What to Know Before You Sign

Updated: Feb 23

By Trinity Reyes-Escobar

Many small and independent artists blindly navigate the treacherous world that is the music industry. That would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that many artists sign contracts without ever reading them or without ever knowing what the words on each page mean. Specifically, many artists don’t think about music publishing much, even though it is a very important part of the music industry. Here are some of the most frequent music publishing deals that artists should be aware of.


Traditional Publishing Deal

While “traditional” publishing deals, or full publishing deals, are not as common nowadays, it is still a good idea to be knowledgeable of what they consist of. Essentially, an artist would be forfeiting 100% of their publishing rights. In other words, the publisher would forever own their share. Why is that? Well, that would be in return for the services the publisher provides, like pitching the artists for various opportunities that arise and promoting the published material.




These deals are also accompanied with an advance on behalf of the publisher. It is important to note, however, that the writer would not get any of their royalties until the advance is fully recouped.



Co-Publishing Deals

A co-publishing deal is the most common publishing deal out there these days. In a co-publishing deal, artists will usually give away 50% ownership of their publisher’s share (hence, co-publishing). So in this deal, the songwriter keeps 100% of their writer’s share and 50% of their publisher’s share (so 25% of the publishing half). In total, they will receive 75% of the total publishing royalties.



Unlike full publishing deals, the songwriter would eventually get their 100% of their rights back in a co-publishing deal. In a contract, this would be called “duration of rights.” While the number of years varies between cases, it could be from two years to ten years or even more. Like the traditional publishing deal, though, a co-publishing deal will also come with an advance.


Administration Deals

In an administration deal, the songwriter gets to keep 100% of their copyright as well as their writer’s share. In exchange, the songwriter will pay the publisher (the administrator) an administration fee. The percentage that the songwriter gives the publisher from the publisher’s share varies, but it can be from 10% to 25%.



Administration deals may or may not include an advance. These agreements, however, do not always include creative services. While this is a case by case basis, many of these deals focus more on collecting royalties on the songwriter’s behalf and registering their songs with performance rights organizations (PROs).


Which Deal is the Best?

While it may seem like there is an obvious answer, at the end of the day, there are pros and cons to these three deals and others not mentioned as well. Each songwriter has specific wants and needs and it really comes down to them choosing what is best for them. While an advance may seem like an amazing idea, it is crucial to think about what recouping the money will look like and how long it will take until income is made. It also cannot be stressed enough how key it is to have a good lawyer to read over these agreements.


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