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Many musicians have heard about people getting publishing deals and wondered, what exactly is a publishing deal?
For a long time I really had no idea what getting a publishing deal entailed. I knew people who had these elusive contracts and seemed to live pretty cool lives, but I didn’t know what they meant.
Recently, my music brought me from Canada down to Nashville, where it seems that every second person in line for coffee has a publishing deal. There, I visited publishing houses, talked to people with publishing deals, and even wrote with them.
Basically, if you have a publishing deal, you are a professional songwriter. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, it certainly can be!
There are a few different kinds of publishing deals, which we will cover throughout this article.
Typically, if you have a traditional publishing deal, you are receiving a salary (or draw) to write songs. Then, you and your publishing company shop your songs around to artists and labels, hoping that one of your songs will be recorded by an artist.
For many songwriters who are just starting out, this isn’t enough money to write full-time. Some of the songwriters I know with these deals also do engineering work, sideman gigs, or work a serving job at night.
Many of these songwriters work at songwriting like the “average Joe” works at a job. They write every day at 10 AM – either by themselves or co-writing with other artists and writers. Then, they spend a great deal of time demoing their songs.
All this sounds great, but what are the drawbacks?
Cons of Publishing Deals
Believe it or not, there are cons to what otherwise sounds like a pretty great deal. Let’s take a look.
Your Salary & Budget Are Loans
By far the biggest drawback to a standard publishing deal is the fact that your “salary” and budget for recording demos are essentially loans.
If one of your songs gets “cut” (recorded by another artist), and starts generating income, 100% of that income goes towards paying the publishing company back for your salary and budget. And it doesn’t end there.
Unlike a bank loan, the company will continue to take a portion of all profits from your songs, often until you die.
Worse, your contract may not give you the right to collect royalties on certain things you would otherwise collect royalties for, because the publishing company owns the master.
You May Never Get A “Cut” Because You’re Too Small
Often, these big publishing companies have “star songwriters”, songwriters that have churned out a few hits, made the company a lot of money, and have lots of connections. These songwriters are usually the priority – not you.
For every opportunity that a song “plugger” has to pitch your song, they have literally thousands of songs to choose from. It’s not easy to get your song recorded.
Pros Of Publishing Deals
Now you’re aware of some of the downsides of publishing deals. Fortunately, there are some benefits too, and we’re about to explore them.
Having Time To Write
How many times have you been frustrated by the number of working hours in a day? Or come home from work too exhausted to write or practice?
A publishing deal allows you to work a part-time job instead of a full-time job. It allows you to cut back on the cover gigs and focus on your writing. Basically, it buys you time.
Because you’re being paid, it forces you and gives you the opportunity to sit down and write every day.
The publishing company also deals with all the “business stuff” that takes up far too much of our days. They’ll even organize your co-writes and chase after songwriting opportunities for you. Most importantly, they’ll be pitching your songs for you.
Signing a publishing deal gives you a certain amount of credibility.
This credibility can open doors that would otherwise be closed to an independent songwriter.
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