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What we learned at Music Publishing 101, hosted by Women in Music Sydney

Tip Published Thursday 1 November 2018
The role of the music publisher can cover all aspects of a songwriters career development (Source: Van Picken, Comes with Fries)

Music publishers represent songwriters; and support their career and creative development

APRA AMCOS pays royalties to songwriters and publishers as well as providing development and education opportunities

Publishers tend to discover songwriters through word of mouth from managers, lawyers and industry contacts

It was a packed room for the recent 'Music Publishing 101' event, hosted by Women in Music Sydney and held at APRA AMCOS HQ. An expert panel delved into what publishing is, the role of the publisher, songwriting royalties and the relationship between writers and publishers.

On the panel:

The tone was insightful, refreshingly honest and educational – no matter your knowledge level of publishing. And, don’t worry, if you couldn’t get a ticket or be in Sydney, we took some notes.

The core of publishing

It’s ok to not know everything there is to know. So, what is a publisher? The very short answer to that is that a publisher represents songwriters, supports their career and creative development, fosters new opportunities, and helps to manage the business of their songwriting.

Leonie explained that as an independent publisher that works with a sub-publisher, she can draw upon their assistance to deal with the nuts and bolts so that she can focus on her creative role of “finding and developing songwriting talent, helping artists across every aspect of their career. It’s quite different from a traditional publishing role.” And she often works with major publishers, record labels and managers to set up co-writing sessions with other artists.

Rachel talked about how the traditional role of the publisher was providing important administrative functions. Technology now heavily supports the administrative functions, which “enables publishers to be more creative and create opportunities” for songwriters.

How the role of the music publisher has changed, while staying the same

Administration has always been a key service of the publisher, but it is that and so much more.

Creative introductions, managing royalties in a changing music ecosystem, the raise of the producer, and the dynamics of contemporary songwriting - who gets a cut? - make publishing an exciting and dynamic sector.

Rachel: “Publishers should support their writers in all creative pursuits and provide good admin, that hasn’t changed.” What has changed she said, is the increasingly “diverse income streams in a fragmented media landscape. Music has never been more readily available, and that brings both opportunities and challenges”, however Australia punches well above its weight in terms of talent and income generated out of this territory.

The Role of the Performing Rights Organisation (the APRA side of APRA AMCOS and our equivalents globally)

Collecting and connecting, that’s us.

Jana: “The fees that come from licensing businesses and public performances become royalties for the songwriter or composer.”

If a writer member does not have a publisher, their royalties are paid to them directly. If they have a publisher, APRA AMCOS pays half to the writer and the other half to the publisher.

Jana explained how similar to the ‘traditional’ publisher role, APRA AMCOS has also evolved to provide more services to members – advocating on behalf of members to government, liaising with the industry to create partnerships and professional opportunities for members, and being a business partner to music publishers and working with international societies. “We see ourselves as providing impactful career development for songwriters and composers.”

How does someone get signed?

A deceptively simple question.

Leonie says there is no exact science to it. She uses the 50 Songs in 5 Days intensive songwriting camp as a way to discover new talent, as well as recommendations, tips from friends, and even the occasional acquaintance on a party boat who just wants to tell her about someone.

Rachel says that usually the best recommendations come from existing relationships with artist managers, lawyers and industry contacts. In each case it comes back to the song. “When I hear something for the first time, I need to feel something - preferably goosebumps! Then I’ll consider whether our global creative team can work with this”.

Making deals

What’s a deal like in 2018 and how can a songwriter tell if it’s a decent one?

Rachel said that "While our preference is for global deals, we’ll respect any pre-existing relationships. For example, we’re signing an Australian artist for world ex. ANZ, and another global deal recently carved out two territories. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, with more flexibility in the way deals are structured.

The nature of Leonie’s publishing company means that she “tends to sign people that nobody knows about,” so she tends to sign global deals.”
And how does being a manager and a publisher affect how Leonie does her work? She jokes, “When I’m the manager I don’t want the publisher talking to the writer, but when I’m the publisher I want a direct relationship with the writer!”

And for the unpublished writer?

“APRA AMCOS provides a high level of service and knowledge to our members, and we can be a one-stop shop,” said Jana. “We pay songwriters and composers for being played, and we educate the general public to understand the value of music, that if you play other people’s music publicly you should be paying a fee to do so. We have a broad outreach program to help writers with inspiration, networking and career development with programs like the one-day Melbourne Sessions, the SongMakers program at schools, Starting Ground workshops for Aboriginal music makers and our more high-profile SongHubs writing camps. All of these opportunities can lead members down exciting pathways.”