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What Artists Should Know About Songtrust

Songtrust

Did you know that when a song you wrote is sold as a download, you’re due a mechanical royalty? In the US, that royalty is paid through your aggregator (CD Baby, TuneCore, etc). Internationally, you need a publishing administrator like Songtrust to collect it.

For a $100 setup fee and 15% commission, Songtrust will help you register with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN) if you’re not already. Next, they’ll register your songs with over 40 collection societies worldwide. The setup fee covers 15 songs. 10 more songs are $10. If you’ve already got songs registered with your PRO, they’ll pull them into their system for free.

Publishing is complicated. Okay, it’s a total mess. My goal for this article is to share my experience with Songtrust, and help you decide if it’s for you, without getting into the weeds.

Why I signed up

A few years ago, I saw this post on the Songtrust blog, breaking down the various royalties Spotify pays to songwriters. I figured that since I’d earned a few hundred bucks from Spotify via CD Baby, the mechanical royalties Songtrust would collect for me would cover the cost of signing up.

I’d also earned about $14K through CD Baby, mostly from iTunes sales, several thousand of which were from iTunes Europe. Certainly there were mechanical royalties to collect!

Finally, I paid big bucks for radio promotion across France and Italy way back in 2000, putting my songs in regular rotation on over 40 commercial stations. The promoter guessed I’d get back about $1500 in royalties from the airplay, but I never got a penny, despite hounding ASCAP for months. I hoped maybe Songtrust would dig some of that up.

So, in early 2012, I contacted Songtrust and said I’d like to write an article about their service. I was granted a 25% discount off their top tier plan at the time, which was $250 per year for global collection, with no commission. The next year they changed their pricing structure to the current $100 plus 15% commission.

What Songtrust collected

Over the past four years, Songtrust collected a total of $480 on my behalf.

Songtrust accounting

$440 of that was from ASCAP, mostly from reruns of an episode of The Real World that features one of my songs. Since I’d already registered with ASCAP as both a writer and a publisher, that means I lost money, even without factoring in fees paid to Songtrust.

Royalties Summary

Why? Since Songtrust takes a 15% commission, the $440 I received would have been $518 directly through ASCAP. That’s $38 more than the total $480 I received from Songtrust! That $38, plus the $287.50 in fees I paid, means I spent $325.50 more than I received. Ouch.

Songtrust collected only $16 in mechanical royalties, which I was counting on to at least cover my costs.

Royalties Breakdown

What happened? The manager of publishing operations, Emily Stephenson, was kind enough to explain.

It turns out that retroactive mechanicals are hard to uncover. Most societies require them to be claimed within 2-3 years. After that, they are redistributed to their members or blackboxed to cover operational costs.

Since my radio campaign was in 2000, and sales were highest in the mid-2000’s, my royalties are long gone.

Still, Songtrust is willing to try and collect them if I provide sales data. Unfortunately, I don’t see an easy way to gather that info from my CD Baby dashboard without manually sifting through thousands of microtransactions.

Is Songtrust right for you?

Even though the numbers didn’t work out in my favor, I’m glad I signed up with Songtrust. Otherwise I’d still be wondering if there was a pot of gold waiting for me at the end of the rainbow.

If you’re releasing and actively promoting your music, you need to be registered with a PRO and with SoundExchange. Those two agencies will most likely collect the vast majority of royalties for you.

Should you also join Songtrust? That depends.

If you’re regularly receiving royalties from your PRO as a writer, and don’t want to set up a vanity publishing company, then you should absolutely join Songtrust.

Better for them to take 15% than to leave 50% on the table.

For me, setting up a publishing company was super easy. I just filed a Fictitious Business Name statement. I didn’t even have to set up a checking account to receive checks under the business name, since ASCAP does direct deposit.

If you’re only receiving negligible royalties from your PRO, but are selling over $600 per year in non-US downloads, you should probably join Songtrust.

Here’s how I figure: A 9% royalty rate on $600 is $54, and if you’re selling that much, you’ll probably at least make another $6 in streaming royalties. That’s $60 x 2 years retroactive collection = $120, minus 15% is $102. Your first check from Songtrust covers your $100 setup fee! Theoretically.

