Strategies

7 Steps to Finding a Music Publisher

Helen Austin

Back by popular demand, I’m proud to present another guest post by friend and music licensing veteran Helen Austin. -Brian

I’ve had songs with several publishers, from large instrumental libraries to publishers promising me Coke ads. I now write exclusively for pigFactory and get songs regularly placed in ads and on TV and movies (click here for a list of my placements).

I get quite a few emails asking me either how to find a publisher or how to know if someone who has contacted them is legitimate, so I assembled this list of ideas to explore:

1. Is your music ready?

This is so important. You need to critically listen to your music and ask yourself if it can realisitically be placed. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to include your music in a playlist with other successful music in your genre to see how it flows, both in sound quality and writing. If it sticks out like a sore thumb, focus on getting your music to a place where is stands the best chance of getting placements. You only get one chance to make a first impression!

2. Educate yourself!

It’s natural to get excited by the first publisher you encounter, but you could end up learning the hard way if you sign an agreement before learning the rules. It’s far better, if a little painful, to educate yourself in the field of publishing first. I recommend reading The New Songwriter’s Guide to Music Publishing by Randy Poe. It’s a lot to take in, but well worth your time. There are many other great books out there including Robin Fredrick’s Shortcut books – a great education in writing.

3. Google is your friend.

I’m always surprised when I get emails asking me things that are so easily found by using Google. Whether you’re looking for a publisher or want to know more about a specific one, Google them. But you have to look at all the info critically. If I believed everything I read on the internet I would never have ended up using Taxi which, by the way, is a great way to find a publisher. Other places that publishers put out a call for music on are Sonicbids, Broadjam and ReverbNation. There are others and these are all easily googleable.

4. Pick up the phone.

If you find yourself in the position of considering a certain publisher, talk to them. You can glean so much more from an actual conversation than from an email. This is the person who may be controlling your music, so it’s extremely important to have more than just a text relationship with them. Fifteen minutes on the phone can give you a feel for the person and company.

5. Use your gut.

Instincts are there for a reason. If you really want to sign an agreement but just don’t feel right about it, listen to that voice. These agreements can last a long time so it is worth holding out for the right person/company.

6. One song, one publisher.

Don’t sign the same song with more than one publisher, even if it’s a non-exclusive agreement. Music supervisors don’t like that. I have been told by both publishers and supervisors that if they get the same song from more than one publisher, they will not only pass on the song, but blacklist the songwriter (see #2). You can avoid this by writing a lot and having a bunch of songs to sign with different publishers to test the waters. I did this for a while before signing an exclusive agreement.

7. Find a lawyer.

If you find yourself with a contract to sign, find a good music lawyer. A recommendation is the best way to go. It may be expensive initially, but will most likely save you money and heartache down the line. It also gives you peace of mind because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall asleep reading the contract and may miss something.

Connecting with a publisher is a lot of hard work, but for those of us who are driven to make music, it’s worth it. Good luck!

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38 Comments

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    April 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I confess I'm guilty of violating point #6. I don't have my songs in many places, but there's certainly some overlap.

  • Reply
    Steve Elliott
    April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Good advice. Yeah, point 6! Hmmm

  • Reply
    Helen Austin
    April 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    it's something I have been told so many times…

  • Reply
    Devin Mooers
    May 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Point 4: pick up the phone! That's a tough one for me, but you're right. It's so much faster than trying to learn about a publisher through email/website-viewing. Ah, the digital generation… there are some really great benefits to – no way – *voice*!

    Thanks for the great article, Helen! I'm getting ready to register with BMI and start submitting some tracks for licensing. This is great inspiration to get me over the hump of inaction! And kudos to you, Brian, I'm really enjoying your blog.

  • Reply
    Helen Austin
    May 26, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    talking to a person can really sort out the BSers from the genuine people. And I have been contacted by quite a few BSers.

