Music Publishing 101


 

Jason Carter: 
Hi everybody. This is Jason Carter with Atomic Disc. And thank you for listening to this episode of the Atomic Disc podcast. Today we are going to discuss a great mystery: music publishing.

What is music publishing and why is it important? We're going to answer lot of questions that we get. On the line with me, I have the great honor to speak with Jana Cleland. She's the vice president of Red Brick Songs in Toronto, Canada. Hi Jana.

Jana Cleland:
Hi Jason. Thank you for having me.

Jason Carter: 
Thank you so much for joining us. You are going to clear up a lot of confusion for a lot of people in this business.

Jana Cleland:
I sure hope so.

Jason Carter: 
Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself first?

Jana Cleland of Red Brick SongsJana Cleland:
Sure. I have a lot of publishing experience. I started off at a major publisher, BMG Music Publishing, back in the early nineties. I was there for more than a decade before I made the switch over to being an independent publisher. I love doing this! I've really enjoyed many, many years of working with songwriters and helping songwriters further their careers.

Jason Carter: 
When people hear the term publishing they might think of publishing as in newspapers, magazines, ink on paper, songbooks etc. What exactly is music publishing, and what do you do?

Jana Cleland:
I like to bring it back to what a recording is versus what a copyright is. Because really there's two aspects to the songs. When you're an artist and you go and you record your song, you have a version of it. That is the master recording which often belongs to a record label. Or nowadays a lot of artists hang on to that and look after that themselves. And then the other side of it is the copyright, and that is who wrote the song. And those are two separate things. So publishers look after the copyright of the song. A songwriter has to decide to work with a publisher in order to receive their services. We choose songwriters based on their music and how much we feel that we can further their careers when they assign the copyrights to us. Then we promote it, we make sure that it's used as much as possible, and we make sure that all the income is collected worldwide.

Jason Carter: 
Let's say I am an aspiring songwriter and I just discovered Red Brick Songs online and I want to approach Red Brick Songs and say, "Hey, here's my music. Uh, is it publishable?"

Jana Cleland:
Right.

Jason Carter: 
How would I go about doing that? And what's the criteria on your behalf to determine if my music is deemed worthy to be published?

Jana Cleland:
Well, unfortunately we no longer take unsolicited material, which means anybody could just send it to me in an email, or send me a link. Before we used to do this. But it takes up a lot of time and I need to make sure that my time is better spent working the songs that we do represent so that they have the advantage of all our benefits. So, now we offer a way to hear about it through managers and lawyers, people that we know through the industry that bring us songs. But to tell you the truth, how we find most of our songwriters, is just by hearing the songs themselves, by turning on the radio, hearing a great song by going to a website and discovering a song that we never heard before. We are always looking at all the different places where we hear music and looking for songwriters that we potentially could work with. So the best way that you can go about finding a publisher, is build your audience, build your songs, get them heard in as many places as possible, because you want to catch the ear of the right people.

Jason Carter: 
So, let's say I have done a really great job building a little bit of a social media following. I've put a couple of videos up online. They're doing well. Some songs I have online are doing well. I'm starting to build an audience. If I don't have access to you, how do I get on your radar?

Jana Cleland:
One way would be to contact me and ask to write with some of our writers, because if you are a songwriter that is in the area of one of our songwriters, and we arrange a co-write, then all of a sudden I get to check out more of your music. I'm going to discover how you write songs. If you're somebody that we feel could work well with our other writers.

Jason Carter: 
So, let's just say I'm social media inept. I just write songs. I write really great songs. Of course, that might be my own opinion, but let's just say for the sake of discussion, my songs really are good. What would be my first step if you were to give me advice? Should I just start knocking on doors of publishers? Should I go for publishers who take unsolicited material? Should I focus on building a following? What would be your advice for my first step?

Jana Cleland:
I really believe that the first step is building your career. Whether it is as an artist or as a producer/songwriter, or if it's strictly just as a songwriter; then you really have to be amazing at networking and getting in the right rooms, so that you have people recording your songs. And if those songs then get heard, then all of a sudden you have somebody knocking down your door. And really that's the people that you want to work with, the people that are eager to work with you, that are going to make you a priority and be a focus.

Jason Carter: 
So, there is maybe a little catch 22 there..? If I'm just a songwriter and I feel like I really have material that would be deserving to be recorded by a particular artist in whatever genre I'm writing... Getting my music placed with an artist, that could be a very difficult thing...?

Jana Cleland:
It's very difficult. And nowadays it's just not common for artists to not be in the room and be a writer on the song. Ideally, you should find a circle of writers, or you can expand and write with more and more people, and get in with artists that you feel your style of music fits. If you can do that, then all of a sudden your career is taking off.

