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In the music industry, a music publisher (or publishing company) is responsible for ensuring the songwriters and composers receive payment when their compositions are used commercially. Through an agreement called a publishing contract, a songwriter or composer "assigns" the copyright of their composition to a publishing company. In return, the company licenses compositions, helps monitor where compositions are used, collects royalties and distributes them to the composers. They also secure commissions for music and promote existing compositions to recording artists, film and television.
The music industry consists of the companies and individuals that earn money by creating new songs and pieces and selling live concerts and shows, audio and video recordings, compositions and sheet music, and the organizations and associations that aid and represent music creators. Among the many individuals and organizations that operate in the industry are: the songwriters and composers who create new songs and musical pieces; the singers, musicians, conductors and bandleaders who perform the music; the companies and professionals who create and sell recorded music and/or sheet music ; and those that help organize and present live music performances.
A songwriter is a professional that writes lyrics or composes musical compositions for songs. A songwriter can also be called a composer, although the latter term tends to be used mainly for individuals from the classical music genre and film scoring, but is also associated with writing and composing the original musical composition or musical bed. A songwriter that writes the lyrics/words are referred to as lyricist. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that songwriting is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed between a number of people. For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with the task of creating original melodies. Pop songs may be written by group members from the band or by staff writers – songwriters directly employed by music publishers. Some songwriters serve as their own music publishers, while others have outside publishers.
A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.
The copyrights owned and administered by publishing companies are one of the most important forms of intellectual property in the music industry. (The other is the copyright on a master recording which is typically owned by a record company) Publishing companies play a central role in managing this vital asset.
Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. Intellectual property encompasses two types of rights; industrial property rights and copyright. It was not until the 19th century that the term "intellectual property" began to be used, and not until the late 20th century that it became commonplace in the majority of the world.
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Successful songwriters and composers have a relationship with a publishing company defined by a publishing contract. Publishers also sometimes provide substantial advances against future income. In return, the publishing company receives a percentage, which can be as high as 50% and varies for different kinds of royalty.
A publishing contract is a legal contract between a publisher and a writer or author, to publish original content by the writer(s) or author(s). This may involve a single written work, or a series of works.
There are several types of royalty: mechanical royalties derive from the sale of recorded music, such as CDs or digital downloads. These royalties are paid to publishers by record companies (through the Harry Fox Agency as well as through American Mechanical Rights Agency in the U.S.). Performance royalties are collected by performance rights organizations such as SESAC, BMI, ASCAP or PRS and are paid by radio stations and others who broadcast recorded music; and are paid by venues, event organizers for live performances of the compositions. Synchronization royalties are required when a composition is used in a film or television soundtrack. These royalties typically pass through the hands of a music publisher before they reach the composer.
The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) is a provider of rights management and collector and distributor of mechanical license fees on behalf of music publishers in the United States. HFA has over 48,000 music publishing clients and issues the largest number of licenses for physical and digital formats of music. It was founded in 1927 by the National Music Publishers Association. The agency was sold to performing rights organization SESAC in 2015, which was itself acquired by The Blackstone Group in 2017.
SESAC, originally the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, is a performance-rights organization (PRO) in the United States. Since the organization stopped using its full name in 1940, it is now known exclusively as SESAC. SESAC was founded in 1930, making it the second-oldest P.R.O. in the United States. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, SESAC deals with all aspects of the business, from creation to licensing and administration. The company also has offices in New York City, Los Angeles and London. SESAC has 30,000 songwriters and over 400,000 compositions in its catalogue.
PRS for Music Limited is the UK's leading collection society, bringing together two collection societies: the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and the Performing Right Society (PRS). It undertakes collective rights management for musical works on behalf of its 130,000 members. PRS for Music was formed in 1997 following the MCPS-PRS Alliance. In 2009, PRS and MCPS-PRS Alliance realigned their brands and became PRS for Music.
Publishers also work to link up new songs by songwriters with suitable recording artists to record them and to place writers' songs in other media such as movie soundtracks and commercials. They will typically also handle copyright registration and "ownership" matters for the composer. Music print publishers also supervise the issue of songbooks and sheet music by their artists.
