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The PRiMER … Start your own publishing company - Jun 27, 2011

“You need to be a little bit lawyer, a little bit hustler, and a lot creative!“

picture When self-published, self-managed songwriter Francesco Galtieri talked recently to HitQuarters about how he managed to get a song accepted by Simon Cowell for Syco and recorded by Il Divo, one of the biggest selling acts of the last decade, it highlighted what you can really achieve by going it alone as a writer.

For this edition of The PRiMER we firstly look at the relatively straightforward process involved in setting up your own publishing company, and then speak with a successful self-published songwriter about the realities facing writers that choose to manage their own publishing catalogue.

Setting up a Publishing Company in Six Steps

1. Am I ready to start my own publishing company?

To justify setting up your own publishing company, and to stand a chance of being accepted by a performance rights organisation (PRO) - who will be responsible for monitoring the use of your songs and distributing any royalties earned - you first need to have at least one song ready to be released, broadcast on a radio programme or licensed in a TV show, motion picture, video game etc.

2. Choose a name for your publishing company

The very first thing to do is think of a name for your new publishing company. This name then needs to be approved by your chosen PRO before you can do anything else. It is vital that your chosen name is cleared by the PRO before it is used for anything otherwise you might face some awkward backtracking, particularly if you’ve used a different name for copyright registrations etc. that you then can’t collect royalties for.

To prevent any confusion, such as when distributing any due royalties, the PROs will not accept a name that is the same as or similar to an existing publisher, and so typically demand you submit a few potential names and list them in order of preference. As there are countless names already registered, you’ll need to think of a name that is unique and distinctive; any common names will likely be rejected out of hand.

3. Affiliate with a Performance Rights Organisation

The next step is to affiliate your new publishing company with one of the PROs for your local territory. If you haven’t already affiliated with a PRO as a songwriter or composer then you should do that at the same time, and with the same society; the PROs demand that a song’s publisher is affiliated with the same society as a song’s writer.

In the USA you have a choice between BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, and in the UK it’s the PRS for Music, and in Germany it’s GEMA. It’s only when your songs start making international headway that you need to start thinking about affiliating with societies in other territories.

Aside from submitting your company name, the application process involves detailing the company’s owner, address, and that it is “individually owned” (and not a corporation, LLC or partnership) etc. There is typically a one time processing fee to apply for registration as a publisher.

4. Register your business and open a bank account

Once your application has been approved (a process that can take several weeks), you then need to register your business so you can legally present yourself under that name and accept payments, sign contracts etc. Rather than going to the trouble of setting-up a totally new business entity, you can do this simply, and at minimal cost, by completing fictitious business name certificate or DBA (“doing business as”) form. This document provides legal proof that you’re doing business under a different name from your own.

With this completed and certified you can then mark the foundation of your company by opening a bank account in your new company name.

5. Register your songs with the copyright office

The next step is to register all the songs you want in your company’s catalogue with the appropriate copyright organisation. In the USA it is the U.S. Copyright Office and in the UK it is The UK Copyright Service. Although if you are a UK citizen, under the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act, technically copyright automatically exists as soon as a song takes a physical form, such as in being recorded.

If you have already obtained copyright registrations on your songs when they were unpublished, you would now just simply register them again as published works. In such instances the songs were likely copyrighted under a different name and so you would need to file an assignment transferring them to the publisher’s name.

6. Register all the songs in your catalogue with the PRO

All the songs in your publishing company’s catalogue should now be registered with your PRO. This authorises them to licence those particular songs, collect the money, and pay you.

This registration process involves providing various information about the songs, such as writing credits, so they can log this info into their system. This will enable the organisation to know who to pay, what percentage to pay the writer and the publisher, and where to send any cheques.

the Pros and Cons of Being Self-Published

Stephanie SalzmanFor a first-hand perspective, we asked self-published songwriter Stephanie Salzman of Power Pitch Music about the ins and outs of managing your own publishing. For anyone seriously considering going it alone, the New York-based songwriter also reveals what you should do first of all before making the leap and how to start pitching your songs and building a contact network once you do.

What are the chief pros and cons of being self-published?


(1) You maintain control and money
(2) You retain copyright
(3) In the long term, if the song does well, and you’ve maintained your own publishing, you get more money.


(1) It is time consuming
(2) If you’re not organised you won’t do it right
(3) If you’re not doing it nobody else is”

What are the challenges of having your own publishing?

“Publishing is a challenge because you need to understand - at least in a cursory way - how mechanicals work, how the law works (i.e. right of refusal on the first recording). You need to understand contracts and how to get paid, and, even if you work with an administrator looking out for you, you need to understand length of contract and how to make deals.

It’s time consuming so do it only if you think you have the time and the ability. It is a constant learning process and you need to be a little bit lawyer, a little bit hustler, and a lot creative!”

What should you do if you’re considering starting your own publishing?

“Talk to other writer/publishers and pick their brains. When you’re starting out, go to a couple of people that you trust and ask them what they think of your work - before you make an appointment with the president of Sony. When it comes to somebody important, you usually just get one shot.

Establishing your own publishing concern is not a very complicated process. Publishing means getting songs on records and that is the hard part.”

How do you build a publishing contact network?

“My relationships with other songwriters are among the most important ones I have and these relationships often turn out to be the long term ones. Find out who your friends are at the record companies, managers, etc. and stay in contact.

You should go to music events where new songs are presented and attend new artists showcases because you never know who you might meet where.

There are pitch sheets which tell you what artists are looking for what songs and who the contacts are. Once you have one recording, contacts are easier to make. I have built up contacts who will open a package that comes from Power Pitch Music. I often call ahead to get permission to submit and to alert them to look out for the packet. Frankly, if it all looks really good, even if they don’t know me, they might open it anyway.”

Read the full archive interview with Stephanie Salzman here.

Read On ...

* Self-published songwriter Francesco Galtieri on how he got a song accepted by Simon Cowell for Il Divo
* The PRiMER looks at Performance Rights Organisations
* Songwriter John Gordon on the pros and cons of self-publishing