How To Start An Independent Music Publishing Company

how to start an independent music publishing company - decibel peak

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Why would you even want to learn how to start an independent music publishing company?

Don’t you know how much work it’ll be?

If you’re still reading, maybe you’re ONE OF THE FEW musicians that can actually handle the pressure. In that case, I’m really excited to be sharing this well-researched piece of content with you!

I’ll be walking you through the process I went through when setting up my own independent music publishing company (Decibel Peak Productions).

Here are the steps you’ll need to go through…

Name your music publishing company

Make sure to get it right the first time! I created Decibel Peak before even thinking about creating my own independent music publishing company.

That gave me PLENTY of time to make sure I had my affairs in order.

Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing your company’s name:

  • Make sure it’s unique (search the web, YouTube, etc…)
  • It’d be nice if you included a descriptor (ex.: Decibel Peak Productions)
  • It should sound AND look good (that’s part of branding)

I recommend spending some time on this step.

It’s very difficult to go back once we get your music publishing company registered, so make sure you absolutely LOVE the name you choose.

I also recommend having 2-3 options.

You’ll understand why for the next step.

Purchase a domain name for your music publishing company

Most of the guides I read on starting a music publishing company FAILED to mention anything about purchasing a domain name. Maybe it wasn’t as important back in the day, but nowadays it’s MORE essential than having an office.

Your domain name is your “virtual” place of business in today’s world.

It’s also an additional step to verify whether or not the name you chose is truly UNIQUE.

It doesn’t matter which domain name registrar you use. For example, you can use name.com to search for your 2-3 potential names (that’s why you need ’em) and hopefully your favourite will be available.

Regardless of what anyone else says, you want the .COM domain.

If someone already has it registered and you think the .ORG or .NET domain will allow you to get away with it…

If anything, you’ll just be creating confusion and problems for yourself down the road.

That being said, make sure the name you choose has the .COM domain available and if possible, purchase as many variations of the name as possible.

For example, I personally own…

  • decibelpeak.com
  • decibelpeakproductions.com
  • decibelpeakstudio.com
  • decibelpeakacademy.com

Sure, it’ll set your back.

Get used to it though, businesses cost money.

Once you’ve found your UNIQUE domain name and have it registered, you can simply “park” it for now. However, I recommend creating a website as soon as possible.

Owning the domain name isn’t enough to prove ownership.

We’ll be talking more about that stuff later, but for now just purchase the domain name.

Register your music publishing company with the government

After naming your music publishing company, this is usually the step most people recommend. However, I personally don’t believe you should be in any rush if you haven’t even established your company through the use of a website, social media, etc…

AND if you don’t even have a music catalog yet… YOU DON’T NEED THIS.

I only recently registered Decibel Peak Productions as my music publishing company because I was busy branding/marketing Decibel Peak for the past 2 years.

If you haven’t set up that kind of infrastructure yet, you’ll most likely be wasting your time and money.

However, maybe you’ve already gone through all of this!

Maybe you’ve already done all the hard work of establishing your brand and simply need the officiality/protection of a legal entity to move forward.

If that’s the case, then please keep reading!

It’s actually ILLEGAL to work under a name other than your legal name until it’s been registered as a fictitious name (or “doing business as”). That’s why we need this!

Now, please don’t ask me for assistance with this process…

It’s different for each country, state, province, etc…

You’ll simply need to do some research because:

  1. I’m not authorized to give you any legal/financial advice
  2. I haven’t registered businesses in every country, state and province

I know you can pull it off if you want it badly enough though. I believe in you!

The process should be pretty straight-forward BUT… Here’s the one thing you need to consider.

You need to consider what type of legal entity you’ll be registering your music publishing under. It’s not permanent (you can change it later), but here are your options:

  • Sole Proprietorship
  • Partnership
  • Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)

If you’re just getting started and doing most of the work on your own, sole proprietorship is the simplest choice.

However, you’ll want to start thinking about incorporating once you feel the need for more legal protection. Of course, this directly correlates to your music publishing company’s income.

Once you’re registered though, you’re ready for the next step!

Open a business bank account for your music publishing company

This step is kind of optional, but not really… We’ll talk more about the obligations of operating a music publishing company later, but you’ll want to separate ITS income from yours.

This’ll be important when tax season comes around the corner.

In other words, you’ll want to isolate the income generated by your music publishing company to facilitate your accounting. You’ll be filing tax returns for TWO now.

It’s also important because you’ll be authorized (and maybe even obliged) to collect sales taxes depending on the law in your jurisdiction.

