If you have been in the world of music for some time or write songs, for example, you will have heard of music publishers. Feared by many and unknown by many more, these companies are dedicated to trading a product that, in principle, is pure air: music.

Part allies of artists and part profit-seeking organizations, music publishers, or publishers in the Anglo-Saxon world, are an essential part of the complicated circuit of money, copyright and industry professionals. musical.

The origin

Many, many years ago, a machine called the printing press was invented, and with it, the world changed. Human knowledge multiplied and could be distributed as never before. Books, ideas and printed music, among other works and miracles, began a journey that continues today.

The complex legal and commercial structure related to the intellectual creations that make songwriters, musicians and other sensitive creatures today weary and other boring sensations, began at that time, around the 15th century, and has developed since then by the hand of creators, artists, lawyers, production and distribution companies and a long etcetera of professionals and opportunists.

Intellectual property, copyright, traditional printers, record manufacturing companies, intermediaries, record companies or physical and digital distributors, among others, have been shaping the complex framework that runs through the money generated by music as it is consumed in any of its possible forms.

Among all this accumulation of professions, contracts and procedures of all kinds, music publishers play a central role and connect, so to speak, the creative world with the commercial one.

Let’s see what exactly they do.

What is and what does a music publisher do?

Publishers or music publishers are companies dedicated to the commercialization of songs and any musical work as the intellectual property of a specific artist or artists.

Together with the registration of the works in the public or private entities that will attest to their authorship, if necessary, the music publisher will complete the conditions that an instrumental piece or song needs to legally and commercially generate income.

When a song or musical piece is recorded for an album, for example, the record company or the company or professional that will own the recording, needs authorization and an agreement with the publisher that has the rights to the works to sell their music. product, that is, the single, vinyl, cd, … either in physical or digital format.

The editorial contract

But, before these companies can do that work, the composer, composer or composers must have a clear agreement with one of them, written and signed by both parties, in which the conditions of that relationship between all the participants are established.

The editorial contract, which is what we are talking about, will assign some of your rights as a creator to the publisher so that one or more works can be recorded, performed or used in any of its possible ways in exchange, usually, for a percentage of the earnings that these works produce.

Among those rights that are transferred are:

  • The right of reproduction, which consists of making copies, fixing them on a physical support such as a CD or vinyl, also known as mechanical reproduction.
  • The distribution right, which would be the power to make the work available to the public in tangible format.
  • The right of public communication, which represents everything that allows a group of people to have access to the work: the interpretation of the musical work before an audience, the broadcast by any radio, the reproduction in streaming services , sale of copies in digital format, etc.

Royalties or editorial royalties in music

A royalty or royalty is basically a mandatory payment for the right to use or exploit another person’s creation. In the case of composition royalties, that payment usually consists of a percentage.

Let’s look at some situations that generate those royalties that publishers collect on behalf of their composers:

  • Printing royalties: each time a score of a composition is printed or the lyrics or music it contains is displayed in any way.
  • Mechanical royalties: each time a physical copy of a recording is manufactured.
  • Public performance royalties: every time a composition is performed in concert, it plays on radio, television or any public access platform.
  • Synchronization royalties: each time a composition is used as a complement or part of any audiovisual work.
  • Sampling royalties: each time a part of any composition or its recording is extracted and included in some way as part of a new work.
  • Royalties for derivative works: each time a composition is transformed, modified or adapted and results in a different work.


This has only been an introduction to the peculiar and sometimes lucrative world of music publishing and the marketing of original compositions.

Writing a song is easy.

Writing a good song is more difficult.

Trading songs is complex. A few people are necessarily involved, legal entities, commercial entities,…

We are referring directly to the business world, the music business, in this case. It is a completely different field to artistic tasks, to emotional expression, to communication between humans beyond money.

Music publishers are on that border between art and commerce, between musicians and lyricists and the consumers of their works. It is a delicate field, often unpleasant for a creative person, but it is the commercial and legal reality of musical works in this time that we have had to live.

If you write music or songs and want to not only protect your works effectively, but also receive some of the money that others make from it, you’re probably going to have to deal with these people and these laws and paperwork.

Get informed and do it right, even if it costs you some time and tons of boredom.