Friday, June 9th, 2023

Music Publishing Versus Self Publishing – Pros and Cons


Music Publishing Versus Self Publishing explores some of the pros and cons of choosing an existing music publisher versus self publishing. The focus is on treating your music, publishing of it and working within the industry as a business.

Music Publishing Versus Self Publishing

Using an Existing Music Publisher versus Self Publishing in Music

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of music creators struggle with a focus on securing music publishing. In today’s technology driven world there are two main ways of getting music published, either you publish it yourself or you find an existing music publisher who believes in you and your music. One thing rings truer today than ever before, you must think in terms of a business rather than simply as a composer of music or as a singer/songwriter as there is considerably more to it than that. The second thing that rings true lays in the control of your music and who has that control.

What is Music Publishing?

As a composer, singer/songwriter or a band (of any configuration) you begin the process of music creation or composition which results in an original piece of music. This is the first step in understanding music publishing and the need for publishing in the first place. There must be a product involved which is necessary for the licensing, copying or disseminating your musical creations, all of which are parts of music publishing.

Supporting the creation of new music is the copyright as provided for under the US Constitution and the Copyright laws. Once you write down (notate) on paper or record music, whether on disc, vinyl, glass, tape or any one of several digital mediums, you immediately gain a copyright on your music. You have created or produced a physical manifestation of your musical ideas. They are now in a tangible form. Once this is done, you can begin the process of music publishing, copying or duplicating and disseminating copies of the original music. You can do this yourself or you can find another company to publish it for you.

Unlike the process of attaining a copyright, the act of producing an original tangible product or master copy, for music to be considered published, the requirement is not simply the act of producing more copies or to have contracted with a manufacturer to produce a 1,000 CD’s for example. Music publishing requires the actual distribution of the music in any one or more formats, i.e. CD’s, mp3’s, sheet music, etc.

In essence a bridge needs to be built which spans the creation of the new and original product, the mass production of it and the distribution of that inventory. In today’s digital age this can easily be accomplished within the digital realm as evidenced by all of the many Internet based companies who provide outlets for distribution, both hard copy and digital copy. However, in order to be successful at music publishing and attaining mass distribution there is considerably more involved depending upon what extent you wish to distribute your music.

Self Publishing

Your Own Business

To assume the task of self publishing of your music, you will need to think of yourself as a businessperson, who owns, has operational control and who assumes all of the tasks and duties of doing business as a music publishing company. In its simplest form, this can simply mean using your own name and a business checking account and where you act within current business models such as a sole proprietor, limited partnership, limited liability corporation or as a legal corporation.

If it is in your interest as a music publishing concern, to do business under an assumed name, then additional documents and public notices are required depending upon the laws and requirements of the State, as in Texas, Tennessee, California, New York, etc, in which you live and plan on doing business in. You will want to check with local, state and federal organization to learn the requirements and guideline to assure proper and legal functioning and to legally act under an assumed name business.

However, in order to be or to become a strong and progressive music publisher you will need to consider additional business forms, meaning business entities as stated above. There are several different types of business entities suitable for music publishing companies such as a corporation, a limited liability corporation, a full or limited partnership, etc., all of which require considerably more knowledge and experience. Here again, it is necessary to file the appropriate documents with the State and Federal Governments to be recognized, approved and legal. There may be local requirements as well depending upon where you live and what type of business entity you have chosen for your business. It is strongly suggested that you seek legal guidance in these matters and to do so prior to starting your music publishing company.

Further, both small and larger music publishers include many departments such as royalty and accounting, IT, legal counsel, licensing, graphics, print and digital media design, marketing and sales departments, etc, all relative to function professionally as a business enterprise. How many people you have in your company is a function of available funds and how big you want your company to grow. Music publishing can be a one-person gig but you will soon discover that many people with specific skills and expertise are needed to be effective as a music publishing company.

Pros and Cons of Self Publishing

There are pros and cons to self publishing which must be considered if you elect to go this route. One of the American dreams is to own and run your own company. It is common sense then that you may want to look into the advantages and disadvantages as well as the tasks required and your ability to either do them your self or to be competent in delegating or hiring out subcontractors to do the work on your behalf. Let’s take a brief look at some of the basic pros and cons of self publishing.