If you’re already receiving both writer and publisher royalties from your PRO, the decision is more difficult.

If 10% of non-US sales is more than 15% of publishing royalties, you’ll probably come out ahead.

But you may not in the future! Download sales will likely continue to decline as subscription services, which pay far less in royalties, catch on. And 15% of one good placement could easily dwarf years of overseas mechanical royalties.

Beyond the financial uncertainty, there’s also the psychological uncertainty. Are you okay with not knowing how much you could’ve received?

To make your decision easier, the first 20 readers who sign up with the discount code PASSIVE get 50% off the $100 setup fee. [UPDATE: It ran out, but they gave me a new code: PASSIVE2]

There’s nothing in it for me, by the way, but I’d appreciate it if you’d report back with your experience in the comments!

Other options

CD Baby members are no doubt already familiar with CD Baby Pro, which is powered by Songtrust.

With CD Baby Pro, royalty collection is bundled with digitial distribution. You pay $5 more per single and $40 more per album. They take the same 15% commission.

If you only have a release or two, or really like having everything in one dashboard, CD Baby Pro might be a better option for you. Personally, I’d rather pay once and be done with it.

TuneCore charges a one-time $75 fee and 10% commission for publishing administration. They’ll even pitch your songs for film, television, and video game opportunities!

On the surface, that sounds like a better deal, but there’s a catch. TuneCore requires that you work with them exclusively for licensing.

And don’t forget, you’re paying $10 per single and $50 per album every year just to keep them in distribution! Who knows if they’ll continue to pitch and collect royalties for songs they no longer distribute.

Have you tried Songtrust, CD Baby Pro, or TuneCore publishing?

If not, what are you waiting for? Are there any other options I overlooked? Please share your experience in the comments!

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44 Comments

  • Reply
    poplive
    August 15, 2015 at 1:15 am

    Brilliant but as I am in Australia I have no idea whether this is a good idea for me or not.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      August 17, 2015 at 9:07 am

      I’m told that you can sign up if you’re already affiliated with the PRO in your home area, which in your case is APRA. It will have to be done manually, so you’ll need to email help@songtrust.com.

      As to whether or not it’s a good idea, I suppose the same guidelines apply.

  • Reply
    Amit
    August 29, 2015 at 10:10 am

    I was thinking of signing up with either Songtrust or Tunecore’s pub admin when I saw your post. I saw the discount, and that made taking this decision much easier 🙂 Thanks for that! I will report back on it, hopefully soon

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      August 31, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Fantastic! Yes, definitely let us know how you like it!

  • Reply
    Staci
    September 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    thanks Brian! I used the discount code 🙂 … I was already planning to sign up so this worked great for me.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      September 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Even better! Let us know how it goes!

  • Reply
    demis
    October 8, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Hello Brian..how do i apply for songtrust..how much its the fee…it is for a year?, ppl can downliad the music like in i- tunes so you get paid…how it works?..i’d apreciate Brian if you could also reply back on a direct msg on hotmail please. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      October 13, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Sounds like someone didn’t read the article.

  • Reply
    Kayda Luz
    November 13, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Hey I just ran across this article while reviewing Songtrust, liked what I read, (very informative) and crossed my fingers that the code was still active. It WAS! I am now signed up with Songtrust. The sign up process was very easy and I will report back with some stats/ info. Thank you for the info, and I signed up here as well. #peace

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      November 16, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      Good to know Kayda! I would’ve thought the code would’ve dried up by now.

      I look forward to your impressions!

  • Reply
    simon
    November 23, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Just wanted to say thanks for the Songtrust code (remember to use the capitals). Was looking at a way of avoiding using CD Baby Pro and your site came up. Now for the next decision – Distrokid vs CD Baby (standard)…

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      November 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm

      One of my clients had a bad experience with Distrokid, but that’s purely anecdotal. All my releases are with CD Baby.

