A Quick Lesson On Publishing

Quick Tip

Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

A publisher’s job is to get your songs recorded. They generally do this in return for the ownership, or copyright, of your song.  A publisher may sign you or your song.  If they just want one or two songs, they offer what is known as “single song agreements.”  That means they will pitch that one (or two) songs in exchange for the copyright.  You won’t get a monetary advance for this.

A publisher may offer to sign YOU, which is to say they may offer you a staff songwriting deal (aka a publishing deal).  Publishers usually pay their staff songwriters an advance against future earnings.  This advance (or “draw”) will be paid back by you as royalties come in from the songs that are part of your publishing deal.  Basically, the unrecouped advance money is withheld from your royalty check by the publisher until they are paid back.  You’ll continue to receive your advance, though.

If your deal ends with you still owing money toward the advance, you don’t have to write the publisher a check.  They will continue to collect any royalties on the songs they own until you’re recouped.

Publishers used to mainly help their writers by just pitching their songs.  However, in today’s country market, not too many outside songs are getting recorded.  The most successful publishers are acting more like the songwriter’s agent- helping the songwriter make good relationships with decision-makers and helping the songwriter get artist cowrites, etc.  It’s less about pitching a song than it is about putting the songwriter in the right room, giving them the best chance to succeed.

What about you?  What’s your experience been regarding publishers?  How do you see their role changing (or not changing) in the current music business?  Let us hear from you!

God Bless,



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13 thoughts on “A Quick Lesson On Publishing”

  1. It’s a marketer’s observation but when I look at the way the music market is changing most of the older effective models in the industry are changing too.

    The opportunities are there but more for the people who are willing to embrace quite different business models than the ones that worked so well in the past.

    The Taylor Swift story is a great example of that.

    Sometimes you need to think SMALLER to see where the easy opportunities are because on a bigger scale the larger companies are already all over them.

    Also most songwriters and artists would be quite happy making a nice income $50,000 to $100,000 a year doing what they love.

    If you’re an artist and you want that kind of income it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to follow the path of major label artists.

    For a stand alone songwriter you’re probably going to have to think further out of the box but the opportunities are there too.

    I think you can probably expect publishers to get more creative in finding ways to get more royalties for their writers in multiple different ways.

    Most are more likely to jump on strategies that look like they’re working than they are to pioneer something new though.

    New methods are far more likely to come from independents and many of those are going to do really well in the future.

  2. This is a much changed business even in the last 8 years I have been coming to town writing. I can only offer my comments based upon an outsiders view because I do not live in Nashville but I am in Nashville every 60 days. The money for a writer has pretty much evaporated unless you have a top 15 cut. Most songs are written with 3 writers and considering taxes and draws against royalties, it does not leave much for the writer. Many writers are also doing some producing on the side, engineering projects, anything to leverage their income.

    I write with published writers because I realize that to write with a non published writer, while not a waste of time, is certainly a road to nowhere regarding a major cut because one of us needs the industry on our side. Since I do not bring the power of the publisher with me I need to make sure I do bring many ideas and a work ethic. Songs that can get cut is the focus. Many writers…great writers have left town because of the diminishing revenue. Artists want to be in the room so they can get their piece of the money stream and writers dream of being in the room with an artist because it is as close to a cut as you can get if you wrote it with the artist and they love it…

    It is nearly impossible if you do not live in Nashville and get a publishing deal to ever get in a room with the artist. I had an indie cut written with the artist and a newly signed Warner brothers female artist heard the song and cut it. Thats about as close as I have gotten to getting in the room with an artist.

    It is not easy and everyone’s goals are different. The one point that never changes is the song. Regardless, the song has to be something different enough, good enough that the publisher or artist wants/has to cut it. Listening to radio and writing that song is not a good avenue as it is already being done. If the songs are great, then when an opportunity avails itself you at least have something competitive. In the meantime, we all write on.

  3. Brent:
    The TV series “Nashville” is one of my favorite shows. Aside from having great songs, from an outsider’s point of view, it appears to reflect the workings of the music business pretty accurately. In your opinion, how accurately to you see this show reflecting the realities of the music business as it works in Nashville?

    1. Hey, Taylor!
      Well, I only watched part of the 1st season, so my opinion is based on that. From a songwriter’s point of view, I didn’t see it being very accurate. Scarlett and Gunner found success early and easily. I heard that Gunner’s 1st royalty check was something like $400,000. Good tv, I guess… but not real Music Row.

      I understand it, though. It’s not very exciting to follow characters around for 3 seasons (at least) of nothing happening but cowrites, demos and passes before someone maybe lands a publishing deal or an indie cut that falls off the album.

