those are sub-publishing deals. In Canada we sub-publish BMG which includes [the catalogues of] Cherry Lane, Chrysalis, Bug, Stage Three, Discovery (television) and Bucks Music, among others. ”

If sub-publishing is alive and well on the pop music front, it’s falling behind in the contemporary classical world, where revenues often aren’t high enough to justify sharing a piece of the financial action with an outside agent. And even in the pop world, some publishers are relying more heavily on rights collectives, rather than doing sub-publishing or administration deals in particular territories. “There’s a lot more direct affiliation by publishers with collectives globally,” says ole’s Ott. “More so than in the past. ”