My Thoughts On Music Publishing Administrators For U.S. Independent Artist-Songwriters

publishing

I am often asked by independent musicians (or their managers) if it makes sense for them to partner with a music publishing administrator or to control their own rights administration via my platform, TuneRegistry.
For the first time, I will share publicly my thoughts on the matter:
I founded TuneRegistry after spending several years managing independent artists, songwriters and music producers and dealing first-hand with the challenges of making sure that my clients’ music was properly and completely registered everywhere (this is necessary to maximize income potential and, in many cases, to optimize the exposure of the music itself).
The music industry is a digital industry.
As such, it is highly fragmented with many moving parts. Music is being created, published, distributed, licensed and monetized in lightening speed. And services like Dubset Media, Stem, Soundstr and DotblockchainMedia aim to innovative the supply chains and produce more accurate and fair attribution, allocation and distribution of royalties.
I knew this in 2015 when I began working on TuneRegistry while finishing my masters degree in music business (with a focus on music publishing and copyright administration) at CSUN Music Industry Administration. And I am happy to see that many more “rightstech” companies have entered the space since then to help rights-owners and music creators take control of their financial outcomes within the greater music industry.
All of that being said, I believe that a U.S. music creator has the power (and responsibility) to take hold of 100% of his/her available controllable music copyrights without giving away a chunk of his/her hard-earned royalties to a third-party whose only job is to file song registrations and passively collect royalties.
Notwithstanding a legitimate full service music publisher that is willing to invest in a songwriter (via an advance) and promote the songwriter (via pitching songs to artists and securing film/TV placements) and police copyrights around the world (including ligating where necessary), it does not make any sense (to me) to give up control of your copyrights and/or a chunk of your hard-earned publishing income.
Stated simply: I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT (MOST) MUSIC PUBLISHING ADMINISTRATION COMPANIES OFFER A U.S. SONGWRITER ANY REAL VALUE.
Take this financial breakdown into consideration:
Spotify publishing earnings: $10,000 all-in earnings yields $1,200 in publishing royalties (6% performance / 6% mechanical)
TuneRegistry cost: $15 per month (Solo plan) x 12 months = $180 annual subscription
Publishing Administrator cost (15% or royalties): $1,200 x .15 = $180
TuneRegistry subscription: $180
Publishing Administration commission: $180
Now, let’s say that an indie artist-songwriter earns $20,000 a year from Spotify (or combined earnings across all DSPs), then the publishing income would be around $2,400 ($20k x 12%).
TuneRegistry cost ($15 per month): $180
Publishing Administrator cost (15% of royalties): $360
You get the point.
If you earn over $10k in annual music revenue combined (streaming, downloads, live performances, synch placements), it makes MORE sense to register your own music and collect your own royalties than it does to PAY a third-party to do this for you.
In the United States, an independent artist-songwriter can DIRECTLY join music rights organizations (e.g. ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SoundExchange, AARC) AND create accounts with rights administration/clearing houses (e.g. Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports) AND deliver meta and rights data to every asset supplier/licensing agent (e.g. Gracenote, MediaNet, Crunch Digital, Loudr) as a self-published entity and handle all registrations to the aforementioned organizations via the all-in-one TuneRegistry platform for only $15 per month while retain 100% of your copyright rights and collecting 100% of earned royalties (versus giving away 15% perpetually to a company to file and collect for you).

But what about foreign publishing income?

In regards to foreign publishing royalties, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC have reciprocal agreements in place with international music rights organizations around the world to exchange rights data and collect performance royalties on behalf of their member writers and publishers. They will pay their members the international performance royalties that they earn.
(Edit 12/14/18: I forgot to include in my piece that I do believe a writer would find value in partnering with an admin for international collection only. The heart of my piece is that a U.S. songwriter can register and collect in the U.S. directly. I make this distinction repeatedly. For creators earning foreign publishing money, it would make more sense to do an admin deal for the world excluding the United States. But most admins do not want to do that.)
For mechanical royalties earned around the world, Audiam is a reproduction rights agency that can go out and collect mechanical royalties for songwriters and publishers and limit its commission rate to this income stream only.
(Edit 12/14/18: I do recognize that Audiam currently focuses on digital mechanicals and does not collect broadcast mechancials in territories where they are earned.)
In a word, I think there are brilliant people across the music industry doing fantastic work for music creators and rights-owners. However, the U.S. music industry simply does not require nor demands that a third-party represents the exclusive rights bestowed upon independent music copyright owners.
As broken as the music licensing system may be (and I definitely believe it needs reform), I have yet to hear a single compelling argument as to why an independent artist-songwriter earning over $10k a year in music earnings should give away $1,200 of that instead of spending the hour or so to handle his or her own registrations.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Want to learn how to be your own label and publisher? Download my free e-guide “The DIY Musician’s Starter Guide To Being Your Own Label & Publisher” at www.daeboganmusic.com/writer.
[That being said, for those who simply choose not to do their own administration, there are some music publishing administrators out there who I respect because they are going above and beyond to provide services to their clients.]

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About Dae Bogan

Dae Bogan is a music industry professional. Connect with Dae on Twitter at @DaeBoganMusic.