So, open an account reserved for your music publishing company AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

The fact that you’re now registered with your local government means that you’ll be assigned some form of business number (BN). That’s what allows you to open a business account.

I also suggest separating your company expenses from your personal expenses.

Just start creating some spreadsheets to keep track of this.

You could also start thinking about hiring an accountant, but maybe you’re too “independent” for that. Once again though, I can’t legally give you any financial advice so you’re on your own for this one too!

Okay, moving on!

Register your music publishing with your PRO/PRS (collecting royalties)

The two types of royalties you’ll need to keep track of are PERFORMANCE and MECHANICAL royalties (maybe PRINT if you sell sheet music). I’d love to say you can manage that on your own, but good luck!

The best way to manage royalties would be to register your music publishing company with your local PRO/PRS.

If your company simply represents you and your catalog, it needs to be the same organization/society that represents you as an artist.

If your company represents the catalogs of other artists, you also need to register your music publishing company with any other PRO/PRS used by them.

The popular (US-based) options are:

  • BMI
  • ASCAP
  • SESAC

Before registering though, you’ll need to provide proof (through publishing agreements) that you own ALL or SOME of the rights to the music of an artist already registered what that organization/society (usually 5 or more works).

Here’s a template if you need to write that up (modify it to your needs).

You’ll also need to have your publishing company registered (which is why we took care of that first).

Now, the problem with these organizations is that they DON’T collect mechanical royalties. In other words, you’ll need at least TWO affiliations to collect all royalties.

One of the most popular options for mechanical royalty collection is the Harry Fox Agency.

Alternatively, SoundExchange also offers royalty administration services that include mechanical royalties.

Just make sure to set this up (especially if you’re representing other artists) because you want to be able to monetize everything from the get-go.

Royalties may or may not be your primary source of revenue, but you still want to have this aspect of your music publishing company taken care of.

So, now what?

Music streaming/licensing platforms for your music publishing company

If we can’t find/listen to your music catalog on the internet… GOOD LUCK!! Now, there are plenty of ready-made music streaming/licensing platforms, but which one is THE one?

Maybe you want to focus on music licensing?

If that’s the case, you may want to avoid music streaming services like Spotify.

That means you’ll need to find a platform to host your entire music catalog which can become quite costly (especially if you want something impressive).

The current industry standard is SourceAudio.

That’s actually what I’ve been using, but it’s only temporary. SourceAudio is alright, but I personally don’t like it.

Here’s why:

  • Inability to customize the look/feel
  • Inability to use your own URL
  • It’s very expensive once you pass 100 tracks
  • Complete functionality requires you to purchase upsells (ex.: e-commerce)

That’s why I’m currently designing my own platform (you heard it here first).

Once it’s finished, I might be sharing it with you so stay tuned for that!

Other than that though, there isn’t much out there (which is why I’m hard at work). SoundCloud is definitely NOT an option if you want to even appear remotely professional. I still use it for my teasers though (treat it like social media).

Now, there are other SourceAudio-like platforms out there, but they usually share the same disadvantages.

AND let’s face it… WordPress wasn’t designed for music publishing. Okay?

In conclusion, there aren’t many options out there (for my needs anyway) except if you’re willing to hire your own web developer or get your hands dirty and start coding your own platform (like me).

I’ll update this section once I finish the tool I’m working on!

For now though, just try and find something that works for you.

Maybe you don’t care so much about the little details like I do.

That being said, maybe SourceAudio would be the right solution for you.

What else does your music publishing company need

Let’s see…

  • You’re now technically authorized to conduct business using your music publishing company.
  • You’ve hopefully got your accounting/financial affairs in order.
  • You’re all set up to start collecting PERFORMANCE and MECHANICAL royalties.
  • AND you’ve ideally got your domain name registered (and created some social media accounts).

What’s missing?

Well, you should start thinking about marketing/promoting your brand.

For example, you’ll definitely want to think about creating a logo!

I personally take care of those aspects myself, but you can also think of hiring someone else to do it (you sell-out… just kidding). It’s beyond the scope of this article though.

It’s also important to start thinking about legal infrastructure.

Having some templates on-hand for…

  • Publishing agreements (exclusive/non-exclusive)
  • Licensing agreements (exclusive/non-exclusive)
  • Work-for-hire contracts
  • NDAs (non-disclosure agreement)

You can have a lawyer (or online service) write some up for you.

However, at some point you’ll want to start thinking about having a lawyer/law firm that works with your company.

You’ll know when the time is right.

It’ll also be advantageous to have an accountant on board once things get more complicated.

