Music Publishing Software - Music Publishing 101

The foundation of all rights in music publishing is the intellectual property of the musical composition, including lyrics. It is nearly impossible for an author to individually monetize these rights, especially worldwide, although the situation is improving fast. This is where music publishers come in, although their role is shifting.

While it is hard to give a general explanation, due to the difference between national laws, music publishers fulfill the roles of promoters, agents and rights holders. Again, the situation is improving, due to globalization, informatization and subsequent standardization on one side, and law changes guided by the Berne Convention on the other, which increase the total income of writers and publishers.

However, most of the musical works not in the public domain are actually controlled by several major music publishers, who are threatened by novelties. While publicly promoting themselves as “revolutionary”, they are purposefully slowing the progress and natural decentralization.

There is a respectable number of companies developing truly novel solutions, most notably based on blockchain technologies, but there is almost no linking technology between them and current processes. This is where our tools and services come in. However, that is a subject for another time.

Performance, Mechanical, Synchronization

Basically, there are three economic rights for musical compositions: performing rights, mechanical rights, and synchronization rights. The definition of these rights differs greatly between the US and the rest of the world, with some countries, most notably the UK, sitting in between, so this will be a very simplified “global” explanation, omitting all exceptions.

Performing rights give authors the right to monetize on the public performance of their works, which includes live performances, radio, television, theatre and similar performances. This right is generally monetized through collecting organizations. In the US, there are specialized ones, called performing rights organizations (PROs).

Mechanical rights royalties derive from sales of carriers of sound, e.g. records and CDs, but also ringtones and on-demand streaming. In most countries, the same society, that collects performing rights, collects also mechanical. Not in the US, but with Music Modernization Act coming up, things will change significantly in this area, and most differences between the US and the rest of the world will be gone.

Synchronization rights apply when music is synchronized with some other content, most notably in commercials. But it also applies to e.g. YouTube videos using third-party music. Historically, they required direct agreements and payments, but new models have recently emerged.

It must be noted here that YouTube, Spotify and other on-demand music and video services, as well as social networks, are a huge source of revenue for music publishers, but also a huge topic. They will be covered at a later point.

Authors and Publishers

A writer can choose to give a percentage of their ownership of the musical work to a publisher, with fiduciary obligations that the publisher must care about writer’s interests. And then there is often a percentage of income being paid as well. A publisher that has a direct agreement with a writer is called “original publisher”. There can be more than one in a work, even if there is only one writer.

If there are several writers, each can have a different original publisher or a different set of original publishers. So, there are two kinds of writers, from a publisher perspective, those related to through contracts, directly or indirectly, and others. They are quite often referred to as “controlled” and “uncontrolled”, although these terms are very misleading.

Publishers can have agreements among themselves, and the most usual are co-publishing, administration, and sub-publishing. In the context of music publishing software, these agreement types have very different feature requirements. And in most cases, pricing is based on features, not size.

Music Publishing Software

Let’s sum it up. The main sources of ordinary revenue for music publishers are collecting societies, online services and direct contracts.

Registrations and Statements processing

In order to receive money from collecting organizations and online services, musical works must be registered or claimed. With very few exceptions, each collecting organization requires a separate registration. They do not magically exchange information. That means one has to register a work in each one of them, either directly or through sub-publishers. There is a Common Works Registration format that is universally used for batch registrations. There are several articles in the CWR section, which is arguably the best practical source of information on the subject. Also, we have several free CWR-related tools, as well as several commercial ones.

When collecting organizations and online services send the royalty statements and money, most publishers take their fees and forward the rest to their clients. In order to do that, they must import the processing statements and create outgoing ones. If this is an original publisher, then the most complex situation is still very simple. But for administrators and sub-publishers, it is never simple.

Sync Pitches and Sales

In order to pitch music for, let’s presume, a TV commercial, either a potential client must be able to search through your works or you must be able to send them a suggestion. In either case, the restricted access to the work must be provided. In both cases, some of the CRM functionality should be included as well.

Now, that we have established some minimal requirements for software for music publishers, we can have a better look at what is offered, both by us, our clients and other vendors.