    • Reply
      Ari Herstand
      May 30, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Here’s my full review of DistroKid vs CD Baby (vs Tunecore, Mondotunes, Ditto, Symphonic, ReverbNation). Hope it helps! http://aristake.com/?post=92

  • Reply
    Zeff DaMaze
    April 18, 2016 at 2:12 am

    Hi buddy… Due to the earthquake in Ecuador (2016-04-16), some famous ecuadorian singers are gonna publish a real good song to earn money to help victims. Ecuador’s government will help on marketing and we all expect to get 20 – 25 million downloads in a month from around the world, but all royalties will go directly to help people. Do you think Songtrust is a good option to help us?

  • Reply
    Clyde Kelly
    June 9, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Great info. Appreciate the thoughtful analysis. Thinking I probably won’t register with Songtrust since I’m already on ASCAP as both a writer and publisher.

    • Reply
      Jason
      August 25, 2016 at 9:20 am

      Hey Clyde,

      I work at Songtrust.

      Songtrust is an additive service to being registered with ASCAP. We register your songs globally and collect on your behalf.

      Feel free to reach out at help@songtrust.com. 🙂

      Jason

  • Reply
    Mr. Melody TM (@Mr_Melody_TM)
    August 30, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I’m ASCAP Author, Artist, Producer, Publisher of WALKIN THRU THE PARK C Aristedes Philip DuVal, MR. MELODY TM. I am switching from what i feel is a BOGUS Distributor (DITTO MUSIC) to a better choice. There are yet more details to evaluate, no? Thank you.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      September 3, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      I always recommend CD Baby. You only pay once and your release is up forever.

      • Reply
        Alice Under The Looking Glass
        January 19, 2017 at 3:00 pm

        that’s a little misleading. you pay once if your release does nothing for you, but cdbaby takes 9% of everything you earn. If you have any kind of substantial streams, it quickly becomes more cost-effective to use tunecore.

        • Reply
          Brian Hazard
          January 22, 2017 at 5:54 pm

          Quickly? Have you done the math? What about on year five, when you have to decide whether to pay your annual TuneCore fees or pull the release?

  • Reply
    Eric
    November 21, 2016 at 3:36 am

    Thank you for your article. I’ve been reading like crazy about this to make up mind what I should do. What I don’t understand about your article is that you mention Tunecore has a catch: you have to work with them exclusively for licensing. However it seems the same counts for Songtrust, why isn’t this mentioned:
    http://help.songtrust.com/customer/en/portal/articles/217607-can-i-join-if-i-already-have-a-publishing-deal-

    This means I cannot work with another song plugging company (who may be really passionate about me) to pitch my music to TV shows, movies and commercials. This, for me, is a deal breaker because I expect Songtrust to be passive, having so many other songwriters. So why would I go for Songtrust if it’s also exclusive? On top of that Songtrust has a higher setup fee of 100$ (25$ higher than tunecore), a 15% cut (tunecore 10% & 20% for active) and while it seems with Songtrust you can only submit a maximum of 15 songs for the setup fee. You have to pay 10$ for each 10 following tracks, so it’s actually not a one time fee as with Tunecore. I live outside the US so CDBaby is appearantly not an publishing option for me.

    Oh and about CDBaby: if you sell less than 100$ a year, CDBaby is a good deal, ’cause you pay 9% instead of a yearly 10$ fee, but if your track does well and you make say 1000$, CDBaby takes 90$ instead of the 10$. If you do really well, this construction could set you back plenty of dollars.. So if you believe your music will sell, I’d go the first year to Tunecore, keep it there as long as it sells well, and move it to CDBaby when sales start dropping below about 100$ a year. I’d also like to know if CDBaby allows you to charge 1,29$ per iTunes download as with Tunecore. This can make a big difference in some cases.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      November 27, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Hey Eric,

      The key is, with Songtrust you’re entering into an exclusive publishing ADMINISTRATION deal. You can work with other plugging companies. I work with Marmoset and they’ve generated a couple great placements for me. No conflict whatsoever.

      As far as I know, CD Baby doesn’t allow you to set iTunes pricing at $1.29. I see my tracks are all $0.99.