Once again, you’ll know when the time is right.

The advantages of having your own music publishing company

Independent artist OR independent music publisher; who do you think is more credible? In the music industry, representation is everything. “Indie” artists haven’t built up the best reputation.

The fact that you went through the process of setting up your own independent music publishing company is what distinguishes you from the masses.

Music publishers also facilitate the clearance process (do you really own 100% of that track?).

If you’re responsible enough to go through all that bureaucracy, music supervisors and production companies will be much more inclined to work with you (and trust you).

That’s one of the main advantages of having your own music publishing company.

Here are some others:

  • Set your own prices (mostly for sync fees)
  • Command higher prices (because of higher perceived value)
  • Collect 100% of royalties and sync fees (no middleman)
  • Keep control of your entire catalog

Overall, it’s much more profitable (long-term AND short-term) to operate your own independent music publishing company. However, it’s MUCH more difficult.

It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure!

If you’re not into the idea of signing your music over to other entities (record labels, music libraries, etc…), then maybe you’ll be happier doing most of the work on your own.

I didn’t write this article for the masses, so maybe you’re one of the few.

The responsibilities of having your own music publishing company

With great responsibility comes great power! Yes, you read that right.

If you’re the type of person that cringes at the thought of additional responsibility, you should’ve stopped reading LONG AGO.

For those of you who never grow tired of working, you’ll enjoy the responsibilities associated with operating your own independent music publishing company.

First of all, what does a music publishing company even do?

  • Portfolio Building (acquisition): Whether you’re representing yourself and/or other music producers/artists, you’ll need to make sure your music catalog is GROWING. It also needs LOTS of variety if you want to increase the odds of success. That means most of your time should be spent MAKING MUSIC.
  • Monetization: You’ll constantly want to be looking for opportunities to monetize/exploit your music catalog. Maybe you even offer services (music production, mixing and mastering, etc…). The best way to monetize your music catalog is through TV/film placements which generate sync fees and royalties.
  • Registration/Administration: You’ll need to keep track of the intellectual property that falls under the umbrella of your music publishing company. That implies the registration of new works with your PRO/PRS and maybe even registering copyrights. You’ll also need to make sure each release has the appropriate metadata to optimize them for discovery and for royalty collection.
  • Protection: If you’re also representing other artists, this is even more important. Intellectual property is priceless, so you owe it to yourself and your stakeholders to employ the best protection procedures. That can be through the use of audio watermarks (audible and non-audible), registering releases with the library of congress and even pursuing those that infringe on your copyrights (expensive and complicated).

Other than that, you’ll also want to respect your jurisdiction’s obligations in regards to the type of business you registered as.

For example, businesses that earn above a certain threshold are obliged to collect sales taxes on behalf of the government.

If you don’t do it, you’ll be paying out of your own pockets!

Once again, we’re going passed the scope of this article so make sure to inform yourself and to do your research before taking on this kind of responsibility.

Summary: How to start an independent music publishing company

If you made it to the end of this article, congratulations!

You must be pretty serious about starting your own independent music publishing company.

We basically went over the steps required to make this possible, but you’ll see that each step is its own task. Take your time and do things right the first time.

I never heard of anybody being in a rush to start a music publishing company (except me).

To summarize though, here are the steps you’ll need to go through:

  • Name your company (have 2-3 UNIQUE options)
  • Purchase a domain name (optional, but kind of required)
  • Register your music publishing company with the government
  • Open a business bank account for your music publishing company
  • Register your music publishing company with your PRO/PRS
  • Rent and/or create your own music streaming/licensing platform

I personally recommend the domain registration step, but others don’t seem to.

It’s up to you, but we’re in the 21st century now… Remember that.

I also recommend setting up one (or more) websites to start branding your music publishing company. Maybe it becomes an extension of your blog…

That’s what Decibel Peak started as.

Decibel Peak Productions is simply an extension of my brand.

Through SEO optimization, you can start generating some serious traffic to your website(s) and that’s how potential customers will find out about you.

Social media is also an excellent option, although it’s much less evergreen.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Just keep in mind that there’s more work to do.

If you have any questions about what we covered today, feel free to leave a comment. If you need more clarification on any of these steps, I’d be more than happy to dedicate a future video to elaborate on it.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time. Here’s to your INDEPENDENCE!!

Sources:

https://blog.songtrust.com/seven-steps-to-starting-your-own-music-publishing-company

https://www.musicgateway.com/blog/how-to/how-to-start-a-music-publishing-company

http://www.entertainerlaw.com/pdf/setup.pdf

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