6 responses to “My Thoughts On Music Publishing Administrators For U.S. Independent Artist-Songwriters”

  1. penmusicgroup says :

    Dae – this may come as no surprise to you given that 95% of my business is administration, but I take issue with your position and your post. First, your math. You present here that your publishing admin % you are comparing yourself to is 15%. 10% is far more typical and the greater the income is earned by someone, the more leverage they have in negotiating lower. Second re: the math, you present that $15 a month is the maximum one would pay TuneRegistry – but your own site lists that this $15 a month caps out at 500 songs. So what is the Tuneregistry price when such an artist hits 501 songs? From your site I believe that cost is $35 a month, a 133% increase. You also mention Audiam as an option to handle mechanical income but make no mention of the cost of Audiam which I believe would be also about 15% – and that assumes no other companies in the chain to collect international income as Audiam is not direct with all mechanical sources – only some of the digital sources. Then, regarding the PROs, you assume that all earned income would flow back through to the domestic PROs with no effort or intervention and my experience is not that. The PROs are so big and represent so many songs that they cannot proactively police all income – they are generally reactive and will pay through whatever their reciprocal societies pay them but if they are not receiving the income that they should, they will not proactively go out and pursue unless the writer/publisher brings it to their attention. And there can be lots of issues in film/TV music where films and TV shows get sold and dubbed and renamed into local language but the only cue sheets that exist are those in English and someone needs to connect the dots between the performance data/income and the original cue sheet or the income will not be paid. I agree that there are lots of issues in the music system but to imply that the existing PRO system works without incident or issue is just not correct. I find it much more valuable to have a local representative (or in some cases being a direct member) in each country of the world and enable a local policeman to do the work who has relationships with their local society and who can get things done when the inevitable problems occur. Then there’s the foreign mechanical income like broadcast mechanicals that only a publisher can collect from the foreign societies which don’t come back through the local PROs. And though you make for this caveat, those of us who are administrators but also go out and generate new income on a daily basis, can more than make up for any commissions paid by all the new income we’re generating. So as much as I agree that everyone should take charge of their own rights and their own situation, I don’t agree with how you are presenting your case. Thanks. – Michael Eames, PEN Music Group, Inc.

    • Dae Bogan says :

      Thank you for your response, Michael.

      My post was sparked by my taking issue with a growing number of individuals who’ve popped up as music publishing administrators who have no sufficient level of experience or relationships to justify their commission. Individuals who are taking advantage of independent songwriters and not adding any value at all. Unlike your description of administration activities, they are not going out and policing local exploitation of rights in international territories, they are not affiliating directly with international PROs to collect at the source and in many cases the percentage is even higher than 15%.

      I mentioned at the very end of my piece that I respect admins who are doing good work:

      “That being said, for those who simply choose not to do their own administration, there are some music publishing administrators out there who I respect because they are going above and beyond to provide services to their clients.”

      I’d argue PEN Music Group is among the good ones.

      Maybe I should have started with the caveat when I wrote this piece at 12am that it was triggeted in response to receiving yet another email from a would-be administrator who has no business representing other’s catalogs.

      I forgot to include in my piece that I do believe a writer would find value in partnering with an admin for international collection only.

      The heart of my piece is that a U.S. songwriter can register and collect in the U.S. directly. I make this distinction repeatedly. For creators earning foreign publishing money, it would make more sense to do an admin deal for the world excluding the United States. But most admins do not want to do that.

      • penmusicgroup says :

        Thanks for the note back Dae. I understand what has triggered your reaction and the desire to post what you did. But, that said, other than your one sentence that you quoted in your response to me, it was still a general post and brushes a broad stroke. So this has nothing to do with me and PEN and I’m not reacting in a personal way – but brushing with a broad stroke, especially from someone as you who is so knowledgeable and respect, is how I reacted from. Someone reading this I feel would come away thinking that they have no need for a publishing administrator because Dae told me so. And I don’t think that’s fair for the multitude of publishing administrators who exist and who do a great job. I share your concern with folks putting themselves out there as administrators when they don’t have the experience or knowledge. So I think it should be balanced to say that anyone looking to enlist an administrator should explore all options and vet anyone they are talking to – and vet them with folks who know the market. But it was the generality of the post that I reacted to. As to your last point, I agree that it may make sense for some folks to collect directly in the U.S. That’s a business and personal choice – I know many creative folks who have that business inclination and do a great job doing it themselves. But in my experience they are a rare bird and most would rather have someone else do it to get it done right. TuneRegistry can certainly be a choice for them and one they should consider. Just feel everyone should know there are multiple options and they should seriously consider all as no situation is perfect – there are always pros and cons. Thanks for all you do to address the issues. – Michael Eames, PEN Music Group

        • Dae Bogan says :

          Point(s) taken. I will do a follow-up that isn’t “triggered” by the worse representation of administration. To be fair, there are administrators that we are working with directly at TuneRegistry to enable writers/publishers who choose to hire an admin to deliver their catalogs to that admin in a streamlined fashion. I’ve also helped one such company develop their pub admin division for artists who simply do not want to be bothered with the work. Like I said, there are well-doing admins out there and yes, they should be properly vetted. Unfortunately, there are many individuals creating sub-par publishing and administration entities and doing independent songwriters a disservice. Those are really the target of my distaste in general, but I still believe writers can be empowered with a tool like TuneRegistry until their careers get to such a level where a full service publisher or a kickass administrator makes sense. The admins I dislike prey on emerging artist-songwriters and look them into horrendous multi-year contracts. That is what sparked this piece.

          • penmusicgroup says :

            Totally get it and I support that. There are a number of segments of the business who target and exploit independent and DIY artists and I share your distaste of them. Thanks for understanding where I was coming from too.

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