Among the many jobs available in the audio industry (and the music industry in particular) there are the more obscure jobs that have to do with music publishing. Many Musitechnic students have experience or backgrounds in music, several even have careers in music (as artists, composers, producers, musicians…) rather than as technicians. It is important to know how to generate revenue from one’s compositions in a context where the traditional source of revenue for artists is rapidly disappearing, namely album sales. In order to better understand music publishing I had the opportunity to chat with Patrick Curley, lawyer and founder of Third Side Music Publishing located here in Montreal. Last time we looked at the publishers’ sources of revenue and some points concerning contracts. This time we’ll see what is involved in the publisher’s work and we’ll benefit from some of Patrick Curley’s advice.
The publisher’s work
Managing contacts and promoting compositions for use in different productions is not all a publisher does. In order to generate revenue from compositions, music publishing demands rigorous and meticulous work. With the diverse possibilities that the digital age has offered (streaming for example) one must be sure to get paid. It’s important to survey official reports from the organizations that distribute royalties (like SOCAN) and sometimes follow up and try to understand why the projected returns did not in fact come through. As mentioned by Mr. Curley, the publisher’s work can also consist of liberating rights for the use of samples taken from other records belonging to other record labels. From the publisher’s point of view, they are in fact works (or parts or samples of a work) used in the work of another composer. The publisher will perhaps have to negotiate not only with the songwriter/composer who owns the rights but also with the record label (if it owns the master recording). According to Mr. Curley, with the bankruptcy of many labels, the publisher has become somewhat of an A&R agent (Artist & Repertoir, person in charge of discovering and signing new talent) nowadays: “we first sign the artist for publishing and we then direct them towards the labels and booking agents”. Publishers offer support to the manager, without replacing that key role, which is an important job in itself, says Curley. Good relationships with the record labels are very important to Third Side Music as they tend to choose artists that have a distinct personality, a particular sound. They promote works that are usually the master recordings, which belong to the record labels, with whom they share the income (for example 50/50). Not that Third Side Music would be against the idea of re-recording or re-arranging the composition, but what they usually present to their clients is a sound (the master recording) rather than sheet music (chord progressions, melody, lyrics). Even the artists that don’t have a record company will usually arrive with their “sound”, an independent, international quality production (seems about right if they went to Musitechnic!). The director who is looking for music for a film is also looking for a particular sound rather than a melody and chords (sheet music). Otherwise, they would work with a composer for film scores (or video games or commercials, etc…) who can create the sound the director imagines. To the composers who feel their music is very cinematographic, Mr. Curley will answer that they are film composers and that agents who specialize in that field do exist but that is not the music publisher’s role. He doesn’t believe that it is useful to make several different versions of the same piece to showcase the songwriter/composer’s skill and that one excellent version is sufficient which, if necessary, the publisher will have remixed.
Being your own publisher?
The composer who wishes to become their own publisher must understand that it is a trade which, like any, requires time and energy that could be put to better use composing, practicing, touring or recording. Mr. Curley says that some songwriter/composers who make that choice do end up paying someone down the line to take care of it, so why not hire a skilled publisher right from the start? It is important to remember that it is not the labels job; they sell the recordings and not the compositions themselves.
Tips and other notes
Patrick Curley also took the time to mention that artistic quality is not a guarantee of placement. For example jazz music can be a difficult type of music to place in audio-visual productions, despite the fact that the quality is extraordinary. For the songwriter/composer who wonders at which point to look for a publisher, the reality is closer to “don’t call us we’ll call you”. Publishers receive so many requests from songwriters/composers who wish to be published that they can pick and choose what they think will work or can be promoted.
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