      To be clear, the $10 fee with TuneCore is for a single track, right? Personally, I don’t want to have to decide when to pull a release based on slowing sales. You also haven’t factored in the up-front cost of switching, or the headache!

      • Reply
        Mike
        August 5, 2017 at 2:50 am

        Hey Brian, thank you for the article. In addition to Eric, in the terms;
        its said “You retain the exclusive right to negotiate and grant sync licenses on whatever terms you establish for the use of your Compositions via “traditional” means, as that term is understood in the U.S. music publishing industry, such as one-off licenses for use in films, television productions, commercials, and video games. Any such licenses will be between you and your licensees. You also retain the right to collect the sync license fees from those licenses.”
        Could you explain me this? They haven’t changed this Terms since 2014, I guess.

        • Reply
          Brian Hazard
          August 5, 2017 at 10:21 am

          I’m not a lawyer (I think you’re supposed to say that, right?), but it sounds to me like it’s just another way of saying you’re free to pitch your stuff for sync placements with whoever you want — Songtrust only handles administration.

          • Mike
            August 5, 2017 at 8:45 pm

            Thank you for your time and effort.

  • Reply
    Junius Perry
    January 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    What about Songcast?

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 22, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      Looks like just another aggregator to me. They don’t do what Songtrust does.

  • Reply
    V
    January 28, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Hi. I am an artiste in Nigeria about to release my song. What publishing outfit would you recommend i use being that i am neither american, canadian or from the UK and how do i go about it.
    Your reply will be highly appreciated

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      February 3, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      It sounds like you haven’t released a lot of material. If I were you, I’d wait until you’re more established to bother with publishing administration.

  • Reply
    Ron Bolton
    March 26, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Hi Brian, I’ve been a full time composer / producer for TV & Radio and a BMI member for over 20 years. Recently I’ve been co-writing songs with other people and have been trying to find an Aggregator (like CD Baby) that can get songs on iTunes, Spotify,etc., while still accommodating revenue splitting for Co-Writers. To my knowledge, CD Baby and other Aggregators only allow for “1” account holder on a song & only provides that one Account Holder with revenue payments and sales data. CD Baby Pro looks promising but…given that a copyright lasts the life of the composer, plus 70 years, it seems antiquated for an Account Holder to have to provide co-writers with writer splits and sales updates for a lifetime. I believe DistroKid allows for writer splits but they do not work with an admin publishing company to collect all of your composition royalties. Are there any new solutions to help resolve this co-writing issue out there?
    Thanks……Ron

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      April 3, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      I’m sorry Ron, but I have no idea! I’m in the same boat actually, releasing material with another producer. He’s just trusting me to collect the royalties and handle the splits myself. It sure would be easier if it could be handled by the aggregator. Please let me know if you find a solution!

    • Reply
      reneegoust
      June 14, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      You may know this by now, but DistroKid can do this for you. 🙂

      • Reply
        Brian Hazard
        June 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm

        I’m skeptical of DistroKid. A client of mine had a terrible experience, and when I read stuff like “in stores 10-20x faster than any other distributor, at a fraction of the price” it’s hard to take them seriously. It’s not like CD Baby takes a week to distribute my material. I haven’t tested it with this tight a deadline, but it seems like it can be up next day. And depending on how frequently you release music, CD Baby can be cheaper in the long run. More importantly, I don’t trust DistroKid to be around in five years.

        • Reply
          Brian Hazard
          June 14, 2017 at 1:25 pm

          Just looked into DistroKid a little more. You can’t even specify a release date on their $20/year plan! Total deal breaker.

          • Von Bieker
            July 4, 2017 at 11:17 am

            Hi Brian, great info on Songtrust – just what I needed to know and when I needed to know it. I just wanted to share my positive experience with DistroKid. It has been SO easy to use and I really like the ‘pay once’ model – even though it’s a bit more up-front. At this stage I haven’t made money back on any of my releases – I don’t sell a lot of music yet – but I know my music is distributed and as songs are streamed and downloaded and things will only get better in that regard. No big payouts if a song breaks out. While you are right about the release day on their $20 plan, you can specify it for just a little more – $35 I believe. None of these numbers are very big for me, and cover the peace of mind and simplicity I’ve had with DistroKid.

