Fiona Thorburn asks:
If you wanted to start your own music publishing company from scratch, what would you say that step one would be?
Music publishing is the one true thing. Regardless of the decaying state of the postmodern record business, publishing remains the cornerstone of the music industry. The ownership of music copyrights is the most lucrative activity in the music business. Royalties and licensing fees from songs and records continue to accrue long after the artist has hung up his sneakers and abandoned the road. Touring artists continuously stimulate sales of their compact disc catalogs, downloads and branded products. When they retire from active career pursuits the income continues to generate.
There is no pension in Rock & Roll. Publishing royalties can provide a permanent annuity to support songwriters and recording artists in their retirement. By current statute, music copyrights endure for the life of the songwriter plus fifty years. Then, the songs enter the public domain and may be published by artists and producers utilizing any particular composition.
The long term nature of copyrights, and the enduring cash flow, make publishing the most important first step in building your own business in music. Internet entrepreneurs are conducting massive experiments in support of the reinvention of the music industry business model. The postmodern system of, build a repertoire, create a band and a reputation, get signed, take a single to radio and sell a bunch of albums is over. A new system must be invented.
The future belongs to artists and managers who can build a live attraction, control the income streams and establish ownership of publishing and recorded masters. The fewer hands in the pie, the better. If artists write, produce and perform their own material, costs will be vastly reduced. Those who can manage their own careers or partner with competent executives will reach profit sooner, than if they had to pay commissions, royalties and fees for the various services.
Establishing a music publishing company is relatively simple. There are three performing rights societies in the United States that enforce the rights of songwriters and music publishers. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers was founded by the great John Phillip Souza in the mid eighteen hundreds. Every marching band in the world used his material and nobody paid a dime. ASCAP developed the systems and mechanics that reversed that injustice.
As the modern record business created massive record sales through AM radio, income from mechanical royalties soared. In order to avoid the price structure dictated by ASCAP, the radio and record industries formed Broadcast Music Incorporated to provide a competitive standard. Eventually SESAC was formed as a third option. All three provide virtually the same services. ASCAP and BMI are easily accessed through on line registration. Membership in SESAC is by invitation only. Visit ASCAP.com or BMI.com, name your company, and initiate the membership process.
Weather you are an artist, manager or producer establishing a publishing entity is your best opportunity to create a long term asset throughout your career. For relatively modest fees a songwriter can join a performing rights society and clear the name for a publishing company. The creation, acquisition and ownership of copyrights is monitored by these non-profit, member owned organizations. When the name of name of your company clears you are in business.
Monies due to writers and publishers, from any use of music, are traced, calculated and paid to the legally recorded owners of the intellectual properties. The collection of income from mechanical royalties, film and television licenses, personal appearance venues, radio airplay, jingles, games, elevators, ring tones, advertising and downloads is a carefully monitored process. The system provides a great deal of protection to rights holders and publishing administrators.