to popular belief the real money from being a recording artist or songwriter
of any kind comes from your publishing, not record companies. Record companies
can be very good at exploiting your work and putting it in front of the public
- but that's because they make far more money from it than you do.
In my last 15 years as a recording and touring musician no more than 5% of my
gross income was paid to me by a record company in the form of royalties for
records sold. Publishing, Performing Rights, Tour Income, Merchandise, Commissions,
CD sales at gigs - yes. Record royalties from record companies ? Forget it.
You may or may not become successful. If you don't, there's no money for anyone
anyway. If you do, your publishing becomes The Crown Jewels. Don't under any
circumstances give it away lightly or to the first person who comes along. Be
suspicious of large advances offered by publishers or anyone else. That not only
means you're probably worth far more, but also that they're offering you a less
advantageous deal in the rest of the contract.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, or free money from music publishers. Never
forget that what they're offering you is YOUR money - money you're going to earn
anyway - and like any banker they'll charge you heavily for the privilege. These
people are not doing you a favour by signing you. If you're any good, they need
you more than you need them.
If you don't believe you're any good, you shouldn't be even looking in the first
place - go away and work on your stuff until you KNOW what you do is first rate
and excellent. A good acid test is play it live to strangers in lots of different
places. If they pick their noses and head for the bar you're not there yet. If
they stop talking and start listening, you're onto a winner.
The key thing in a publishing deal is reversion of copyright. This is so important
I'm going to say it again louder in case you missed it first time. REVERSION
OF COPYRIGHT. That means that after a certain period of time, you get to own
your songs again, outright.
Every publisher in the world will want to sign your songs up "for life of
copyright" ie forever. But if they want you enough, most publishers will
agree to let you LEASE them the publishing copyright for a fixed time period.
That way the rights in your songs come back to you in 10, 15 or 20 years' time.
Ten is best, 15 reasonable - only settle for 20 if you absolutely can't get anything
better anywhere else.
If a publisher refuses to give you reversion of copyright, it means they don't
believe in you enough. In which case, hold off signing a publishing deal until
you find somebody else who does. 10 years may seem like a lifetime away to you
right now. But it comes around faster than you think. My original 1978 contract
was a 10 year lease deal and the songs have already come back to me twice - each
time you get to make a whole new publishing deal afresh.
The percentage points, the payment timescale, the PRS split, the way overseas
income is accounted... all these are points that can be negotiated between you,
your lawyer and the publishing company when drawing up a deal. But my advice:
reversion of copyright must be non-negotiable.Your publishing is your pension.
Your publishing is what you leave to your parents after you die in a tragic car
crash aged 27. For Christsake, hang onto your copyrights - don't give em away.
Here's why. If you don't make it none of this matters. The reason you're reading
this article is because you and I are both convinced you ARE going to make it,
otherwise we're both wasting our time. So think big for a moment. Suppose Beyonce
or Norah Jones gets to cover one of your songs five years from now and it crashes
into the US Top 20.
If you've insisted on Reversion Of Copyright, you may have had to sign a publishing
deal with fairly rubbish terms in order to get back ownership after 10 years.
Say - no advance, a 60/40 split, payment 12 months after receipt, 50-50 of PRS
income, and 60/40 of overseas income received. Yet even on these terms you will
earn a tidy six figure sum from a worldwide hit over the remaining 5 years of
And since the deal DOES include reversion, in 5 years' time that
song comes back to you in its entirety along with everything else you've written.
You can now look a new publisher in the eye and hold out for £200,000 advance,
85/15, payment within 90 days of receipt, PRS 100% yours, and 70/30 of overseas
income AT SOURCE. A whole different bag of bananas.
Write one more US/global hit on those terms and you'll literally never have to