            I’d be curious to know what your client’s negative experience was, because I’ve had nothing but smooth sailing with them.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    July 9, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Hi Von,

    Sorry I can’t reply to your comment directly. We reached the limit on threading replies!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with DistroKid. I suppose if you’re releasing an album every year, even $35 isn’t bad.

    I can’t remember the full extent of my client’s experience, but I do remember that he couldn’t get ahold of anyone for a week or so, and he was stressing because his release date was coming up. But he wrote a 3000 word essay on it.

    Hopefully they’ve upped their support game since!

  • Reply
    Kir Cole
    August 8, 2017 at 7:13 am

    I’ve been reading all of these comments, and responses. Here’s my input…..I already have a few singles (3 to be exact) that I released over the last 2 months (I’m new to the game), and I released them through CD Baby AND TuneCore. I have them registered with BMI, and I also signed up with SoundExchange. I would like to believe that I’m well covered as far as royalty collections. Maybe what I did was overkill, but we’ll see. It’s still way too early to say “hey where’s my royalties”. I’ll give it some time. But the avenue I’m looking to, eventually, go down is music libraries. I would think that someone that’s planning on submitting numerous tracks to music libraries would want to go with Distrokid, because if you’re banging out 1-2 tracks a week, that would really get costly with CD Baby and/or TuneCore. Am I correct?

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      August 9, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Why release through both CD Baby and TuneCore? Their coverage overlaps. I didn’t think that was even possible! Unless you mean TuneCore is handling digital distribution, and you also put it on the CD Baby store.

      Submitting tracks to music library doesn’t require an aggregator. You do that directly with the library, for free.

      • Reply
        Kirk Cole
        August 9, 2017 at 1:10 pm

        As a newbie, I didn’t know better when I signed up with CD Baby AND TuneCore. I’m learning as I go. But thanks for the advice about submitting tracks directly with the library.

      • Reply
        Kirk Cole
        August 12, 2017 at 10:16 am

        So if I submit music directly to a music library, would I still have to register that music with a P.R.O. or Sound Exchange? How will I know I’m collecting the royalties that I deserve?

        • Reply
          Brian Hazard
          August 12, 2017 at 10:56 am

          This is a complicated subject, as you’ve seen! Yes, you still need to register with a PRO and SoundExchange. Songtrust will handle the PRO stuff for you if you choose, but I handle SoundExchange directly.

  • Reply
    Andy
    September 21, 2017 at 2:40 am

    Hi Brian,

    You put me onto Audiokite and said if folks listened to a demo for 2.40, that was quite encourageing! Anyway, I think I have recorded loads of far more engaging music, all sat on a hard drive, and I am going to have a shot at getting work as a staff writer.

    Enter Songtrust

    The plan is to go to a record company and try get a deal to write exclusively for them. I will pitch them some of my unreleased demos, which are instrumentals. There would undoubtedly be co-writers involved in any finished article.

    Do you think the demos should be registered with songtrust beforehand, or does that put them in the public domain and therefore messes up any idea of exclusivity?

    ie the chicken or the egg, register demos with songtrust before applying to a record company, or wait till they say they want to work with me and then register my whole “catalogue” and for each track they want, change the info at songtrust to reflect new co-writers and where royalties go?

    (I acknowledge you aren’t a lawyer btw!!)

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      September 21, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Staff writer, huh? Sounds exciting!

      I wouldn’t bother registering your songs with Songtrust until they’re released. Until then, they won’t be out there earning royalties, and it doesn’t protect you from someone stealing your song like registering with the US Copyright office (which I personally wouldn’t bother with either).

      Do labels even have staff writers? I highly recommend reading The Song Machine if you haven’t already: http://amzn.to/2flvGBI

  • Reply
    Andy
    September 21, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    looks like a good book. I will let you know how it goes, maybe “staff writer” isn’t the right term!!!

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