    Good luck with your submissions!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kent Taylor
    June 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Thanx for that great article! You set my mind a little at ease. I've been offered a 5 year co-publishing agreement (my first) and I have searched hi and lo on the internet to answer my question "How can you tell a good publisher from a bad one?" Is there some way to check their track record? Five years is a long time I don't want to make a mistake.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    June 5, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    Helen has more experience than I do, so hopefully she'll chime in. I just wrapped up a 3 year exclusive agreement with nothing to show for it, but I don't necessarily think it was a mistake. We could've got lucky, but didn't.

  • Reply
    Dudley Saunders
    June 12, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Nice, but point #1 is a bit beside the point – what does "ready" mean? Being "good enough" will not get you placed; having the kind of music they need might. Other things matter too, like Vocals that command attention will make your songs harder to place. Not all tracks have an equal shot and it's nothing to do with the quality of the tracks but the needs of the marketplace. Obviously, though, having a great song beautifully recorded that delivers what they need … That's the sweet spot!

  • Reply
    Helen Austin
    June 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    It's easy to google a publisher and ask other people's experience with them. Brian asked me about pigFactory and I was happy to share my experience. If you can't find anything about them then that is probably not a good sign, or they are VERY new. Talk to them on the phone to get a better sense of who they are and what they can do for you. 5 years is a long time for an unknown and you can negotiate for a shorter term.

  • Reply
    Helen Austin
    June 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I have been told over and over that music supervisors are looking for an emotion and if the song delivers that in a way that sounds purposeful (ie the difference between a purposeful lo fi track as opposed to badly recorded one) then you could get placed.

  • Reply
    Dudley Saunders
    June 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I do agree with that, and have seen that borne out. But it can be a bit more of a complex calculation: there are more opportunities for songs that can fit into the background of a scene than songs that score a montage or a key emotional, non-dialogue moment. This is why you hear so many tracks with wispier-sounding vocalists: the sound does not pull you away from the dialogue onscreen. (One of my songs has been used twice now, but mostly the opening minute, which features a very intimate vocal.) But – to your point – the song still has to deliver the key emotion and be as well-recorded and arranged as an album track. If you can't hit that bar, then the stuff I'm talking about is immaterial.

  • Reply
    Amit Yadav
    September 29, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Regarding #6 – I am considering using various song placement/ licensing systems like pumpaudio, audiosocket, rumblefish etc. I have been approved by all 6-7 of them but almost every agreement says that they will be co-publishers for the tracks I upload and will place a tag in front of the track names to keep a track of the ones that get placed from them and not from some other co-publisher. going by your advice (#6), I should stick to maybe just one of these services or don't sign up with the ones which have the co-publishing clause?

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    September 30, 2012 at 2:41 am

    I don't remember Audiosocket, Pump Audio, or Rumblefish (through CD Baby anyway) retitling any of my songs. I think Helen's point is that you should make it impossible for one of your songs to be pitched by multiple publishers, no matter how its titled.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    September 30, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Typically a publisher will take 100% of the publisher's share. The way I understand it, a co-publishing agreement would divide the publisher share between the publisher and the writer's publishing company. I've not personally encountered this type of agreement.

    Terminology aside, Helen is saying each of your songs should only go to one place, regardless of whether it's retitled, exclusive, or non-exclusive.

    Personally, I've got a few songs signed exclusively, and a couple albums in a handful of places, including the ones you mentioned. None of them seem to do anything for me, so it's hard to imagine them all pitching one of my songs for the same opportunity. 🙂

  • Reply
    Amit Yadav
    September 30, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Thanks for clarifying Brian – from what you're saying, I think it'd be a better idea to find the right publishing company rather than using a music licensing service like the ones mentioned above

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    September 30, 2012 at 3:01 am

    Your mileage may vary! There's also the danger of locking your material up with a publisher who doesn't get any results, which happened to me too.

