Publishing is a huge money making side of the business, with great opportunity for songwriters looking for financial and artistic help. Staff writing, the job title of a writer who works for a publisher writing and recording songs so that publisher can pitch them within the major market, is a highly satisfying job for many creative souls. Below, I will attempt to outline my experience with staff writing, describing some of the typical deal points and what to expect. The contract terms between a publisher and writer vary greatly from writer to writer, and city to city, and so keep in mind that this is simply one example. More information can be found on my website, www.andreastolpe.com.
In short, a publishing deal is a contract between a writer and a publisher in which the publisher owns all songs written by the writer during the contract period. A contract outlines the terms of the deal. The basic terms consist of the length of time in months or years that the writer is affiliated with the publisher, the monetary compensation the writer receives during this period called a “draw”, and details concerning demo costs, royalties, and other small print interesting to a good entertainment lawyer. As a first time signed writer to a publisher, the draw is typically somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000 per year. Along with this draw, the publisher may agree to front half the demo costs up to $600, while the writer recoups (money the writer owes the publisher out of royalties) the other half after royalties are made. For example, if a writer makes $15,000 and spends $4,000 in demos, the total amount that writer cost the publisher is $19,000. Since the publisher agreed to pay for half the demo costs up to $600 (let’s assume any amount above $600 is the writer’s total responsibility), the amount that writer must recoup is half of $4,000, or $2,000. If the publisher gets the writer a cut (the term for when a song is recorded by an artist), then that $2,000 as well as the $15,000 draw is first paid back to the publisher, then everything in excess is paid to the writer. If the publisher doesn’t get any cuts, they don’t get any payback. First publishing deals are typically 3 to 4 years long with 1 to 1 1/2 year “options”, where the publishing company has the option to resign the writer to another term, or drop the writer altogether.
Few careers can boast of a schedule so flexible it allows for a month long hiatus and the option to scrap a whole day to go to lunch. The idea of being your own boss and working in an environment that is so heavily creative is certainly a rare gem. However, there are yins to these yangs. To make things simple, I’ve outlined some pros and cons below.
1. Flexible Schedule
2. You are your own boss
3. Opportunity to grow faster as a writer
4. Direct link to elusive contacts
5. Increased probability of getting cuts
1. Must be self-motivated
2. Must be self-motivated
3. Must be self-motivated
4. Locked into a year long contract
5. Publisher owns a share
These are just a few of the most obvious considerations. Some writers dislike the pressures of having a deal, and prefer to hire an independent plugger (a plugger is the person at a publishing company who serves as a liaison between the writer and artist or producer looking for songs). The terms of a deal vary as widely as the publishers who dream them up. For some writers, crafting 12 great songs a year is a comfortable limit, while others prefer to shoot for 200 in the hopes that quantity will expose quality.
In my experience in the Nashville industry, there is nothing to lose in signing a good deal. A good deal is one that allows the writer to grow, expand his/her network of contacts, and eventually get cuts. A publisher’s objective is to minimize risk and make money. Both the writer and publisher’s goal in the end is to get cuts and make money. The difference is that most publishers won’t wait for a writer to develop before seeing big returns. Make sure you have a good lawyer to negotiate the terms of the contract before signing. Consider how long you can afford to be locked into the deal, and your financial needs. A good publisher should at the very least get your songs heard. If you’re not interested in writing songs viable in commercial markets, then a publishing deal may not be for you.
Over the years I’ve met thousands of writers, no two of which got their deal the same way. There are, however, some basic similarities that have led to each success. In the following paragraphs I have outlined seven basic steps to getting a publishing deal. None of them are the answer on their own, but combined with a little common sense, they become a recipe for the good old college try. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, but they could be your north star when the horizon looks bleak.
For concrete steps towards getting a publishing deal, please visit www.andreastolpe.com.
Click on ‘Craft & Biz’, then ‘Publishing Info.’ I hope the information helps you to realize more of your potential as a writer in the commercial market.