A Look At Music Publishing Contracts

Music publishing is one of the most misunderstood, but also most lucrative, aspects in the world of record making. Often confused with songwriting royalties, publishing is a separate endeavor designed to secure and deliver payment to songwriters whenever their songs are used. In return, the publisher charges a fee for their service. The publishing industry is a vast and nuanced one that is also changing with each passing year. One factor that has remained constant is high amount of money that can be made in music publishing.

Since there are so many different aspects of music publishing, there also, naturally, will be many different types of contracts required to cover all the relationships and agreements that will arise. To narrow it down, we will look in this article at the relationship between a record company wishing to use a song owned by a certain publisher on an album. Here are a few key factors that will be addressed in most similar contracts.

Musical Composition

First, the song or songs that are to be used on the recording will be listed, which will give the record label the right to use those (and only those) songs on the record.


Perhaps the most important part—this will specify exactly what the record company will pay the publisher for use of the song(s). Often, this will be broken down into detailed (and sometimes complicated) levels, depending on the number of records sold, how much was charged for the record, etc.


To provide proof of how much money the record has earned, the record company also will provide proof of sales in the form of statements to the publisher at agreed upon intervals.


The duration of the agreement is an extremely important aspect of the contract, as is what happens to the publishing rights after the term expires. This is one of the most variable aspects of the contract and will need to be agreed upon before the contract is written.

Many publishing contracts will be much more detailed depending on the amount of songs used and the types of publishing agreements by which each song is bound, but the aforementioned points will be seen in some form or another in most any music publishing contract involving publishers and record labels. Additionally, the contracts will define other terms such as the relationship of the two parties, any waivers, and any situations that would deem the contract invalid.

Without music publishing, songwriters would be responsible for tracking and down and collecting the money owed to them, so it stands to reason why publishing is such a large and important aspect of the music industry. Music publishing contracts aim to keep everyone involved on fair and lucrative terms.