PRO – First and foremost is the desire to own and operate your own music publishing business. Secondly, you must be self motivated as there is no boss to answer too, except yourself and your customers. Beyond that, you must take into consideration and assume all operating costs and you must assume the additional responsibilities and duties of running a music publishing business, which are likely to dig into your schedule of writing music and/or performing music. The management of the business and employees, the paperwork, communications, IT, marketing and promotion are among the additional things you must be capable of doing and be willing to do yourself. You can also subcontract out to other companies some of these duties however, in the end, I is up to you to complete them at the level of professionalism that you have chosen for operating your own music publishing business. Many singer/songwriters find this a daunting task unless they have previous professional experience or the knowledge and the skills to take on these extra duties. However, if you have what it takes to own and operate your own music publishing business the rewards can be extremely good for you.

It has been said that owning a music publishing business opens the door to higher earnings potential as compared to publishing through an existing music publisher. Obviously this is a great benefit of running your own company provided of course, you are actually earning money in your business.

PRO – There is a strong upside to owning your own music publishing business. The strongest of which includes 100% control of your music and 100% control over the use and placement of your music in the marketplace. This comes with a price but the need to sell mega-millions of CD’s to earn a living is reduced, unless of course you can market and sell huge volumes of your music on your own. The advantage is in the financial numbers. When self-publishing, you keep the 50% or higher publishers’ income otherwise given to an existing publisher. In some cases the amount of earned income when self published is considerably more than enough to earn a decent living when added to the writer’s portion or percentage of income. On top of that you do not need to sell as many products in order to earn a decent living. If you are seeking a comfortable living and lifestyle this could very well be your preferred choice.

CON – The main deterrent to starting your own music publishing company is the initial cash investment needed to open the doors and for the ongoing business expenses of running it. It is common knowledge that most businesses fail within two years of starting it. The importance of having enough funds available to support your new music publishing business for a period of one or two years relieves you of the stress and the risks you will face if you are under funded. Aside from the legal costs of starting your own music publishing company a substantial amount of money is need to rent or purchase the “space” for your offices as well as the furniture and decorations for it. If you are going it alone you can simply designate an area in your home and run your business from there. This does greatly reduce the initial costs when getting started. You will still need funds to cover the other expenses of running your business.

Additional costs come into play when you consider the costs for establishing a brand and a decent and respectable reputation in the marketplace. Aside from the initial costs there are ongoing costs that need to be paid for. Such things as producing the necessary hard copy materials needed for the marketing and the promotion of your music publishing business as well as ongoing operating costs such as covering employee wages and benefits, rent, utilities, the marketing of your music products, promotion of them, etc. Remember you still must supply the funding needed for producing your own music too.

CON – You will need to have ample business knowledge to grow and manage your music publishing company. Just because you can write music well and perform better than most you still need to know how to run a music publishing company. This is an additional and vitally important consideration which can make or break your success in short order. A small business owner wears many hats especially at first. You must be able to self manage your financial and time investments. Having a strong educational foundation will help you immensely. Ongoing training is necessary to keep up on all of the changes which occur within the industry as well as any changes in the copyright laws.

Further, you must be able to network within the music community. That means networking both in person as well as on the internet. An important part of growing a healthy music publishing company involves making connections within the industry who recognize the value of your music and the value of your mutual interests. Other areas of concern are the management and maintenance of your website properties, both your main website as well as your social networking sites. The designs (or oversee designs created by others companies) for all of your marketing and promotional materials, manage your internet reputation are also considerations for running our own music publishing company. If you do not have a good understanding of business or the knowledge to operate a business you might not choose to self publish and to elect to seek out an existing music publisher suitable for your music, instead.


There’s no half way here. You must commit everything 100% and believe in yourself and your music 100% when self publishing. You will need to have both the knowledge and the financial resources and, as many artists do not fully realize, the industry connections which are of vital importance for your success. It is invaluable to have many “real” connections within the music business that can help you and that can speed up the process of earning a living through your music by their help and possibly by their assistance in areas such as the promotion and marketing sides of getting your music published. You must have a 100% commitment when starting your own music publishing company, being “all in”, as they say.  You must also commit 100% to your business relationships in order to gain their trust and their commitment to you. In these ways you can attain a high level of success running a music publishing company.

The Modern Digital World

In this digital age, with all of the available technological resources available, it is easier now to consider self publishing than to seek out and “sell” your goods to an existing music publisher. Computers, networking websites and social media, as well as digital distribution makes the entire process of self publishing of music within the reach of the average artist than at any other time in history.