Jason Carter: 
Let's say I write in the genre of a songwriter that I feel I would be a good fit with. I would approach their publisher and say, "Hey, I write in a similar style, would it be possible to facilitate a co-write with this songwriter?"

Jana Cleland of Red Brick SongsJana Cleland:
Right. So, I often recommend going to their Facebook page and looking at who is their contact person; is it their manager? If you contact their manager, they'll give you some clues. They are often in control of the schedule as well. They might put you in touch with the publisher directly. So, that is definitely one way. You just want to find somebody close to the artists that you'd like to work with. Start local and build up around there. Then, get a resume of songs that you've written, so that you can advance it further. You can't start at the top. You have to work your way up.

Jason Carter: 
Do you think it's more difficult for only songwriters versus songwriters that are also performing artists?

Jana Cleland:
It is. It is very hard nowadays, especially being that royalties are just not there for songwriters. That is one of the roles of a publisher as well; we're always fighting for more rights for songwriters, to make sure that their role in the music is getting paid equal value to all the different income streams. Right now the master and the artist make a lot more than the songwriter, so that is often why an artist wants to do all the different aspects, so that they have all the different income streams coming to them. Because if you're clear you're going to be in music, you want to make sure that you have all the different ways of collecting royalties and collecting an income.

Jason Carter: 
Okay, let's jump ahead. Let's say we're a band and we've done a pretty good job of building a following. We have a buzz happening. We're creating videos, we're coming out with new material and let's just say, theoretically, you are interested in us. What happens at that point? Once a publishing deal is secured, is it exclusive to you? Is it non-exclusive? Is it only for a song? Is it for possibly a relationship that's longer than one album?

Jana Cleland:
The one thing I can say for sure is that it is an exclusive deal. We don't do non-exclusives. So in that case, we represent the copyright for the world. Sometimes it is by territory, but our goal, as a publisher, is a world vision where we are working with our partners and offices around the world, so that they have a great team worldwide. But what type of deal it is can be almost anything, and it's defined by the contract. It could be an administration deal, it could be a co-publishing deal; those are two very different things. I think a lot of times publishers have gotten a reputation of being pretty scary, like taking all the rights, but there's always a term, and it defines how many songs are part of the contract.

And it can be for just one song. It could be for an album, it could be for a set period of time or number of songs. So it really depends on the contract and what people are most comfortable with. And that's all negotiable. So it's important to have a really good team looking out for you. So when you have a publisher interested, you should make sure that you have the advice of a lawyer, and if you have the access to a manager, that's a great thing to have, so that you can get their advice as to what would further your career, the way you want it to go. And you work with publishers who are going to have the same vision as you, so that you're going to get what you want in the long run. But nothing is forever. That's why you have a contract.

Jason Carter: 
I remember the last publishing contract I looked at, the verbiage actually stated they will own the rights "throughout the known universe" rather than saying worldwide.

Jana Cleland:
Right now we are marketing on Mars. So yeah... I think a lot of times the wording is put in there that way. So it's broad so that it covers the future...

Jason Carter: 
Okay. So let's say the songwriter or the band secure a publishing deal. What are the source streams of income that a publisher will shop for, that they'll try to get for the band? Are we talking, television, film, print, sheet music?

Jana Cleland:
Yes, we do everything. We collect all types of royalties whether it is performance royalties; anytime your song is heard, anytime your song is performed. There is still a way to buy the occasional song these days. That's a mechanical. Anytime that a song has a sync placement, and that can be in all different types of things: It can be in TV, film, commercials, it can be on the web, video games, etc. Anytime that there's a license for a song to be put to a visual that's called a synchronization.

Jason Carter: 
And just to clarify to people out there listening, when you're negotiating a sync, you're actually not giving away the rights to the song. It's just basically being rented or leased, right?

Jana Cleland:
It's being licensed. And so we make sure that the terms of the licenses themselves fit what we want to do, whether it's perpetuity, whatever terms they're looking for, and we make sure that there's a right dollar value attached to it, and that it is all set in a contract between us and the producer of whatever film or project that it's being licensed to.

Jason Carter: 
And you did mention earlier about artists today are being a little bit more savvy about keeping their master recordings and I know how important that is because that is half the money. Correct?

Jana Cleland:
Exactly. So there's a sync and at the same time, the sync is equal to the master use license for a project. So if we get a commercial, half the money goes to the sync, which is the publishing, and half the money goes to the master, which is the recording.

Jason Carter: 
So just one sync, owning your own master, could potentially pay for what you had shelled out for your entire project?

