Music Publishing Key Terms

Understanding industry-specific terms used in the world of music publishing

You've written a song. You've carefully prepared it in manuscript form. You've researched potential music publishing companies and submitted accordingly. Now the moment you've been waiting for arrives: You've been offered a contract! But that contract--as well as your verbal negotiations with the publisher--is filled with words you're not quite sure you understand. That's when you realize the importance of researching music publishing key terms.

Fortunately, no publisher expects songwriters to be fully versed in legaleze. There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a clarification of terms. But you shouldn't rely solely on the publisher's explanations; if you want a fair contract, it's important to educate yourself first. So consider the three main types of music publishing terms you'll need to know:

1. Terms music publishers use to describe rights

2. Words a music publishing company uses to explain contractual obligations

3. Miscellaneous terms a song publishing company may toss your way

Seek music publishing information about rights

There are a wide variety of rights a songwriter may sell, and it's vital to understand all terms related to this part of the business. Some of the most common terms used regarding rights include "blanket license" (referring to rights given by a songwriter's group authorizing performances of a particular song), "mechanical license" (allowing the recording and distribution of a song on CD or phonorecord) and "print license" (allowing a music publisher to print and distribute a piece of music).

Learn about contractual terms used by song publishing companies

Although no one expects this to be your area of expertise, songwriters should understand certain basic contractual terms. These include "advance" (money paid to songwriter by a publisher; the publisher then keeps all royalties earned from the songerwriter's music until the advance is paid off), "mechanical royalties" (paid to publishers and songwriters for the right to record music), "syncrynisation royalty" (paid when music is used for a film, television program or commercial) and "work made for hire" (music created by an employee as part a job or any music that is commissioned; in these cases, the songwriter does not own the copyright to the work).

Research miscellaneous terms used in the music publishing business

Some other terms you may run across while getting your music published in printed form are "collective work" (referring to a collection of songs copyrighted by several individuals), "compilation" (a collection of songs that may be copyrighted by one or more individuals) and "derivative" (a piece of music based on one or more preexisting songs).

  • No matter how educated you are about sheet music publishing and music publishing contracts, never neglect to hire an attorney to review anything you're considering signing. Be sure the attorney specializes in entertainment law since music industry contracts are highly specialized.