After many songwriting roads that led nowhere you are finally staring at a music publishing contract.
Should you sign it?
The first thing that may confuse you is terminology involving percentages.How can you sign away 100% of your rights and still keep 100%?
That’s because as far as the PRO’s (performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) are concerned, a song is actually considered to be split into two parts, the songwriter’s portion and the publishing portion. View those two parts as separate entities each worth 100% and the light will come on.
By no means is this a comprehensive list but here are some points to look for and expect in a music publishing contract:
- The right to renegotiate or terminate the contract in 35 to 45 years.
- If this is a single song deal not tied to an impending release then an additional reversion clause should be included, contingent on the publisher securing a recording and release by a certain date. If the publisher knows the contract is for a specific release already planned, the reversion clause either won’t appear, or a box will be checked saying the second, shorter reversion, doesn’t apply.
- The copyright is temporarily transferred to the publisher for the duration of the contract. That’s what assigning publishing rights entails.
- Expect a lot of points about lawsuits between you and the publisher. Very few music publishing contracts end up disputed in court, but it can happen, mostly this will be the publisher covering his liability in that event. .
- The publisher will likely want the right to re-title and/or rewrite the composition as necessary. It sounds a little weird but there are many possible reasons a publisher needs that right. For example, a big name artist may be cutting a vocal for the song and decides he doesn’t like a line… can he change it? If time to track down the songwriter is spent the potential hit recording opportunity may be lost. Or perhaps a foreign publisher requires a translation. Or maybe the song is such a big hit someone wants to record a parody lyric. Maybe the song just isn’t working and the publisher thinks a rewrite is needed. You do lose some creative control but you still get your 100% songwriter’s share regardless of the changes and the publisher won’t likely back down on this point.
Should you sign? I’m not personally a big fan of seeing a lawyer every time you do a deal but if this is your first rodeo or your first with a new company, and certainly if there are clauses you don’t expect or don’t understand, have a lawyer look it over.
Also, unless you already have hit songs you may not have a lot of leverage to negotiate. If you start playing big time prima donna by asking for a lot of changes to points that are fairly standard, don’t be shocked if the publisher decides its not worth the hassle and revokes the offer.
But if something is seriously weird such as a clause where you give up the title to your home or could end up owing the publisher money then stand your ground, In fact if outlandish clauses are present maybe it’s best you be the one to walk- b.e.