Jana Cleland:
Absolutely. Yeah, there's a great way to be able to invest more into music just right there. If you're able to get your songs placed in a project, it can be really lucrative. And I think that's why, especially for independent artists, that's a viable way to market your music. So if you can, if you have any friends who are music supervisors, having them hear your music is so important. And having a publisher work closely with our contacts because our contacts are broad, that really helps your career as a songwriter and as an artist.

Jason Carter: 
Great Advice!

Jana Cleland:
I wanted to quickly mention too, that there is a difference between a person who is just a music licenser, often called an agent or a broker for the song. They will take the song and promote it to get placements, but they're not looking after the publishing. They often don't look after the backend and there's totally different ways of setting up those contracts where they often will take a higher percentage on a sync, but that's because they're only working one income stream. Where as the publisher is much more focused on overall income streams. So, our contract rates they favor, they definitely favor the songwriters.

Jason Carter: 
What about these services online that allow any musician, band, or songwriter to upload their music for non-exclusive possibilities such as, are you familiar with Rumblefish out of Portland?

Jana Cleland:
No, I'm not. But that's more like the licensing agent.

Jason Carter: 
That's what I was getting at. It seems like there's a lot of these services cropping up that allow artists to do this. They seem very saturated with thousands and thousands of songs to sift through. Are these types of services worth pursuing?

Jana Cleland:
It can be. It has to be a value associated with your songs. A lot of these different types of services are blanket licenses, where you agree that your songs are going to be worth x number no matter what the project is. That's not as a publisher how we work. We make sure that each song and each project has an appropriate value. We represent all types of songs from indie bands to classic hits. In Canada, we represent, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones... Those are big copyrights that are going to earn a really large amount of money from a sync placement. But even indie bands, nothing should really be for free. And I really encourage all songwriters and artists to value their songs because if they don't value it, nobody else will.

Jason Carter: 
That is so true. Value your music. Great Advice. So Jana, you've been doing this for a long time.

Jana Cleland:
Drastically. Yeah.

Jason Carter: 
Before social media. Probably back in the days when print ads, billboards and expensive publicists were important?

Jana Cleland:
Yup. I used to register songs on the typewriter. That's like totally old school.

Jason Carter: 
So what do you see in the future for music publishing?

Jana Cleland:
Well, I think we're going to move obviously into a digital world and, I think now it's more important than ever to stand up for your rights as a songwriter, and having a publisher on your side, to make sure that they are in the government, and making sure that the laws are set to honor the copyright, and to make sure that somebody is looking out for you. I think that's really important because copyright is negotiated around the world differently. And there's not like a worldwide license. It is by country. Every country has a different set of rules and laws so having your publisher in every different territory, making sure that all the laws are followed, are going to make sure that you get paid a fair dollar amount. That's so important because maybe your music blows up in Germany and you want to make sure that in Germany you're actually getting your royalties. So I think it's so important, overall, to find ways to also speak out as a songwriter to make sure that you have a voice.

Jason Carter: 
Real quick. What's your take on Spotify? Good or bad for artists?

Jana Cleland:
Well, there's no denying that I love streaming music in all different platforms. It's so convenient and it really makes it accessible, but it's harder to find music because it's an endless amount of music. I think all platforms have to find ways to show you new artists to show you ways to discover new music. I mean, I loved going into record stores, which, you know, they're getting fewer and fewer - just to be able to go through and pick up albums. We'd look at them, look at the artwork and buy something random that you never heard of. Now, to find things that you haven't heard of on a streaming platform; it's actually harder to dig through that. But I'm a very visual person, I think. I think a lot of people are.

Jason Carter: 
We're in the business of making tangible products and our business keeps growing every year. People still want it.

Jana Cleland:
People still love vinyl! So, I mean there's always going to be a way to buy music in some format, I think.

Jason Carter: 
Getting back to Spotify real quick, do you think the royalty structure's fair that they're giving artists?

Jana Cleland:
They are paying artist royalties, a lot more than songwriter's royalties. So, I think that that needs to be looked at overall and it has to change in the future for sure.

Jason Carter: 
Okay. I think that's about it for time. And Jana, thank you once again for sharing all your great advice and wisdom about music publishing and I sure hope we can talk again someday.

Jana Cleland:
That sounds great. Thanks Jason.

Jason Carter: 
You have just listened to an Atomic Disc podcast. This has been a production of Atomic Disc, the nation's leading manufacturer for indie artists. And I'd like to thank Josh Schroeder and Sleep Millennium for providing today's music. They are Red Brick Songs artists and you can find out more about them at sleepmillennium.com.

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Written by Jason Carter

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