Your questions answered! Music publishing, sync, royalties & more

Blog by Louise Dodgson under Music Publishing

A couple of weeks back we held a live chat on this very site allowing you, the unsigned and emerging musicians and songwriters, to pose your questions about music publishing to James Cherry, Live Performance Manager at Sentric Music.

The realms of music publishing are an area that many of us find tricky to understand and navigate and the questions flowed in thick and fast, thankfully all answered thoroughly and informatively by James. If you missed the chat at the time, don’t worry as we have summarised everything discussed here, plus a few extra questions we didn’t have time for, so you too can get to grips with music publishing.

Q. To set the scene, please can you explain in simple terms what music publishing is, what sync is and what Sentric Music do.

A. Sure thing! I'll try and keep it brief. So, what is music publishing? It’s essentially your songs and it has nothing to do with your recordings, this is super important. As a music publisher I look after your songs. Songs that you’ve written. Just by writing the song you’ve created a copyright; a piece of intellectual property that can generate income.

There are 3 main areas where income can be generated; Performance, Mechanical and Synchronisation. There are a few more smaller areas but these are the main ones. Performance royalties are generated when your music has done just that; been performed. This can either be live or a recorded version of your music. 

Mechanical royalties are generated every time your song is reproduced, so each time a CD is pressed or a song is downloaded or streamed. For example, if a record label wanted to release your CD or vinyl they would have to pay a mechanical license to the MCPS (mechanical society here in the UK) in order to get them produced.

Synchronisation is the act of placing an artist’s music over a visual; be it an advert, a TV programme, a film, a video game etc. 

I’m sure we’ll go into more detail on each part of it during the course of the Q&A but if anyone wants to read up more then check out our handy WTF is Music Publishing? guide here.

Sentric Music are an independent music publisher based up in Liverpool. Our service allows any songwriter to receive a comprehensive music publishing service around the world, where we protect your songs and ensure you are receiving all of the royalties you are owed. We then add further value to those songs through things like synchronisation, brand partnerships, live and broadcast opportunities. 

We differ from other publishers by having a 28-day rolling contract, so you can retain your copyright and not be tied down, and this is all based on a simple 80/20 % split on the royalties. 

Q. What fields does a music publisher work within? What are their main areas of work and how do they effectively help a band in the long run?

A. A music publisher has 2 main roles; the first is to protect the compositions/songs of the songwriter they are working with. The way they do that is they register them with performing rights organisations around the world. So that would be people like the PRS and MCPS here in the UK, GEMA in Germany, BMI in the US, KODA in Denmark…the list goes on. Once that is in place, they will then ensure you receive the royalties you are owed for every time your music is used in each territory. For example, if you perform your music live, or receive radio broadcasts, or are getting streams on Spotify or downloads on iTunes etc.

The second role of a publisher is to add creative value to your songs. This is done through areas like synchronisation, brand partnerships, partnering up songwriters to write stronger songs, providing live and broadcast opportunities etc.

For bands on Sentric I think the key areas where they see long term benefits have been through the ability to collect their live performance and mechanical royalties which often go under the radar. In the past we’ve seen bands fund their next tour or pay for their next recording session from the royalties they have received that they didn’t know existed 12 months before. It's a lot easier for a band to plan when they know what income is coming their way.

Q. If a publishing deal had a sync element to it, would the artist still have control over which companies/projects used their music? I don't think I’d want to be on a Coke advert.
A. Firstly this could all come down to the agreement you had signed with your sync provider, as they will all differ in various ways, so be careful when looking at sync agreements. In Sentric’s case our sync team would always have to clear the permission with you before Coca Cola could use your song on their latest advert, same as if someone wanted to use it in a film, a game or online, as the fee for the usage would need to be agreed by all parties, plus factors like the length of the usage, the territories and the platforms where the advert would be shown can all be negotiated.

However, in regards to UK television usage if your songs are covered by the blanket licenses, i.e. registered with the PRS, PPL and MCPS then they can be used within TV shows without prior permission being sought. This is because the compensation for the usage comes back through those 3 societies, rather than an upfront fee being agreed. That’s just here in the UK - it then differs for usages in other territories.

I think it's important to add here for anyone just starting out in a band that It doesn’t matter what level your band/artist is at. You can be generating money from your music so it is important to make sure it is represented and protected from day 1.

Q. What's the difference between signing up with Sentric and PRS For Music? Can I be a member of Sentric if I'm already with PRS?
A. We get this question a lot and it is really important for any songwriter to understand the difference and how we all work together. 

The PRS are a performing rights organisation (PRO) so their main role is to make sure that the people, services, businesses, establishments who want to use music are paying an appropriate license to do so. For example radio stations, live venues, your Mum’s hairdressers who like to have the radio on in the background. They all need a license to use music. The PRS then use these licenses to make up the royalties to compensate the songwriters and publishers for the music’s use within the UK and some other overseas territories.