A soundtrack, also written sound track, can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program, or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film, video, or television presentation; or the physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound.
The purpose of copyright registration is to place on record a verifiable account of the date and content of the work in question, so that in the event of a legal claim, or case of infringement or plagiarism, the copyright owner can produce a copy of the work from an official government source.
Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of music notation that uses modern musical symbols to indicate the pitches (melodies), rhythms or chords of a song or instrumental musical piece. Like its analogs – printed books or pamphlets in English, Arabic or other languages – the medium of sheet music typically is paper, although the access to musical notation since the 1980s has included the presentation of musical notation on computer screens and the development of scorewriter computer programs that can notate a song or piece electronically, and, in some cases, "play back" the notated music using a synthesizer or virtual instruments.
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Traditionally, music publishing royalties are split seventy/thirty, with thirty percent going to the publisher (as payment for their services) and the rest going to the songwriter – or songwriters, as the case may be. Other arrangements have been made in the past, and continue to be; some better for the writers, some better for the publishers. Occasionally a recording artist will ask for a co-writer's credit on a song (thus sharing in both the artist and publishing royalties) in exchange for selecting it to perform, particularly if the writer is not well known. Sometimes an artist's manager or producer will expect a co-credit or share of the publishing (as with Norman Petty and Phil Spector), and occasionally a publisher will insist on writer's credit (as Morris Levy did with several of his acts); these practices are listed in ascending order of scrupulousness, as regarded by the music industry.
Norman Petty was an American musician and record producer who is best known for his association with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who recorded in his studio.
Phillip Harvey Spector is an American record producer, musician, and songwriter who developed the Wall of Sound, a music production formula he described as a Wagnerian approach to rock and roll. Spector was dubbed the "First Tycoon of Teen" by writer Tom Wolfe and is acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in pop music history. After the 1970s, Spector mostly retired from public life. In 2009, he was convicted of second-degree murder and has remained incarcerated since.
Morris Levy was an American jazz club, music publishing, and independent record industry entrepreneur, widely known as the founder and owner of Roulette Records and the owner of the Birdland jazz club and the Roulette Room.
The most unscrupulous type of music publisher is the songshark, who does little if any real "legwork" or promotion on behalf of songwriters. Songsharks make their profit not on royalties from sales, but by charging inexperienced writers for "services" (some real, such as demo recording or musical arranging, some fictional, such as "audition" or "review" fees) a legitimate publisher would provide without cost to the writer, as part of their job. (By comparison, a bona fide publisher who charges admission to a workshop for writers, where songs may be auditioned or reviewed, isn't wrong to do so.)
Rock-n-roll pioneer Buddy Holly split with longtime manager Norman Petty over publishing matters in late 1958, as did the Buckinghams with producer James William Guercio almost a decade later. John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival was sued by his former publisher Saul Zaentz (who'd also served as his manager) over a later Fogerty song that sounded slightly like a CCR song Zaentz published. (Fogerty won in court.)
Several bands and artists own (or later purchase) their own publishing, and start their own companies, with or without help from an outside agent. The sale or loss of publishing ownership can be devastating to a given artist or writer, financially and emotionally. R&B legend Little Richard was largely cheated on his music publishing and copyrights, as were many performers. Brian Wilson and Mike Love of The Beach Boys were crushed to learn that Murry Wilson (father to three of the Beach Boys, Love's uncle, and the band's music publisher) had sold their company Sea of Tunes to A&M Records during 1969 for a fraction of what it was worth – or earned in the following years.
A large factor in the Beatles' breakup was when their publisher Dick James sold his share of Northern Songs, the company they'd formed with him in 1963 (then taken public in 1967, with shares trading on the London Stock Exchange), to Britain's Associated TeleVision (ATV) in 1969. Neither the Beatles nor managers Lee Eastman and Allen Klein were able to prevent ATV from becoming majority stockholders in Northern Songs, whose assets included virtually all the group's song copyrights. Losing control of the company, John Lennon and Paul McCartney elected to sell their share of Northern Songs (and thus their own copyrights), while retaining their writer's royalties. (George Harrison and Ringo Starr retained minority holdings in the company.)
