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How Traditional Publishing Works

You’ve heard the story before - a budding songwriter who dreams of making it big finally lands a deal from a reputable music company that then makes them famous. A lot of times these deals are thought to come in the form of a record deal, but there’s also the lesser-known music publishing deal. Music Publishing deals can vary widely but typically boil down to the offering of an advance and creative services, in exchange for some form of song ownership.

These kinds of deals are what a lot of artists aim for, but with the rising numbers of independent musicians coming into their own, a traditional publishing deal isn’t the only option anymore. Now songwriters have to ask themselves a variety of questions including: How much ownership and independence am I willing to give up for the benefits that a traditional publishing deal will give me today?

The industry can be split between which deals they believe in most, but there are some facts that can’t be disputed. First off, the moment you decide that the song you’ve poured your soul into is finally finished, you automatically own the copyright and 100% of your publishing ownership for that composition. Next, this 100% publishing ownership is divided into two very important pieces: the publisher’s share (50%) and the writer’s share (50%). These facts are so important because some publishing agreements take a percentage of ownership from your publisher’s share. Understanding that this ownership is yours from the get-go is crucial when making decisions about your career. 

Let’s walk through the three main types of music publishing deals you might come across.

Administration Agreement

In an administration deal, you - the songwriter - keep 100% ownership of your copyright (and writer's share) and give away 15-25% (although that percentage may be more or less depending on the administrator’s terms) of your publisher’s share in the form of an administrative fee for a term of usually 1-3 years. Publishing administrators do not own or control any percentage of your copyright at any point in the agreement.

Administration agreements ordinarily do not include any creative services and focus solely on duties such as properly registering your songs with pay sources and collection societies around the world, as well as collecting royalties on your behalf. Most administrators will also process the paperwork for any sync licenses you procure, for a percentage of the sync royalty. This is called "passive" sync income. In some instances, administration deals can include an advance, which must be recouped in the same way as in a co-publishing deal (which we’ll explain further soon), meaning that before you are paid out any royalties, all of your advance must be paid back.

Publishing administrators have relationships with all kinds of performance and mechanical collection societies and pay sources around the world that make royalty collection much simpler than it would be for a single songwriter to do on their own. This leaves you time to focus on writing as well as to work on pushing your songs creatively.

Traditional (or Co-Publishing) Agreement

Commonly known publishing agreements are either traditional or co-publishing agreements. Some aspects of these agreements are similar, but they have one distinguishing difference -- the amount of ownership you get to keep.

A traditional publishing deal generally means that you forfeit 100% of your publishing rights in return for the services that your publisher will provide. In a co-publishing agreement, one of the most common publishing deal for major songwriters, you typically give away 50% ownership of your publisher’s share ("co-publishing") when you sign. This means you still keep 100% of your writer’s share, but only 50% of your publisher’s share: 75% of your total publishing royalties. During your term, which typically lasts 1-3 years (usually with options for renewal), you have certain obligations, such as writing a minimum number of songs that are commercially satisfactory or that the songs must be recorded and released by an artist on a legitimate label, that must be fulfilled during your term.

Because the publisher takes partial ownership, they do have more of an incentive to support your compositions and generate royalties from them. They’ll do this in a number of ways: 

  • Pitching them to music supervisors for synchronization in television, film, and advertising

  • Pitching to labels and artists to be recorded and released by major artists

  • Setting you up on co-writes with artists and other songwriters

  • Maybe even having you perform some industry showcases 

In addition to this creative work, your publisher will also be doing all of the necessary administrative duties. Keep in mind that though you maintain part of your publishing ownership, oftentimes you still give up administrative rights meaning they may require the songwriter to give away external control over the song itself. This allows the publishing company to more easily seek out and agree to sync opportunities, but also means you may not be able to have a say in what those opportunities are.