Sentric are a music publisher and we have 2 main roles. Firstly, to protect our songwriters works and we do this by registering the songs with PROs around the world, including the PRS here in the UK, but also the equivalent societies in key territories like SUISA in Switzerland, SABAM in Belgium, SACEM in France, GEMA in Germany. We then collect the royalties directly from each organisation depending where the music usage took place and deliver them back to our members.

Our second role is to then add value to the songs by creatively exploiting them. So here are Sentric we have an in-house sync team, a brands team who look to partner our catalogue with great opportunities. We also provide live opportunities to play festivals and events across the UK and Europe, as well as broadcast opportunities. This all results in further royalties being generated which are then collected via the first stage. 

You can certainly still use Sentric if you are a member of a PRO, and we do recommend that all our members join their local society as this helps to speed up the collection of royalties from around the world.

Q. How do Sentric push the music that is sent to them? Do Sentric have any say of whether the music they are sent is good enough?
A. I'm presuming we are specifically talking sync here? So every recording that gets uploaded to Sentric is listened to by our sync team here (and I do mean every song!). This is to first check for quality, but also for our sync team to know and learn the catalogue that they are representing. If a recording is approved then it is then tagged, listing its genre, themes and keywords to make it easier to search when opportunities arise.

The music is then pushed in a number of ways. The first is directly by you. We receive lots of 'sync briefs' from sync providers and broadcasters every week that you can browse and put your music forward for if you think it fits the brief.

Secondly, we then have our TV catalogues. This is where you can submit your music to the catalogue and have it pre-approved, meaning it then becomes available for our broadcast partners to browse and place in their shows without having to talk to us first. The royalties for the usage then come back through the PRS.

The third way that music is pushed out for sync is by our sync team directly. They work extremely hard to build and maintain relationships with broadcasters, channels, sync supervisors to make sure that they are in the mix for every possible sync opportunity. They are constantly pitching music out, and landing syncs regularly on behalf of our catalogue at Sentric. Check here for more information on how we work with sync, and to see some of our most recent successes.

Q. A lot of advice on publishing and releasing music is geared towards pop bands (BBC airplay, single release, boosting online presence etc.) do all genres and niche circles operate the same or would the publishing process be different for more cult and underground genres?
A. The core principle of music publishing is to protect the composition/son. Other than maybe classical music, the differences between genres only appears once a publisher looks to creatively exploit the song’s copyright to add further value to it. Therefore, regardless of the genre they write a songwriter’s first steps into publishing should be to make sure their songs are represented around the world. A good publisher should offer a comprehensive collection network with direct relationships with performing rights organisations across the globe. For example, they should not just be registering your songs with the PRS in the UK, they should also be registering them with GEMA in Germany and SACEM in France etc. to ensure that when your music is used, regardless of the territory, be it a live performance, a stream, a broadcast, a download, online usage the royalties you are owed are collected quickly, efficiently and delivered back to you. 

Once that’s in place the publisher can then advise on where they believe value can be added, so for example for a pop song the focus may be on synchronisation and broadcast usages, whereas for a songwriter who writes rock music the main focus may be to get fantastic live performance opportunities. For an indie band it might be a mix of both, and then there is always the option of partnering songwriters to write stronger songs that go on to generate further value. You would be surprised at how many former rock band songwriters are now writing massive pop hits!

Q. What advice would you give to those starting out in Music Publishing? I'm a songwriter and I've tried, using the guidance from the Unsigned Guide, to make initial contact with publishers but to no avail. Many emails sent, seeking permission to submit songs but, not one reply. Deflated, and somewhat confused, I must be doing something wrong! Can you suggest an initial approach? I'd like to know what publishers expect on initial contact from songwriters?
A. I hear this a lot and I think with traditional publishers, as in they offer advances and own the copyright for a substantial period of time, it is a case that if they are looking to add to their rosters they are already aware of the songwriters they are interested in which can make it difficult for others to break the mould. This is actually one of the main reasons why Sentric Music was created. Songwriting isn’t exclusive so why should music publishing be? Anyone who writes songs, whether they are a kid in their bedroom, or a multi-million selling artist, should be able to protect their songs and receive compensation for their use, and so that’s what we offer in our service.

Having said all that, there is no harm is sending out demos to publishers that you think your music would suit. I would just say to do your research on them, just as you would if you were sending demos to radio or a label. Do not just blanket mail the same demo to a bunch of publishers. There is so much information out there now on who works where, find out who is the best person to contact, find out how they like to consume their music and cater to it e.g. if they are tweeting Soundcloud links then you might want to send them a Soundcloud link of your demo. We have a great blog on the perfect demo submission which might help. 

