Music Publishing Companies: Your Rights When You Sell Your Music

This royalty-free site is an example of a shark music publishing company that allows the exploitation of a music producer. I found this question in a comment on Todd Brabec’s video on Artists House Music’s channel. He asked:

“[sic] what does ascap do for me if i sell an audio clip (copyrighted/registered with ascap) through a royalty free site, and that clip ends up in a tv show/documentary that is being aired alot?”


When you join a performing rights organization (PRO), you essentially put on a suit of water-proof armor that protects you from music publishing companies that act as cold-blooded sharks–versus the music publishing companies that stand fierce as a hawk, scoping out for your best interests with fair payments to each involved.

It costs a little bit of energy to create and wear this suit of armor that costs $35 to wear initially–and then a bit of your percentage to cover the companies’ costs. With these costs in mind, though, PROs protect you from the financial bloodletting of your music, say, from some music publishing company that wants its hands in your pocket.


Find a PRO When Working With

Music Publishing Companies

Performing rights organizations will collect your royalties, especially if played on national TV, regardless of what work-for-hire or royalty-free agreement you establish with another site or person directly. At the least, they’ll make it very painful for whatever music publishing companies that attempt to use your work for less than you deserve.

BMI’s a little more vague and tiered in their payment system, but at least consider ASCAP’s philosophy when it comes to money and deals involving music publishing companies:

“As a condition of membership, all ASCAP members agree that the writer – and not the writer’s employer – will be paid the writer’s share of ASCAP performing rights royalties, even in work-for-hire situations. ASCAP’s Articles of Association provide that writer royalties “shall not be sold or otherwise disposed of.” Therefore, with very few exceptions, ASCAP will not honor an irrevocable assignment of writer’s royalties. We strongly believe that music creators should benefit from their work. Period.” (ASCAP’s Payment System: Introduction)

No matter what you might do with your music behind the scenes, companies like ASCAP (and, likely, BMI) will help ensure that you get the pay you deserve.


Be Your Own PRO When Working

With Music Publishing Companies

Still, on the other side of this pancake, You still need a powerful system of defending yourself from “Shark” music publishing companies– music publishing companies that want to draw out your money (and your soul–kind of like the dementors from Harry Potter). Protect yourself!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Trent Reznor with Nine Inch Nails both made the mistake of not protecting themselves and their intellectual property and thus lost many dollars and much ability to control their initial albums.

UPDATE: Trent Reznor now claims that record labels are not bad–which contradicts the message I initially intended to convey in this post. It’s good to keep things in perspective and see the good in all things, I suppose.

A good boundary to establish between you and the unfortunate evils that exist in the music business are the following:

  • ‘Education on music copyrights and copyrights in general (aka read on music publishing… know the game that music publishing companies play SO THAT YOU CAN WIN)…
  • Connecting with your fans; You can connect with your fans on multiple platforms like YouTube, SoundClick, SoundCloud, MySpaceThere’s a video where Trent Reznor figuratively gives the middle finger to the music publishers who own’s NIN’s first albums (he tells the crowd to steal his first albums); it’s good to have a fanbase to “Boo” the publishers who do the real stealing.
  • Touch base with a trustworthy music publisher; Just keep yourself educated when you bring up something that involves your music.
Now there’s what you need to do. here’s a couple suggestions on how to implement the above when protecting yourself from shark music publishing companies with your knowledge, your platforms, and your music publisher allies.
How to Educate Yourself on Copyright and Music Publishing:
  • You can educate yourself by subscribing to a series of blogs and reading through on music publishing and music publishing companies through these blog posts
  • Read The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing by Randall Wixen (foreword by Tom Petty)
  • Read 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business
  • Ask yourself empowering questions like, “What is the job [this song] has been hired to do?” (Ed Dale) when considering payment for your song (or when creating it for example).
Establish “Your Platform”
  • Register with (and then upload content and link to that content regularly)
  • Register with (and then upload content and link to that content regularly)
  • Register with (and then upload content and link to that content regularly)
  • Register with (and then upload content and link to that content regularly)
  • Register (and then upload content and link to that content regularly) with another content-hosting website that will display your music and/or music videos
  • Connect regularly with established artists and band members; create mixtapes with them
  • Write on blogs or forums and link your content with the value you provide on that forum
Connect With Your Trusted (Hawk) Music Publisher
  • Connect with friends you know in the music publishing industry
  • Create (video) comments on music publishing channels (on videos that talk about publishing music)
  • E-mail other artists on their preferred music publishers (Randall Wixen)
Here’s a quick comment from music business weasel, Eric Beall, of Berklee Music.

“It now seems that every record label uses songs without mechanical licenses in place, theater shows routinely drop songs into a revue without clearing the dramatic rights, advertisers sign sync licenses long after ads are on the air, and everyone pays late, if at all.  It takes a new kind of tenacity to get paid, and only those who are the most persistent, the most unrelenting, and the nastiest will get their money. You can’t just put your registrations in place and wait for the payment to show up.  Those who snooze will be abused.”

Eric Beall’s Blog

You always have rights no matter what you do. It is possible to sell your musical soul to the devil, but the musical society has leaned the odds in your favor when it comes to collecting rights for your music.


The Journey Ahead

There are plenty of sources to observe when it comes to protecting yourself from “Shark” music publishing companies, including the PRO websites. Furthermore, you can observe more in our blog when it comes music publishing companies, because, well, we’re the “Hawk” music publishing company.

You deserve to get paid for the value you create.

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6 Responses to “Music Publishing Companies: Your Rights When You Sell Your Music”

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