How to Sell Songs to Music Publishers

As I’m sitting here enjoying the warm sun through my home studio window, I was wondering how could I sell a song to a music publisher. Immediately I  decided to further explore the subject and this is what I came up with:
Typically you don’t sell a song, instead, you publish and license the rights of your song to a recording artist or a music company and you do that through a music publisher. If you want to sell your songs successfully through a music publisher you will have to do the following:

  • Build your network
  • Create quality content
  • Educate yourself
  • consider the size of their company
  • Consider the publisher’s style

In the article, I also talk about what a music publisher actually does, what you have to do before signing a contract and much more!


What is music publishing?

Publishing means that you give the rights of both issuing a license and collecting income on your behalf. The publisher does that by pitching your songs to recording artists.


What does a music publisher do?

Most musicians are too busy or don’t want to get involved keeping track of all the ways their work is used by others, that’s why they turn to music publishers and allow them to arrange these matters for them, in return the publisher retains a percentage of what they collect.

Both parties have to play their part, the publisher must exploit and protect the work of the artist and the artist has to deliver quality work as and when promised.  


Furthermore, the job of a music publisher is divided into three categories:

A) Administration

  • The publisher collects fees and royalties produced from the commissioning of music
  • He conducts all the administration involved in registering and maintaining the copyrights
  • He protects the artist work from unauthorized uses.


B) Licencing

  • Licensing the use of music in special products
  • Secure synchronization licenses when persuading other professionals such as advertisers, game developers, and TV producers to commission new or use existing works from his writers.


C) Creative

  • Heavily promote his writers  so that they can get more deals
  • Use his skills In order to persuade the record company to record the copyrighted material it controls
  • Pitch songs to music industry professionals, production companies and ad agencies
  • Help writers get good management
  • Many publishers also have the role of a coach and give general career advice to their artists.

 Keep in mind that some independent publishers my Focus only on a couple of areas such as music production or advertising-licensing.


Key sources of income

From my research I conducted the main sources of publishing income are:

  1. Public performance royalties & the right to communicate to the public
  2. Synchronization and similar licensing income
  3. Mechanical royalties
  4. Broadcast
  5. Print rights and royalties
  6. Streaming royalties


Public performance royalties & the right to communicate to the public?

These rights cover all the situations in which music is communicated or performed publicly.  Royalty is payable to the copyright owner every time his music is performed in public.


What is synchronization (SYNC)?

We use the term SYNC whenever music is licensed for films and television. An example would be that a film producer must obtain synchronization rights to the music, this is the case for theatrical, non-theatrical exhibition and transmission by cable.

Synchronization is also used in the marketing and promotion business, this is a great source of income for many composers & producers since the demand for radio jingles and TV  advertisement is great.


Mechanical royalties

Mechanical royalties income is the income that is being created whenever a copy of a song is being made. Royalties are being paid to the owners of the song (lyrics and music) because they grant the permission for their work to be included on a record such as a CD or Vinyl.



Every time a song is broadcasted in any way, a royalty is payable to the copyright owner.


Print rights and royalties

These are royalties that are being paid to the writer when songs are printed as sheet music. In the past, sheet music used to be a great source of income, It was not uncommon for a writer to see as much as 80% of income being delivered from printed sheet music, but In today’s digital age sheet music is practical un-existed.


Streaming royalties

Streaming has become extremely important, each year more and more people turn to services such as Spotify or Napster, in short, streaming royalties are being received whenever a song is streamed online.  

Different streaming services offer different rates And a generally they are lower than mechanical royalties. If you want to succeed as an artist I suggest you learn everything you can about the benefits and disadvantages music streaming has to offer.

I’ve written an article that dives into the specifics and also shows you how many streams you need in order to make minimum wage in the US, you can read this article here.


How to find a good music publisher?


Build your network

Building a strong network is the Alpha and the Omega if you want to succeed in the music industry. Try and build your network, target publishers, try to find their contact info (maybe through LinkedIn)  and send them a short but clear message,

[learn_more caption=”PRO TIP:”] Remember to link your music from an online service don’t include your song as an attachment since it may not download and some virus scanners might block it. [/learn_more]


Look at the size of the company

Try picking an established publishing company or if you work with a freelancer someone who has a great Bio.  Of course a great publisher and publishing companies don’t have to fulfill the before mentioned requirements, you can always work with skilled professionals that are just starting out.


Look at their Style

Every music publishing company has the same target, but their means of approach might differ.

I suggest you work with a more aggressive and involved publisher, who is a part of a company that’s able to provide songwriting workshops and is able to pair you with other songwriters, in order to create amazing collaborations.

These types of publishers also tend to show more initiative, they don’t wait for some label to call, instead, they seek contact first and generate opportunities for their recording artists.


Educate yourself

Try learning and understanding as much as you can about how the music industry works.  try Googling publishers near you or watch interviews from publishers, and see what they have to say. Remember self-education is the best form of education that exists.


Create quality content

The first thing you have to do is to focus on creating quality songs  or associate yourself with current artists that are popular


What to do before signing a contract?

Before signing a contract with a music publisher make sure to conduct your research. Don’t just sign with everyone, it is important that they have the right connections and contacts in the music industry.


Find a lawyer

If you are unsure whether the contract you’re about to sign has hidden loops hire a lawyer preferably someone who specializes in these types of contracts and have them review your agreement.  Don’t be shy or feel bad about hiring a lawyer and therefore seemingly not trusting your publisher, it’s just business not personal.


Don’t pitch twice

I’ve heard from music labels that if they receive the same song presented by two different sources they will reject that song and most likely blacklist the artist, that’s why always pitch every song once using the same source, since by increasing the number of pitches you will decrease your chance of being signed.


Is DIY an option?

If reaching out to a publisher doesn’t yield any fruits then you can always go DIY. In today’s day and age, the Internet does offer great possibilities compared to 10-20 years ago. Keep in mind that you must devote time and energy, to develop the necessary skills a professional song publisher has.


Income calculation

Let’s take as an example a mechanical royalties situation.l

If a new CD release, that cost $15.00 dollars with the current statutory mechanical copyright royalty in the US being about 9.1¢ per unit, and if the record sells 50.000 units the gross mechanical royalties generated will be about $4.550 dollars.


9.1 cent * 50.000 units equals about $4.550 dollars

 The song publisher will collect that amount and split the income between himself (about 15%-20%) and the writer, that is if the writer has composed the song by himself. If he was merely a collaborator he will get the percentage that is mentioned in the contract.



In my opinion, music publishers can offer many advantages to their signed artist, however, if you’re at the very beginning stages of your career you may want to wait and not hire a music publisher until later on.


If you enjoyed the article please leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences!

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