Q. What exactly happens when you waive your “moral rights”? When you send tracks to BBC 6Music, for example, you are asked to agree to waive these before they accept your track. I understood “moral rights” to be a simpler embodiment of mechanical copyright, performance rights, creative rights but when I raised this with a panel of “experts” at a music expo in Exeter they had no idea what “moral rights” even were.

A. Right in the deep end with this one…and it’s definitely a subject that people get stuck on so I’ll try my best to explain it as best I can.

Moral Rights are only available for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film, as well as some performances. For music they give you two main rights. The first is to be named when your song is to be used, which must apply before the usage takes place. For example, in a contract with a publisher, an author may state that they assert their right to be identified as the author of their work. 

Secondly, it gives you the right to object to derogatory treatment of the song. So that would mean you could object to any changes or alterations to the song someone would want to make.

In the context of them being waived when you upload your music to the BBC, you are basically giving them permission to use the song across the BBC without having to seek your permission for every use and also edit it where they see fit. So, for example, if your uploaded to BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music wanted to use your song as well they could do without first seeking your permission. Then, if they wanted to loop the intro of the song behind some speech, or use a portion of the songs under a news piece they wouldn’t have to ask your permission to make the alterations or necessary edits to the song.

Q. With YouTube providing massive chance for exposure to new artists, but also enabling a lot of copyright violation. What's the best way to tackle it?
A. This is a great question, and there is so much debate around YouTube at the moment and how they should be doing more to compensate music owners for the use of their songs on the platform. While that debate will rage on, there is a lot that you can be doing to make sure you are receiving compensation for when your music is used. 

YouTube have a copyright platform called ‘Content ID’ and every video that gets uploaded to YouTube is scanned against this database to detect the use of copyrighted content. Once your music is detected as being used in a video it can then be either tracked for the analytics, blocked to the remove the video or monetised and royalties generated for each view the video receives. 

There are 2 main copyright assets that you will need to have represented before you can apply a track, block or monetise policy on Content ID. These are the master recording and the composition (publishing). If you are interested in getting this set up then I would speak to both your digital distributor or label about your master recording being delivered to the platform, and then your publisher regarding your composition information being delivered. 

Once both assets are added to Content ID and linked then the detected usages or 'claims' as they are called can start rolling in and you can manage the use of your copyright across YouTube.

Q. How can it be made possible for the bands to get the fairest percentage back for getting their music played wherever? Sometimes bands get chump change and it's a bit grim when they can't rely on their music to make a decent living. 
A. This is a bit of a wide open question, but I’ll do my best. I think a lot of bands charge in to agreements without necessarily knowing what they are agreeing to, or understanding the consequences. It’s important for anyone looking at an agreement or contract to read it carefully, if you do not understand part of it ask for help. Either by a lawyer if you can afford one, or go to the Musicians’ Union. Once you understand the agreement, if you are not happy then do not sign it. 

At Sentric we promote the idea that the songwriter comes first, and that’s why our agreement has a rolling 28-day term so you are never tied down and can keep control of your rights. For that you receive a service that rivals and surpasses the biggest publishers out there, but you don’t lose your copyright for the next 25 years and you receive a large chunk of the royalties that you are owed for every time your music is performed live, broadcast, streamed, sold, downloaded or used online.

Q. Are publishing deals for bands or just the songwriter? I’m the main songwriter of our band but who would get the royalties?
A. Publishing deals are for songwriters. If you are the songwriter in a band then you have a couple of choices - you can either choose to retain 100% of the publishing copyright for yourself, meaning you will receive all of the royalties e.g. like Alex Turner from The Artic Monkeys. Alternatively, you could choose to split the shares amongst the band either equally e.g. like Coldplay, or give a little to all members and then retain the majority to yourself it is completely up to you. 

You should always make sure the whole band are agreed and clear on the writer splits of songs you create together, ideally before you go into the studio. The last thing you want is a dispute when a member chooses to leave and wants their cut. We see messy situations like that all too often and they easily avoided with some simple communication right from the start.

The non-songwriters of the band may not be owed publishing royalties, but you should make sure you all join the PPL as Performers so you will all be owed royalties for the use of the master recordings when they are used.

Q. What happens if there’s a cover song in our set?
A. If you are performing cover songs in your live set then you will also need to report these when you make your live claims to ensure those writers also receive the compensation you are owed. If you have a publisher then just let them know the song details and they will be able to do the rest. If you are reporting your live claims directly to the society then you will need to search their database to find the appropriate song registration and add it to your setlist. 

Q. If I get signed but I’m already a member of Sentric, what happens then?
A. You just need to let us know that you are signing with another publisher and our team will action the 28-day notice on your account. Our agreement is designed to give you complete control and freedom of your rights so that you can choose what is best for your career, instead of being tied down. Once the 28-day period has passed your new publisher will be free to make the new registrations for your songs.


Ricall Music explain sync licensing

MCPS explained in simple terms

What's copyright & why should you care?


Sentric Music answer your questions about music publishing and sync


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