What is music publishing?


The business of music publishing is concerned with developing, protecting and valuing music. The business is diverse and demands a variety of skills. Music publishers play a vital role in the development of new music and in taking care of the business side, allowing composers and songwriters to concentrate on their creative work.

The role of a music publisher involves:

  • Finding new and talented songwriters and composers and encouraging and supporting them as they develop their skills, whether through helping with their living expenses, providing them with the facilities they need to produce music or offering advice and guidance in writing for particular markets
  • Securing commissions for new works and helping to coordinate work flow
  • Registering the works of songwriters and composers with all appropriate collecting societies and agencies, eg PRS for Music in the UK
  • Producing demo recordings and, in the case of contemporary classical music, performance materials (score and parts etc);
  • Producing and licensing the production of printed music
  • Producing promotional materials, including sampler CDs, study scores, brochures etc
  • Promoting composers and songwriters and their music to performers, broadcasters, record companies and others who use music on a commercial basis, both nationally and internationally
  • Licensing the use of music, whether directly in the case of individual and special usages (eg synchronisation deals) or via the collecting society network
  • Responding to new licensing opportunities that flow from technological developments
  • Monitoring and tracking the use of the music they own and ensuring that proper payment is made for all licensed uses
  • Making royalty payments to songwriters and composers in respect of the usage of their music
  • Taking appropriate action against anyone using music without the necessary licence

Music publishing and copyright

The business of music publishing is dependent upon there being a strong copyright framework in place. The control of copyright enables a publisher to recover the investment made in songwriters and composers and to ensure that they are rewarded for their creative work. Without copyright there would be no financial incentive for writers and composers to create, or for music publishers to invest in them and their music. This would be to the detriment of composers and writers who depend upon publishers to manage the business of exploiting their musical works, thus enabling them to make a living out of their creativity. More about licensing and copyright.

Partnership with writers

The control of copyright enables a publisher to recover the investment made in songwriters and composers and to ensure that they are rewarded for their creative work. The relationship between a music publisher and a songwriter/composer is supported by a publishing contract setting out the rights and obligations of each to the other. Under these contracts songwriters and composers assign the copyright in their music to the music publisher in return for a commitment to promote, exploit and protect that music. The publisher agrees to pay the songwriter/composer a percentage of any income earned from such exploitation as royalties. Note that copyright can only be assigned in a written document that is signed by both parties.

The definition of a good publisher

A good publisher seeks out great music and great composers and songwriters, supports composers and songwriters in the creative process, promotes their catalogues across a variety of platforms, manages the business exploitation of the catalogues (including the registration of works and the collection and onward payment of all due royalties) and generally seeks to protect and enhance the value of their works with passion and professional commitment.

More about the business of music publishing.