What Does a Music Publisher Do?

Music publishers have—to put it in the simplest possible terms—two primary jobs: to commercially leverage a musical work and to get the composer or songwriter paid for it. In exchange for a cut of an artist's profits, they navigate the labyrinth of laws and regulations that is the world of copyright management.

Publishers seek out contracts with songwriters and composers at every stage of their careers, scouring clubs and the web for new talent as well as courting established artists. In exchange for a percentage of ownership of their current or future work, publishers provide these artists with numerous services. These include promoting and placing the client's compositions with recording artists looking for material; landing a client's song in a film, television show, video game, advertisement, or other media; monitoring royalties paid by record companies for the rights to produce CDs and create downloadable content; and properly registering compositions with a performing-rights organization like BMIASCAP, or SESAC, which collect performance royalties from radio, streaming services, television, and other broadcasters. 

Music publishers administer all the various revenue streams that flow toward songwriters and composers, each of which has a separate, complicated, and shifting fee structure. Some publishers are quite involved in the creative process, contracting talented staff writers to produce a steady stream of new material; others are largely administrative, cutting publishing deals with songwriters but doing a minimum of promotion on their behalf. Other duties include clearing material to ensure that there is no copyright infringement attached to the catalog and having compositions transcribed to print.

People in the Field

Michael Lau

Name:

Michael
Lau
Class of 
1990
Position: 
Chief Operating Officer of Round Hill Music

Music Publisher at a Glance

Career Path

Music publishers—here referring to owners and employees of music publishing companies—usually get their start at entry-level jobs or internships at a music publishing company, performing-rights organization (PRO), or record company. Understanding music licensing is probably the most vital skill for a music publisher, so many work as licensing representatives at any of the aforementioned companies before shifting over to publishing. Others work as song pluggers or A&R representatives, roles in which one can develop a full understanding of the song-pitching process and an intuitive ability to evaluate songwriting talent.

Finding Work

It can be challenging to find an entryway into the world of music publishing. When it comes to learning the trade, nothing is as effective as an internship or apprenticeship at a publisher within a genre or industry of interest. Aspiring music publishers can find work at Round Hill MusicSony/ATVWarner/ChappellUniversal Music Publishing GroupKobaltBMG, and dozens of independent publishing companies. If these opportunities aren't forthcoming, consider learning the ropes at a performing-rights organization or independent copyright administration company.

Professional Skills
  • Contracts
  • Copyright law
  • Music licensing
  • Rights management
  • General knowledge of the music industry
  • Good ears
  • Negotiation
  • Written and verbal communication
Interpersonal Skills

Excellent attention to detail and superb organizational skills come in handy when tracking royalties. Music publishers also usually have great communication and networking skills, enabling them to form and maintain professional relationships with songwriters, record labels, music supervisors, and more.

Work Life

Music publishers work standard business hours in an office setting but are likely to also spend evenings and weekends attending shows and social events with clients and industry players.