Music publisher (popular music)  

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This page Music publisher (popular music) is part of the music series.Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.Maxim: "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".
This page Music publisher (popular music) is part of the music series.
Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.
Maxim: "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

This article deals with contemporary popular music publishing. For printed publishing of classical music, see History of music publishing.

A publisher of popular music, commonly called a music publisher, deals in the marketing and commercial exploitation of songs and music catalogs. While the term originally referred to publishers of sheet music, today's pop music publishers rarely deal with printed music or scores. (Those who do have come to be known as "music print publishers".)

The music publisher's role

The primary job of the music publisher is to link up new songs by songwriters with suitable recording artists to record them, with the intent of creating a hit record and generating large numbers of sales and airplay. Promoting such songs, supervising the collection and payment of publishing royalties for sales to their writers, placing writers' songs in other media such as movie soundtracks and commercials, and handling copyright registration and "ownership" matters for published songs, are among other jobs handled by a music publisher. Music print publishers also supervise the issue of songbooks and sheet music by their artists.

Traditionally, music publishing royalties are split fifty/fifty, with half 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 descending order of scrupulousness, as regarded by the music industry.

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 bonafide publisher who charges admission to a workshop for writers, where songs may be auditioned or reviewed, isn't wrong to do so.)

Some music publishers also fill other business roles, with regard to writers and artists – many serve as record producers, and vice versa, or as artist managers. This is generally considered acceptable, although sometimes aspects of one role can negatively impact other dealings a publisher or manager may have with their client. 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.)

Publishing catalogs

As intellectual property, copyright ownership can be bought, sold, or inherited, as can rights to royalties under a publishing contract. 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.)

The sale of one's publishing and copyrights can also be liberating, depending on the circumstances. Singer-songwriters Laura Nyro and Jimmy Webb both sold their publishing in their early twenties, and were able to retire or devote themselves to purely artistic efforts. Porter Wagoner and Janis Ian each ran into financial trouble due to mismanagement, and were only able to avoid bankruptcy by selling their publishing. (Wagoner, who'd sold his to former protégé Dolly Parton, was able to recover it from her later.)

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Music publisher (popular music)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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