Why And When To Move Toward Finding A Publishing Deal

FFor a songwriter, getting a publishing deal is an important step toward building a viable career. It means that you will have someone working on your behalf (and their own, of course) to get your music out there, or “placed”, in advertisement, short or long movies, digital games or other media products. It can also mean that you get more time to focus on the core business of writing music, rather than have to wear both those hats at the same time. It doesn’t hurt to be well informed, however. Here are a few things to consider that may help you take the next step.

Are you ready?

Some may never feel ready, but this may have more to do with how you view your own potential, than the actual potential of your work. Are you getting airtime? In this case, you are definitely ready. A publisher is looking for commercial potential in music, and it is important that you have a good case for that – and other people’s interest in your work is the best indicator of that. Remember that documentation in the form of actual figures, testimonials, a lively self-directed media presence, and other forms of evidence of success can be useful tools that allow you better get your case across to other people – don’t sit and wait to be discovered; be your own advocate.


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If you are serious about music as a career, you can influence this by building an awareness of how your work is seen from the outside into your practice at an early stage. Don’t be invisible!

Do you know the business?

Although a good publisher will help a songwriter navigate the contractual landscape of publishing rights and revenue from airplay and use in productions of various kinds, it is useful to know a few things about the business. It is good to be familiar with different types of rights that are critical to the monetisation of your work, e.g. performance rights (the rights to perform your song), mechanical rights (for reproduction by electronic or “mechanical” devises) and sync rights (e.g. for advertising).

In the early stages of a career in music, it can be easy to get carried away and sign rights like these off on a casual basis a little too easily. While you may not want to be too business minded with friends and colleagues at a stage in your career when networking and helping each other out is essential, it can be good to be aware, and at least discuss things with this perspective in mind during daylight hours, so to speak. And keep a record of what you promise. It can be helpful further down the line, and prevent misunderstandings.

What publisher would suit you?

You are more likely to thrive in a publishing house that supports your genre, and you as an artist. Ask around – what experiences do your colleagues have (good or bad)? How do they apply to your situation? What can you learn from their experiences? The more research you have done about the very important role for your career that your publisher has before signing a deal, the more likely you are to be able to make arrangements that you will be happy with for years to come. It is never “just” about business – the chemistry between people also needs to be right.

As always, networking and being inquisitive is a good way to learn. And while on the subject of learning, learn from the success of others. Appreciate when friends and colleagues do well, celebrate their success – and learn from it. What did they do that worked so well? Have they made some particularly helpful contacts? Can you be of mutual help to each other? Again, don’t sit around waiting to be discovered. While that may happen and be very flattering, there is no guarantee that the proverbial knight on a white charger comes up with a situation that works for you. Follow the scent that you like. Like music, collaboration is about heart and harmony.

Carina Westling writes for Imagem, the worlds biggest truly independent music publisher.