So often as songwriters we hold the publishing deal out there as some kind of holy grail. I understand the mindset as so much of our work is solitary and the kind of industry acknowledgement that a publishing deal represents can be a very tempting proposition. In fact, signing with a publisher is a business arrangement and, as with any business deal, it deserves the kind of heightened scrutiny that songwriters rarely give it. Giving up half or all of your publishing is a serious decision and one that is often overlooked because of the cachet a publishing deal provides in the eyes of our peers and, often, the music industry as well. That being said, starting your own publishing company isn’t something to be undertaken lightly either. The following points are worth considering if you’re looking into starting your own publishing company. If they apply to you, then I’d highly recommend doing it yourself because full ownership of your copyrights is a very valuable thing. If, however, you don’t meet or feel comfortable with the criteria below, you know what they say, “One hundred percent of nothing…”
First and foremost, if you’re going to start your own publishing company, you have to believe in your songs. There are several reasons for this. One, if you don’t believe in your material, it will be very difficult to get up every day and look for opportunities to exploit it. Two, confidence is contagious. If you feel good about your songs, there will be an infinite number of subtle cues that let people know your material is strong and should be given the appropriate attention. In other words, if you’re at a point in your songwriting where you’re still looking for feedback and guidance, you might not be ready to be your own publisher. Of course, you can always look for an industry mentor who can help you strengthen your work while you maintain ownership of your publishing.
Having your own publishing company means taking care of the things that any established publisher would provide. One of the most obvious and important ones is industry contacts. Publishers have a network of contacts that they go to when they have songs they think are appropriate for a given artist or licensing opportunity. That job will fall to you if you have your own publishing company. Networking is an essential part of finding outlets for your music and if you’re unwilling/unable to do it, that will make things infinitely more difficult. By the way, networking doesn’t have to have the negative connotation that a lot of we introverted creative types give it. It simply means making an effort to identify and get to know the decision-makers in our industry and how to connect with them. There are also organizations that act as go betweens allowing songwriters outside of the major music cities to still pitch their material through them. Still, making trips to the major music cities (L.A. New York and Nashville) to develop these relationships is an important part of having your own publishing company.
So, here’s the thing. If you’re going to consider starting your own publishing company, it’s not enough to be a talented songwriter. Running a publishing company, even if it’s just you, means you have to pay attention to the business side of things. This can mean making sure your songs are properly demoed, catalogued and easy to access, keeping track of pitches you’ve made of your material and any one of a hundred things that have NOTHING to do with making up songs out of your own head. If you’re not afraid of the work but you’re concerned that you don’t know the ins and outs of licensing and some of the more esoteric parts of tracking your royalties, etc, there is a compromise. You can always hire a copyright administrator. These companies are essentially publishers but their sole purpose is to “mind the store” when it comes to your songs which are out in the world generating income. Instead of giving up half or all of your publishing, you’ll give up a small percentage for this valuable and anxiety-reducing service.
Being your own publisher has many advantages even beyond owning your own copyrights. You’ll have the ability to negotiate on your own behalf and make decisions that are right for you and your songs. That being said, it’s not for everyone. It requires a good deal of work and effort to earn the above rewards. If by the end of this article, you feel like you’re not ready to be your own publisher, then know that over time you can certainly get to that point by continuing to work on your material, networking and business skills. In the end, owning your own publishing is a goal worthy of setting.