The downfall is in the amount of time and the quality and quantity of available resources you have to devote to the music publishing side of your business while continuing to produce more new music and acquiring the publishing rights of other creators, both of which adds to your music publishing company’s net worth. Many artists do not wish to go this route simply for these reasons, however, when taken as a whole they offer an accessible means by which you can get your music published through self publishing.

Existing Music Publishers

With all of the changes currently underway as well as many other considerations such as locating and securing existing music publishers, the journey remains difficult unless you have absolutely fantastic music and quite the buzz going on. If this is the case existing music publishers will find you. Otherwise, the task of securing a music publishing agreement is a steep uphill battle. It requires a consistent level of activity and a real world “buzz” to be notice among the thousands of others out there vying for the attention of existing music publishers. Let’s take a look at some of the basic pros and cons of using existing music publishers.

PRO – First and most obvious is that existing music publishers are businesses who have thrived and survived over many years within the industry. This counts a lot for supporting and sustaining you as one of their artists. They have connections and resources they have developed over time become your assets. Many of these relationships are unavailable to the self publisher especially a new start-up company. If you should be one of the fortunate ones who secure a contract with a large music publisher, especially one who will actually market, promote and sell you and your music to the world then you will have arrived at the top of your dreams. Need I say more?

PRO – Existing music publishers can provide a lot of knowledge based resources and support for creative types unwilling or who simply cannot get a handle on the necessary management of a music publishing business. These resources include the management of your act, your “music business” and the necessary resources and connections to raise your game to the highest levels while supporting you along the way. The speed to market is greatly increased through their investment in your music, you and/or your band.

CON – Nothing is for free and that includes speeding your pathway to stardom. Existing music publishers will require from you all or a part of the publishing income from the sale of your music, depending upon your agreements with them. Many music publishers will also require that you give up the majority if not all of the control of your music in the marketplace. They are taking a great risk by investing in you and your music. There is a trade-off hooking up with an existing music publisher. Consider this if you decide to go this route in getting your music published.

CON – So you thought that an existing music publisher was actually looking for you? Gone are the days when scouts would canvass the world seeking the next “big hit”. Now, you need to actually “be” that great big new bright and shining star to get signed by a major label. You will need to have a large following in place before they will even notice you. There is a lot of competition vying for their attention and so you must stand out from the crowd. This is achieved by being highly active promoting, marketing and performing enough to make a big splash for them to notice you.

This is not stated to discourage you rather to awaken you to the realities of the music business and to the task you must address in order to be “discovered”. Nowadays writing a couple of songs isn’t going to cut it. You will need not only one or two albums, maybe even three or four albums worth of new and original material but you will also need to have developed a growing following of fans helping you to create that “buzz” about you, your brand and your music. The bigger the buzz factor, the better!

Assuming this is the case, getting your music published becomes more feasible and possible by promoting yourself and your band to existing publishers. This will help you gain exposure in the marketplace. If you take on self promotion to music publishers be certain you are creating a unique image and sound with your music and your band. Uniqueness and a high quality branded “sound” are two characteristics publishers hope to see in a new band.

The New Gig

The old days are over and now a solo act or band has to do much more for themselves in order to be “discovered”. Whether you self publish or seek out an existing music publisher you will need to take your music seriously and to think of it as a business rather than simply as playing music, unless of course you are a virtuosic performer or “Mozartesque” composer, in which case, if that is your calling, your efforts require an entirely different approach to the music business.

The new gig is favored for the majority of music composers and singer/songwriters. In both cases, using existing music publishers or self publishing, requires the development of a large following of fans and creating a large and respectable “buzz” in the marketplace about you, your band and your music. Yes, it takes a lot to gain fans beyond your local or regional marketplace. In order to do so your efforts need to include a number of actions, all done well by the way, to gain the loyal, wide and deep fan base needed to be heard amongst the noise. The new gig involves massive action with social media, networking, quality performances, marketing, superb and consistent promotion and of course excellent music!

In other words, a strong focus on growing interest in your music is needed to secure successful music publishing whether you self publish or seek out an existing publisher. Both require a business consciousness and doing due diligence as a music publishing business owner and operator. Both require the same amount of effort in getting you and your music acknowledged in the marketplace. Establishing your own music publishing business allows you to keep 100% control and 100% of the generated revenue from your music. As pointed out this requires more knowledge and more effort on your part to create a cash flow from the sale and distribution of your music

In the end, it still boils down to creating and performing new, incredibly beautiful and marketable music, believing in yourself or your band and working your tail off to make it in today’s music business and for getting your music published.

Music Publishing Versus Self Publishing

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