A royalty is a payment made by one party, the licensee or franchisee to another that owns a particular asset, the licensor or franchisor for the right to ongoing use of that asset. Royalties are typically agreed upon as a percentage of gross or net revenues derived from the use of an asset or a fixed price per unit sold of an item of such, but there are also other modes and metrics of compensation. A royalty interest is the right to collect a stream of future royalty payments.
A lyricist or lyrist is a person who writes lyrics—words for songs—as opposed to a composer, who writes the song's melody.
Saul Zaentz was an American film producer and record company executive. He won the Academy Award for Best Picture three times and, in 1996, was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
A demo is a song or group of songs recorded for limited circulation or reference use rather than for general public release. A demo is a way for a musician to approximate their ideas in a fixed format, such as cassette tape, compact disc, or digital audio files, and to thereby pass along those ideas to record labels, record producers, or to other artists.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing is an American music publisher owned by Sony Entertainment. The company was formed in 1995 with the merger of Sony Music Publishing and ATV Music, which was owned by entertainer Michael Jackson. Jackson had purchased ATV Music, which included the Lennon–McCartney song catalog, in 1985.
Centerfield is the third solo studio album by musician John Fogerty. Released in 1985, it spawned the hit singles "The Old Man Down the Road", "Rock and Roll Girls" and the title track "Centerfield". This was Fogerty's first album in nine years; After Asylum Records rejected his Hoodoo album, he decided to take a long break from the music business because of legal battles with his record company. In the meantime, Fogerty's recording contract with Asylum Records was reassigned to co-owned Warner Bros. Records so this album was the first released on the Warner Bros. label.
Music publishing is the business of creating, producing and distributing printed musical scores, parts, and books in various types of music notation, while ensuring that the composer, songwriter and other creators receive credit and royalties or other payment. This article outlines the early history of the industry.
Startling Music is a music publishing company, founded by musician Ringo Starr, drummer of the Beatles.
A music synchronization license, or "sync" for short, is a music license granted by the holder of the copyright of a particular composition, allowing the licensee to synchronize ("sync") music with some kind of visual media output.
Production music is the name given to recorded music that can be licensed to customers for use in film, television, radio and other media. Oftentimes, the music is produced and owned by production music libraries.
"The Old Man Down the Road" is a song by American rock artist John Fogerty. It was released in December 1984 as the lead single from Fogerty's comeback album, Centerfield. It became a top 10 hit single, peaking at number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and spending three weeks at the number-one spot on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart.
"Run Through the Jungle" is a 1970 rock song recorded by California-based band Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Downtown is a global independent rights management and music services company. Based in New York City, it is composed of five divisions: AVL Digital Group, Downtown Music Publishing, Songtrust, Downtown Music Studios, and Neighbouring Rights. In addition to its New York headquarters, Downtown has offices in Nashville, Los Angeles, London, and Amsterdam.
Acuff-Rose Music was an American music publishing firm formed in 1942 by Roy Acuff and Fred Rose in Nashville, Tennessee. Acuff-Rose's honest behavior towards their writers set them apart from other music publishing firms at the time and led them to fame throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Currently, the company's catalog is owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Music Law refers to legal aspects of the music industry, and certain legal aspects in other sectors of the entertainment industry. The music industry includes record labels, music publishers, merchandisers, the live events sector and of course performers and artists.
Music plagiarism is the use or close imitation of another author's music while representing it as one's own original work. Plagiarism in music now occurs in two contexts—with a musical idea or sampling. For a legal history of the latter see sampling.
The Orrin G. Hatch–Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act, or Music Modernization Act or MMA is United States legislation signed into law on October 11, 2018 aimed to modernize copyright-related issues for music and audio recordings due to new forms of technology like digital streaming. It is a consolidation of three separate bills introduced during the 115th United States Congress.