The Perils of Self Publishing

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Publishing can be a lucrative and relatively stable arm of the music business. It can also be a bottomless pit of blood-sucking rejection and despair – a hole filled with your valuable time, money, hopes and dreams. Don’t it sound like fun?Publishing can be a lucrative and relatively stable arm of the music business. It can also be a bottomless pit of blood-sucking rejection and despair – a hole filled with your valuable time, money, hopes and dreams. Don’t it sound like fun?

Starting your own publishing company is simple, and the information is available through performing rights societies, friends in the biz, and numerous self-help books you can purchase at music/book stores. First you need a company name that is exclusive, i.e. a name not in use. You need to get this info from BMI, ASCAP, SESAC.

Before you enter the fray of the highly competitive music publishing wars, you should make a list of the pros and cons, the expectations, and the personality traits that are necessary to compete in the game. Like any business, you need a business plan, a clear view of what sector of music users you can most successfully service, (i.e. pop, country, rap, R&B, Christian etc.) You also need to find out if you have something unique to offer that sector, other than your own opinion of the songs.

If your goal is to make a profit, and you can answer “yes” to the following questions without hesitation, you might be the kind of person who beats the odds, and establishes a viable publishing company.

*Are you the kind of person who introduces themselves to strangers at a party without a second thought, or do you hang back and wait for introduction?

*Does brusque criticism roll off your back like water off a duck?

*Are you marketing your own work, or the work of other writers, and do you have a system for getting objective feedback to support your ideas and opinions before you market your catalogue?

*Can you face constant rejection without taking it personally or getting discouraged?

*Can you dedicate full time to developing your company, with no revenue for at least one year?

Why is music publishing so hard? It’s not the paperwork, it’s the people work, and knowing what your competition has to offer, and beating it. That’s what makes it tough. If your personal network doesn’t include recording artists, producers, A&R personnel or record company execs, then you will not have direct access to the user, and you won’t get one-on-one feedback. If your songs must be screened by a third party before going to the producer or artist, your tape will end up in a large box with hundreds of other tapes that will get a cursory listen, usually by someone who has another job to do. In that scenario, your odds of getting a cut are in the million-to-one category.

Now suppose that your song is heard, liked, and put on hold by a recording artist or producer. It may be in limbo for up to a year while the recording project is finished and the determination of what songs make the album is complete. You could have a song put on hold, recorded, but not released. You start all over, sans cash flow.

Let’s say your song is released, it’s a hit, and the drought is over. It will be a year or so before the payments catch up with the charts. It takes time to get paid-Lots of time.

These are just some of the considerations you must be aware of before you decide to go it alone in the music publishing biz. These are many of the reasons you see the majority of hit songwriters allied with a strong, well-established publishing company that can handle the marketing, collect the royalties and put some cash flow into the writer’s pocket while the clock is ticking.

Being your own publisher can be done successfully, just expect some scar tissue along the way.



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