  • Reply
    Amit Yadav
    September 30, 2012 at 3:03 am

    yup, been there too 🙂

  • Reply
    Amit Yadav
    October 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    hey check it out, this is what i meant by some licensing companies taking publisher royalties (so they must be acting as co-publishers)
    From Audiosocket FAQ for audition

    Does Audiosocket keep any of my royalties?
    Yes. We keep 50% of the publishing royalties. You retain 100% of your writer's share.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    October 12, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    That's actually a good deal, since many take 100% of the publishing royalties. Regardless of what percentage they take, I refer to them as a publisher because their job is to get your music placed.

  • Reply
    Paul Levy
    November 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm

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  • Reply
    Chelsea Thomas
    January 20, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Good stuff

  • Reply
    Matina Hunnell
    August 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    great tips- thanks. I especially liked #4.

  • Reply
    Laura Wong
    August 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Thanks for the tips, but what if you want a publishing deal? i.e. to write for others?

  • Reply
    Jim Dean
    October 6, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Very helpful advice. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    October 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks for visiting my blog Jim! And of course thanks to Helen Austin for writing the article.

  • Reply
    Jin Chriki
    January 7, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Great Information, thanks a lot. 🙂

  • Reply
    Pawel Jackowski
    January 19, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Good article! We are looking for ways of distributing music made on http://www.zeebraamusic.com where people from all over the world can create music together. Any recommendations which company could be a good fit?

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    January 19, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Do you really need a publisher? I mean, you've got the tools on your site for music supervisors to find what they're looking for already.

  • Reply
    Pawel Jackowski
    January 19, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Brian Hazard I think we do if we want music created by zeebraa users to get published on spotify, iTunes etc. We don't have enough music yet, but we're thinking that through partnership with a music publisher we could present music distribution as a part of value proposition to our users. Don't you agree?

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    January 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Sounds like you need an aggregator, not a publisher. I've always used CD Baby, but Distrokid is a competitive option price wise.

  • Reply
    Brennon Anderson
    February 1, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Brian Hazard So then if I want my stuff anywhere els besides inter webs i need to get published correct ? Can I personally as an indie artist work with someone like EMI ? I'm registered with ASCAP but have yet to register a song. Im from Buffalo,NY and there are not a lot of things going on here (professionally) . feel free to friend request me or inbox me with a reply!
    Thanks!

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    February 3, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Brennon Anderson I'm not sure what you mean by "get published," but you don't have to do anything in particular to release your music. A publisher can help place your songs with artists, or your recordings with music supervisors, but that's not a requirement. You don't even have to register your song with a PRO (like ASCAP) or the Library of Congress, though I'd recommend the former if you know the song was featured in TV or film.

    • Reply
      Pierre Cohen
      July 8, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      Brian Hazard, do you know if music supervisors typically pay sync fees for programming thats on network tv? I have a library of music I produced and want to get it in music supervisors hands easily and focus on making income via royalties, not necessarily licensing. Is it common for publishers to give their music to network and cable tv music supervisors free to just focus on collecting royalties on the backend?

      Thanks!

      • Reply
        helenaustin
        July 14, 2016 at 9:50 am

        most network TV shows pay synch… giving it to them will undercut others which is a slippery slope. Cable shows are often just backend so that might be your best bet.

  • Reply
    Christian Crocker
    May 17, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I have done some research and I think TuneCore has to bemy favorite. Thoughts on that, Brian?

  • Reply
    Albert Bevia
    September 26, 2015 at 3:57 am

    This was great! Thank you for sharing this great informatiom.

  • Reply
    Emma
    February 7, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    I find the ‘one song per publisher’ a little extreme. What is the point in having non exclusive agreements if we are told to put all of our best works in one basket and just hope for the best with absolutely no guarantee of anything ever coming from it. This is completely unreasonable and unrealistic!

    • Reply
      helenaustin
      February 7, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      it’s a risk having your songs pitched to the same music supervisor from different publishers… they don’t want to have to choose between publishers and would probably pass on the song as a result.

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