      But, like I said, I’ve only seen a few episodes. What does the rest of the MvR community think?

      1. At a seminar Max T Barnes pointed out that the people in the Nashville TV show don’t act anything like the people who live in Nashville (they’re much nicer). From the people I know in Nashville I have to agree with him.

        It’s a fiction show written like a soap opera so I don’t think you’d expect it to be too accurate.

        A first royalty check of $400,000…that must have been one hell of a hit!

  4. I don’t really have many thoughts at the moment, but I surely want to see what everyone’s opinions are on this issue.

    I can’t remember the last time a break through writer scored a major release cut without working their way through the system and paying their dues, so to speak. It’s definitely way more of a multi layer, cream rises to the top structured set up now.

    I think it probably helps a lot with keeping the paperwork trails cleaner and anyone that sort of rises to the top, absolutely deserves to be there and all of the structure part of the contracts has long been established.

    Analogies abound.. Baseball; There’s little league, minor leagues, and major leagues. Agents start relationships with athletes at all ages and points of development, depending on promise and raw talent. No matter how good a teen is, do they get pulled right into the majors, not hardly, right.

    I will say what I love about the Nashville scene, from my observations, compared to say Hollywood or New York City, or Miami, is that at all levels, most people are really down to earth, quite approachable and quite friendly. It’s a smaller town, with a country feel, I suppose… for now. If you’re not a big fan of the industry and have done your homework, you might never know when your eating pancakes next to a publisher with 20 platinum songs in their library, for example.

    I’ve met a lot of people in Publishing and more in songwriting circles and so far (8-10 years) I’ve never met a Jerry McGuire! The conversations are never exactly “jet set” or flashy, it’s usually more about kids, horses (not Polo Horses, but rodeo or cutting) or fishing (Bass not World trekking deep sea fishing), rather than flying off in a private jet to the island home, etc. I hope that part never changes. I’m sure greed and ruthlessness exist, but until Hollywood made a TV show about Nashville, I never saw or experienced it.

  5. Thinking about this from a publisher’s point of view if I was a publisher:

    # I’d look for ways to sign more writers and artists with a minimum draw or no draw at all to reduce risk to a minimum.

    # I’d look for ways to make that kind of deal appealing to an artist or writer…in other words look for creative ways they can make an income that doesn’t come out of my pocket.

    You may see publishers looking to hook up writers with paid songwriter tours and more of those types of things along those lines so they can help them make an income they don’t need to provide.

  6. A successful music engineer in Nashville suggested we use Broadjam.com to submit our demos to artists, for use as movie background music, etc. We recently started doing that. Are you familiar with Broadjam? What do you think? I value your opinion.

      1. This might be buried in the old post. Is the question/concern about the publishing through using Broadjam?

        I’ve spent hours and hours for years on Broadjam and never seemed to get a second look, despite getting song on TV through other communities.

        I’ve stopped spending time and $ there and moved on.

        Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone that ever made any $ there. I’ve watched closely for some of those opportunities being realized (Advertisement jingles, songs etc) never noticed any.

        Admittedly, there’s no way to claim my results, or lack thereof are typical, but that was/has been my experience with Broadjam.

      2. Hi Brent! This is Linda Keser. A Broadjam update: I’m sorry it didn’t work out for Mr. Kib. But two of Marty’s instrumentals are up for serious consideration for “on hold” music (not prestigious, but could be lucrative), Broadjam notified us that one of my songs was listened to 7 times before a different song was chosen. (By the way, there were 780 other submissions, so taking the time to hear my song 7 times is a big deal) We are very encouraged.

        Thanks for the comments about Broadjam!

    1. I remember paying to get some “Pro Reviews” if that’s what the question was about. The reviews were OK, but nowhere near the quality and detail of the NSAI reviews for comparison.

  7. Linda (my fiancee) in my opinion is an amazing “wordsmith” to the extent that I cannot always write music up to the level of her words. So I think of Broadjam as a means of finding possible collaboration for future works. We pursue numerous other access points. FB (angh) Twitter of course. I will not waste my time with SoundCloud as I see no point in just giving away our hard work. However, LinkedIn seems to actually be helping us network out. We are in this for the long haul, and I’ve been gigging for over 35 years, so I know there’s up’s and down’s. Personally I would rather find an artist that likes what we write and then go from there wherever it may lead. But we will not vanish into the air. Thanks again Brent as your blogs and other articles always seem to add to the creative juices. Linda’s song writing gets better each day. I just hope my mixing/mastering skills can keep up. 🙂


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