Is it easier or harder to get a music publishing deal than it used to be? Do you even need a music publishing deal? What can you expect a music publishing deal to do for you in today’s music industry climate?
I got the opportunity to ask veteran of the music publishing industry Jonathan Rosner some questions on the topic.
What do you think are the biggest changes in music publishing over the last 10 years?
The biggest change in music publishing over the last 10 years is that music publishers are investing very little in developing writers/artists. I think that it’s partially because record sales have sunk to such lows and the competition for what used to be ancillary income, ala sync licensing and such, is so stiff that they really don’t see how they’re going to get their money back.
How have changes in the recording industry/record labels affected music publishing?
Mechanical royalties have gone way down because record sales have plummeted.
How do you think those changes have affected independent musicians?
I think that in certain ways these changes have hurt independent musicians in as much as they’re not getting as much attention from music publishers as they did in the past, but on the other hand, due primarily to technology, you don’t need the major labels as much as you did in the past. So there really are more opportunities for independents as well.
10-15 years ago if your name was mentioned in the wheels and deals section of hits magazine you could get at $300,000 advance from a music publisher with reversion in 7 years based on that mention. That kind of thing does not happen anymore.
Do you think independent artists can DIY with their publishing in the same way they have been doing with recording?
Yes and no. I think that a publisher can be a great asset to an independent artist especially with the lack of any kind of any kind of label push behind them. They can help exploit the music to film and TV, video games and such. But they don’t necessarily need to do a co-publishing deal. They can do an administration deal. It really depends on how much activity that independent artist has because collecting publishing money can be complicated.
What can having a publishing deal do for an independent artist? What can’t it do?
What it can do is it can bring an invaluable team to give writers/artists someone to help exploit the music, someone to introduce them to managers and agents, someone with their finger on the pulse of the music industry.
What it can’t do, or in general, I don’t want to say can’t as an absolute, but what it probably can’t do is take that artist from being an unknown to being a hot, viable entity. I think the chances of a music publisher taking an artist from 60 to 100 are far higher than they are for taking an artist from 0 to 60.
What options are currently available to independent musicians with regards to managing their publishing? Has there been a big change in what options were available 10 years ago?
I think there has, I think that unless a publisher sees the music they are making as adding value to the publisher’s catalogue in terms of synch or if the publisher thinks there the next best thing since sliced bread then I think it actually helps further their career and maybe get them a record deal.
But it’s harder these days without any kind of income stream to get any kind of administration or co-publishing deal. It’s all about cash flow.
Do you think nonexclusive licensing companies are a good alternative for artists/songwriters, what are the disadvantages or working with a non-exclusive licensing company rather than signing a traditional publishing deal?
Exclusive or nonexclusive, I think some of these companies are very, very good and I don’t see really a disadvantage as long as you stay away from the retitling of songs. I think in some ways it kind of messes with the integrity of the catalogue.
I don’t see any problem giving someone who’s pitching your music a fair percentage of the income earned from the usage, but I don’t particularly like retitling but I think its great there are a lot of good people pitching music out there. Some are exclusive, some are nonexclusive and there are good ones of both kinds.
That said, regarding the retitling, if you’re an independent artist and someone comes up to you and says they have a $50,000 use, and that’s the way they work, they want to do a retitle, go for it. You’re not going to get sick or die or anything. But in general, if you can get someone to participate in the income without messing with your song title that’s much better.
What do you think the next trends in music publishing will be, and how do you think they will affect independent artists?
I think, and I don’t see the future, but I think that as the number of publishers becomes less and less because of companies like BMG Rights and the like buying up all the indies, and because most of the indies out there today are more like investment opportunities than independent music publishers that soon a new crop of independent music publishers will be sprouting up who will welcome independent writers/artists and want to work with them – we ‘ll see.
JONATHAN ROSNER – Jon is currently on the advisory board of Artist Capital Group, a company started by Pandora founder Doug Bary, as well a consultant to various publishing companies. Jon was a partner at The Bicycle Music Company, where he work for two decades, and was responsible for signing writers, catalog acquisition and catalogue exploitation. Among Jon’s signings are The Dickies, rapper Kool Keith, The High & Mighty, Marshall Goodman, The Smut Peddlers, Wesley Willis, Linus Of Hollywood, producer Don “One Eye” Saunders, The Tokens, Jorge Santana and Money Mark.