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Music Publishing Contracts

There are a lot of artists who know what a music publishing company does, but are not familiar with what types of contracts or agreements they offer. Below I will describe the different types of contracts you can enter into with a music publisher, and what these agreements mean. Hopefully this will allow you to negotiate a contract that works out mostly in your favor.

There are 7 standard agreements you are going to come across when you decide to go into contract with a music publisher. The list is as follows:

1) Single song agreement
2) Exclusive song agreement
3) co-publishing agreement
4) Sub publishing agreement
5) Administration agreement
6) purchasing agreement
7) Collection agreement

Here Are The Basics of Each Agreement:

Single Song Agreement

Song By Song Agreement or single song agreement is when you as the writer grant the music publisher specific rights over one or more songs. When you sign to the agreement you are given a recoup-able advance in exchange for their administration service. These services include promoting your song or songs so it can get licensed by radio, Tv, Film, game production companies, nightclubs, etc. They monitor when your songs are being played or in use by a company so they can collect the appropriate funds.

It’s important that you read this contract carefully because some music publishers can give discounts to their sister or affiliate companies. Be sure that you don’t grant them this in the contract because it will take more money out of your pocket so if you don’t know about certain terms of a contract, I suggest you take the time to go online to study them. It’s important to prevent yourself from getting screwed.

Exclusive Song Writer Agreement

Exclusive Song Writer Agreement is normally a contract for staff writers. Under this agreement, the writer usually grants exclusive rights to the music publisher as well as gives up the entire publisher’s share of income to the music publisher.  Any song written within a time period specified within the contract belongs exclusively to the music publisher.  Once the contract is signed the writer is given an advance and this advance is usually paid like salary on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until the advance is paid out in full.

Please note that this agreement is specifically geared to writers who have proven to write hit songs, not for up-and-coming artists who have no experience. This agreement is only given to writers who have a proven track record of making hit songs because publishers can trust that if they give the writer an advance the money will be reimbursed plus all future money made from the song will it is under contract. The advance to the write entirely depends on his negotiating skills and his market value as a writer.

Co-Publishing Deal

A co-publishing deal is a very common agreement amongst writers and publishers. It’s where in the majority of cases the song writer and the music publisher co-own the copyright to the song governed by the agreement. In this agreement the writer can receive up to half of the publishers share as well. So in essence the writer will receive his share which is 50% and up to half of the publishers share which is 50%. In total the writer can receive up to 75% of the entire copyright.

The writer will receive up to 75% while the publisher receives only 25%. But as I said earlier to get a publisher to agree to sign this type of deal is if you are doing well at selling records, or if you have a few hot songs under your belt, other than that it’s going to be hard for them to go into negotiation with you under a co-publishing deal. Under this deal they handle all your administration work, the collection or royalties, and they take their share and give you the rest.

Administration Agreement

This is an agreement where the song writer self publishes their own songs and licenses it to the publisher for a fixed turn and agree to a certain share of royalties. Under this agreement the publisher in most cases takes about 10-20% of the royalties and gives the writer the rest. Under this agreement the writer usually keeps full ownership of his copyright but the publisher will take on the duties of exploiting your songs, and also monitor and collect fees on your behalf.

Just as the last agreement this one is only reserved for the most popular song writers! If you want these types of deals you have to go out there and prove that you can make money, prove that you can sell records and you can write out the contract to favor you more instead of the publisher.

Collection Agreement

This agreement is straight forward and in a way the same as the Administration Agreement, except the publisher doesn’t take on any role of promoting or exploiting your songs. Any promoting of your songs to radio, TV, film etc will have to be handled by you and I can tell you as an up coming artist that’s going to be extremely hard for you! Under this agreement the music publisher will only collect and distribute royalties governed by the contract. The rest of the leg work is going to have to be done by you.

Sub-Publishing Agreement

Publishers have foreign publishers that help them promote your songs in foreign countries. For foreign publishers to help your publishing companies they need to agree to a sub-publishing contract. In this contract no transfer of the owner of the copyright takes place, the only agreements are to promote your song and collect funds from those entities that use your song in that foreign country. If needed they will even translate your song into that foreign county’s language but will charge your publishing company for that.

So the foreign publisher license your music then collects the funds and takes its share. Then sends the rest of the money to your publisher who takes their share, then sends you what’s left. Crazy huh? yeah well that’s the music business for you, as I said many times before, the publishing company will seek out to own and take as much as they can from you!

Music Purchase Agreement

This agreement is also straight forward. It’s when a publisher acquires a whole or in part the catalogue of songs from another publisher for a fee of the future value of the songs. This agreement is only given to popular song writers with a proven track record of creating hit songs. To determine the value of your songs a “due diligence” investigation is carried out by the publisher.


Jerome Kenyatta is an Indie A&R and also a regular music advice contributor to He has over 11 years of experience in the music industry and enjoys connecting artists with media, music publishers, managers, and record labels. To get some more awesome music advice or to showcase your music as an up and coming artist visit: Free Music Advice

Reader Comments (3)

While looking for music publish it is required to have an agreement with the music company which will ensure the legality of your music with all the essential rules

February 6 | Unregistered CommenterDacey

OK...Having a co-publishing agreement with an indigenous artist. One day the artist (as we are finishing a full length CD, with Grand Sync rights offers), proclaims...."I thought this agreement, was null and void".....I"ve put in years of work...developing this artist, supporting and building. I can't help but think, do I try and hard ball this artist, and put the letter of agreement to the test.....right him off as a testament to learning the craft.....or just walk away? Regardless of what is written, if someone decides they don't want to honour an agreement, does it serve to destroy the artist in an effort to protect your own interests?

December 26 | Unregistered CommenterDean Hajas

In case of Adminsitration agreement, where can I find some legal basis?
I mean what if the collective society is uniwlling to acknowledge such an agreement conlcuded by me? What can I refer to?

January 15 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

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