Who helps music creators with their careers? What do music publishers, managers, agents, and publicists do?
Helping music creators advance their careers is a career path in itself. A number of ecosystem entities—including publishers, managers, agents, publicists, and others—make their living by partnering with or working for writers.
- Music publishers have been referred to as the “first business partner” of music creators1 since they:
- Invest in the talents of writers and provide them with opportunities to hone and practise their craft;
- Promote musical works to third parties who may wish to perform or record them, or feature them in AV productions;
- Facilitate the granting of public performance licences and reproduction licences (including mechanical and synchronization licences) on behalf of creators;
- Collect mechanical royalties for writers (if applicable); and
- Issue advances to creators in anticipation of future royalties.
- Some music publishers also print and sell sheet music and scores, which was their original purpose (dating all the way back to the invention of the printing press).
- In Canada and many other countries, performance royalties comprise a 50% “writer’s share” and 50% “publisher’s share”—but the writer may also receive part of the publisher’s share if they’ve signed a co-publishing agreement.
- The division (or “split”) of mechanical royalties is a negotiable item when music creators and publishers work out a publishing agreement. However, the standard co-publishing deal assigns the writer a 75% share and the publisher a 25% share.
- Until a publishing agreement is signed, the music creator owns and controls the entire copyright in any work and, therefore, owns both the writer’s and the publisher’s shares (100%) of performance royalties in the work. If the writer chooses not to enter into a publishing agreement, they will be entitled to receive both shares of performance royalties. And if a writer does partner with a publisher, the exact percentage of the royalties the publisher will receive differs according to the type of publishing agreement established and the splits negotiated by the parties.
- There are two Canadian member organizations for music publishers—Music Publishers Canada (formerly the Canadian Music Publishers Association) and L’Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM).
When a publisher engages another publisher in a foreign territory to promote music and collect royalties directly from collective societies in that locale, the latter is considered to be a “sub-publisher.” The term of a sub-publishing agreement is typically 3–5 years, and the sub-publishers are given a portion of the publishing royalties accrued in their territory as compensation (usually 5–10%). The remaining revenue is then remitted by the sub-publisher to the publisher to be split with the music creator based on the publishing agreement they entered into with each other.
Managers & Agents
- For music creators who have realized some degree of professional success and would benefit from having someone else manage aspects of their business on their behalf, there is the option of hiring a manager or signing with an agent.
- Though they overlap considerably, the roles of manager and agent differ in notable ways.
- A manager acts as a career guide of sorts, helping music creators develop and advance their brands and businesses.
- They use their industry connections to raise their clients’ profiles, promote musical works for sync licences or recording opportunities, or suggest music creators to AV producers.
- Managers can also be involved in everything from scheduling and other logistics to licensing and deal negotiation.
- A composer agent is usually laser-focused on booking work for the writers they represent rather than general career guidance. This is why they typically only work for composers who are firmly established and whose success is easily demonstrated to AV producers, studio reps, and directors (please note that songwriters are rarely represented by agents unless they are also performers).
- Most of an agent’s time is spent pitching composers for specific projects and negotiating contracts.
- In Canada, BC is the only province that requires agents to be licensed by its Ministry of Labour.
- For their services, managers and composer agents usually ask for 10–15% of the music creator’s income.
- Some agents and managers expect to receive a percentage of royalties for their services. For this reason, music creators (and their legal advisors) should review all representation agreements carefully to ensure they aren’t signing away their rights.
What Is a Song Plugger?
With their origins in Tin Pan Alley sheet-music promotion, song pluggers pitch music (usually in the form of demos) to performers, talent managers, record labels, and music supervisors who work on AV productions. The most successful pluggers have deep industry experience and are able to identify which musical works have the potential to become hits, suit the style of a particular performer, or are ideal for a specific production.
Song pluggers may be employed by music publishers or work directly for music creators, usually for a monthly fee. Since pluggers are financially compensated regardless of whether or not they successfully get works “placed,” independent writers should give serious consideration to whether it’s in their best interest to engage one.2
- To raise their public profiles and promote their brands and projects, music creators who have begun to establish themselves may consider hiring a publicist or public-relations (PR) firm.
- Effective publicists are firmly entrenched in the music industry and have cultivated relationships with media outlets, journalists, and other influencers to whom they pitch stories about their clients.
- While many journalists and outlets won’t accept pitches directly from music creators, they will from publicists—especially those whose names they recognize in their overflowing inboxes.
- Publicists can also strategically identify which media exposure will benefit their clients the most. For example, music creators might best be featured in music magazines or on industry podcasts.
- Publicists are often also tasked with drafting media releases announcing notable occasions or achievements (e.g., award nominations), and ensuring that writers’ press materials—like bios, head shots, and demos—are up to date and of a sufficient quality.
- The cost of hiring a publicist or PR firm can vary widely, but individual PR campaigns typically range from $1,000 to $5,000. And if a well-established music creator signs an agreement whereby the publicist is on open-ended retainer, the cost is usually between $1,250 and $2,000 per month.