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. ”

Despite having an ongoing presence at music industry events across the country, representatives of the Songwriters Association of Canada (S.A.C.) are often asked, “Are you SOCAN?”

To which the answer is always, “SOCAN is an important organization for songwriters to be part of in order to get paid performance royalties. The S.A.C. is a separate organization that is also great for songwriters for networking, education and advocacy.”

As a member of SOCAN, you probably take your songwriting career seriously. Similarly, S.A.C. membership is an investment, not only in your career, but also in the songwriting industry at large.

Founded in 1983, the Songwriters Association of Canada was formed to inform and support songwriters at all levels, and to create a platform for songwriters to have a voice in the ever-changing landscape of the music industry. Since that time, the business has undergone significant changes, and continues to evolve rapidly with emerging technologies. As such, the importance of advocating on behalf of songwriters is now more important than ever. The S.A.C. continues to build important bridges between songwriting organizations and policy makers, both  in Canada and throughout the world.

Over the years, the organization has expanded to include networking and education initiatives to nurture the songwriting industry in Canada. This includes a recently launched webinar series that songwriters can log into from anywhere across the country, to access topics such as “How To Get Your Music in Film & TV,” “Going Indie in Urban Music,” and “Work, Life Balance for Songwriters.” Our webinars form part of Channel S.A.C., a video library exclusive to members on our website.

This past year saw the launch of our annual reference edition of Songwriters Magazine – a publication that covers both the business and craft of songwriting. We’ve also expanded a program called “Songworks,” that creates opportunities for professional and emerging songwriters to co-write and record together – which has already resulted in song placements around the world.

Our other programs include:

  • Song Vault:  A secure registration service to protect your songs.
  • Song Assessment: Get online professional feedback.
  • Regional Writers Group: Network and hone your songwriting.
  • WritersConnect : Meet new songwriting partners and collaborate.
  •  Pitch your songs for film & TV placement.
  • Songposium: Full-day interactive workshops.
  • BlueBird North: Where writers sing & tell.

We welcome professional songwriters to join our roster of mentors, panelists and song assessors, along with providing feedback on our advocacy initiatives.  We also welcome aspiring songwriters who can tap into a wealth of growth and networking opportunities to help them succeed.  For more information about S.A.C., and to join, visit

Tony Tobias has worked in the cultural industries in Canada for more than 35 years, in the fields of music and media rights management, among others. His publishing company is Pangaea Media & Music Inc., and he’s a member of SOCAN’s Board of Directors. Saukrates is a veteran, Juno-nominated Canadian rapper, singer, and record producer who co-founded Capitol Hill Music, and sings in the group Big Black Lincoln. He’s also a member of Redman’s Gilla House collective, and has worked with K-os and Nelly Furtado. Here, they discuss publishing in hip-hop music.

Tony Tobias:
If you’re a hip-hop songwriter, you should be concerned about what you own of the copyright, which translates into multiple potential revenue streams. Some hip-hop producers don’t have a great handle on what music publishing is. The producer contributes to the master track, but the recording is a different entity to the song, so we have to differentiate – they’re separate as far as copyright is concerned.

There are also different types of producers. The producer-as-investor tells the artist, “I didn’t write the song, but because you can’t pay me, I’m proposing that you put me on the song as a co-writer, so I can benefit from airplay – that might be my only revenue.” Here, the artist retains copyright, as he or she does when working with the producer-as-arranger – or beat-maker – who comes up with beats for the song the artist has created. As an artist, don’t let that producer convince you that they have now co-written a song. The producer-as-composer actually has ideas as a musician and collaborates with the artist on the actual writing of the music, with a clear understanding that they are co-writing and sharing copyright.

In a writing-room situation, before you start, say, “OK, everybody in the room is cool with the fact that this is a collaboration/co-songwriting thing here, and before we leave the room we’ll agree about who contributed what, and here’s the sheet that we’ll all sign, basically accepting the percentage that we agreed.”

These days the lines get blurred between beat-makers and producers. The more talented beat-makers play a huge role in putting a song through the roof. They can take some of the producer credit, or share it, because they have taken it that far.

A lot of times, new beat-makers get opportunities on a mixtape, which nowadays is just putting your music out there so people can get a feel for what you do. So in that case they might say, “You can use it for a minimal amount, but it’s non-exclusive” – and they’ll retain their publishing, and reap the long-term benefit. Two years later, you call the beat-maker again, and it’s not the same: you can’t use this piece of music for nothing, non-exclusively or exclusively. It’s a battle. It’s war out there!
Up-and-comers don’t even think about the red tape before they go in the studio. That’s something for all veterans to take note of, to keep it loose and be free with it and deal with it all afterwards. If it don’t fly, you find a way to change it, to replace the sample or said musician. The sky’s the limit.