Category: Music

Need a Publisher? Are you Sure?

Maybe it is a millennial thing or maybe it is just a product of the industry but we consistently hear several things from new artists that are trying to make it to the next level:

“I need a manager”

“I need a label”

“I need a publisher”

Sometimes there is a need for one of these.  Sometimes there is a need for all of them.  But when does an artist really need a publisher?

We think there are only a couple of situations where a musician who writes music truly needs a publisher rather than self-publishing:

1.  You are a top-line (lyrics) writer or producer that needs a publisher to set up writing/recording sessions with other similar or more established writers or producers.

Or

2. You are in need of a substantial check as a loan/advance.

Going in reverse, the only way you are going to get to #2 is if you have a previously released catalog of music that is making substantial revenue on the publishing side of things (actual record sales, licenses, performance royalties etc.).  Obviously, easier said then done.

So in our opinion #1 is probably the best and primary reason that an artist should consider or seek out a publishing situation.  If you are a writer/producer that either writes for him/herself or has written for another artist and your goal is to try to continue to do so or write with writers who have credits on gold/platinum albums, a good publisher should be able to facilitate this.  They should be able to pair you with established and up-and-coming artists that have budgets behind them.  Getting in with those artists and getting music actually released with a budget for radio/pr etc. obviously builds your own value and the value in your publishing.

As many of you know, getting tracks to the top artists is incredibly difficult.  Even if you have a direct line to the artist you still have to get through the artists, management, publisher and label to even have a shot of getting a placement on that artist’s album.  Getting a writing session with the artist is even more of a challenge.

If you are at the point where you have the chops, you have a history of writing really solid music, your previous writing is actually earning you some money and you can write for other people, you want to make sure that you are doing everything you can to maximize your value and that of your publishing.  We have so many stories of writers/producers that were involved in big songs that weren’t credited the right way or were left off registrations for some reason or the other.  So making sure you are handling your publishing yourself is the first step in preparing yourself to even be considered by a major publisher.

Please don’t get it twisted (as the young folks say), if you self-publish you better be able to administer your works or have a lawyer/manager who knows how.  Without registering your music with the PROs or securing correct split sheets or hounding labels for statements or hitting up independent artists who have used your music, you are essentially lighting money on fire.  You have to know what rights you have in and to your publishing and how to go about collecting it.  Registering works is not complicated.  Understanding how and when you get paid from those works is.

There are several companies popping up that are offering admin services.  Some are directly tied to the big publishers but then you have companies like CD Baby and Tunecore rolled out an admin service and functions a couple of years back.  Songtrust is another one that offers a ton of services including administration of publishing.  We have clients that have positive things to say about each one and those that have negative things to say about each one.  So we will leave it up to you to decide if one of these outlets is right for you.

Remember, if you write a song and do nothing to register it or attempt to collect on it, it’s not really “published”.

Just like everything else in music (or most industries for that matter) you have to work your way up.  You won’t get a publishing deal that makes sense unless you have already proven yourself as a writer.  It is tough to prove yourself as a writer without getting a break in a very competitive industry.  But you won’t get a break at all if you don’t treat your writing like an actual business and get the people you need to be in your corner to help you do so.

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The Golden Oldies – Recapturing Pre-1978 Copyrights

We have covered several topics on recapturing copyrights here at Lawyer 4 Musicians (see Recapture Basics and Heir’s Rights), as the clock started for copyright owners to terminate a record label or publisher’s grant of rights in 2013. But what if you granted the rights to your copyright before the Copyright Act came into effect (before 1978)? Are they lost for forever? What if I am an heir who has inherited hundreds of songs that are being controlled by someone else? Never fear, with just a gentle tweak in termination timelines, the Copyright Act addresses recapturing of copyrights pre-1978.

Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act allows the copyright owner or his or her heirs to recapture a grant of their copyrights starting on the 56th year from when the copyright was originally registered. Why is it 56 years instead of 35 like post 1978 copyrights? Glad you asked…A little history for you . . . prior to the enactment of the Copyright Act, a copyright was split in two consecutive 28-year periods (this means you could own a copyright for 28 years and then renew it for an additional 28 years) for a grand total of 56 years. Once the Copyright Act was enacted amendments were passed to extend pre-1978 copyrights for an additional 19 years and then again another 20, totaling a whopping 95 years (28+28+19+20). Section 304(c) allows copyright owners or their heirs to recapture for the remaining 39 years that were added by the amendments, (with a few rare exceptions).

The rest of the recapturing maze is the same as post-1978 copyrights . . . simple right? Sort of. The copyright owners or their heirs have a 5-year termination window after the 56th year during which the grant of rights may be terminated. But in order to exercise the termination, the owner must provide written notice to the grantee with an effective termination date falling in the termination window. The notice must be served between 10 and 2 years prior to the effective termination date. Here is an example:

Copyright Registered: June 15, 1950

Termination Window: June 15, 2006 – June 15, 2011

(1950 + 56 years = 2006 + 5 year window = 2011)

Now the tricky part . . . the notice is dependent on the date you want the termination to occur. If you take the above example and want the termination to be effective on January 1, 2010, the termination notice needs to be given to the grantee after January 1, 2000 (later than 10 years before) and before January 1, 2008 (prior to 2 years before). The notice needs to be signed by the owner or if the owner is deceased, those entitled to more than 50% of the copyright interest (see Heir’s Rights article). Then the notice needs to be recorded in the Copyright Office prior to the effective termination date.

A bit complicated, but if you can do the math and send the letter those copyrights are as good as yours! And, of course, we are here to help. Just ask!

Stay tuned for more posts on Lawyers 4 Musicians, after a long hiatus we are back, keeping you updated on all the ins and outs of the music biz!