Another enticing aspect of a co-publishing deal is the cash advance. Publishing companies will customarily offer you a sum of money, which varies depending on the deal, upon signing the contract. This can be alluring for a songwriter, because it offers a potential form of freedom such as quitting your day job and focusing all of your energy on writing. However, it’s important to know that this advance must be recouped in full by the publisher before you are paid out any royalties from your compositions. This means the publishing company will collect your 75% of royalties until they’ve recouped their advance. The other 25% goes directly into their pocket.  Also, though you retain 50% ownership of the publisher’s share, you are often giving away 100% of control over the song itself, meaning you have little say in how it is used or pitched.

The Work-for-Hire Agreement 

A work-for-hire agreement is a pretty straightforward arrangement. Many companies (not necessarily publishing companies) or individual songwriters may approach songwriters, producers, composers, etc to create unique composition(s) for their projects, which they then outright purchase for a flat fee. Be careful though, you may be signing away all of your master and publishing rights - including your writer’s share - with this kind of deal, depending on how it’s being laid out. You also may not be listed as the composer of the song (or however you contributed work) -- the person who hired you will likely be listed as the songwriter instead.

If this type of agreement is the best option for your situation or how you normally handle your business decisions, just make sure you read the terms, get everything in writing, and try to work in some ownership percentages so you can have some type of continuous revenue streams in the future. You never know when or if a song is going to get a lot of traction -- you don’t want to sign away that ownership too easily.

Music publishing companies are passionate about your music and career, but are ultimately in business to make a profit. They would not stay in business if they didn’t format their deals in a way that generates large amounts of revenue in their favor.In 2020, there are vast opportunities to promote yourself as an artist and/or songwriter independently and generate real publishing royalties without a creative team behind you.Choose what’s right for you and set yourself up for success. Whatever you decide.

How SCA Works

Songwriters keep 100% of their Publishing, 100% of their copyright, 100% of the writer's share, 100% of the intellectual property, 100% of the Mechanical and Performance royalties and 100% of all residual income in perpetuity for their songs. SCA does not believe in, nor will offer ANY of the deals referenced above. The Music Industry is designed for Labels and Publishing companies to live off of the songwriter's intellectual property and ownership of their creative works. Traditional Labels and Publishing companies do not let writers own and control all of their publishing and rights to their songs. Music Publishing companies do not teach songwriter's how to handle all of their administrative needs for themselves, instead opting to take a 15-20% cut out of the songwriter's publishing share for the duration of the contract as compensation for doing it for the songwriter. This is bad business and constantly forces songwriter's to make transactions that require giving up their ownership in return for rendering a service rather than business transactions strictly being limited to monetary. Over 90% of businesses operate in the exchange of monetary transactions in lieu of rendering a service.


For example, a grocery store DOES NOT require a Food Distributor to HAVE to give up a percentage of it's property, rights, shares, and residuals as the ONLY acceptable form of payment when operating in the capacity of business and rendering a service to a client. The store immensely benefits from the services it receives when it sells the Food Distributor's product to the public. Grocery stores need to sell food just like the industry needs to sell music. Much like the Food Distributors who supply the goods that stock the grocery stores, in the same way, songwriters distribute all written music which in return stocks all the digital stores, markets, and every music platform you can think of. Without written music there would be no Music Industry.

In conclusion, taking a songwriter's ownership as the ONLY form of payment that you will accept in exchange for the services that they provide you is simply unethical and we as clients do not ask any other professional in business to do this. At Sky Castle Achievements we have a much better business model that works forward and not backwards. We treat songwriters here as professionals who provide a service and NOT like "Work-For-Hires" who are exploited into selling their rights, shares, and ownership for a one time meager fee. In comparison to what these writers could have potentially amassed in terms of wealth had they not been forced to sell their property in the first place is something that is absolutely impossible to calculate. If you consider yourself to be a strong songwriter who's interested in creating passive income on the side and owning 100% of your intellectual property while leveraging your career as a Professional Songwriter, then show us your best work.

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