5 Simple Steps to Start a Music Publishing Company

start music publishing companyAs a producer or a songwriter, if you want to get into music business, you need to start a music publishing company.

It is the essential first step in getting yourself a solid standing in the music business world. So in this post, we’ll lay out the 5 steps that you need to follow to get going.

This information is for songwriters, producers, composers, and those interested in starting a publishing business or an independent music label with publisher’s rights.

See other helpful guides:

Start a music publishing company

First, What is a Music Publishing Company?

To the uninitiated, a music publishing company, or simply, a publisher, is an entity or individual that handles the administrative rights of your music.

What are administrative rights?

When you make a deal with a publisher, you give them the rights to find various commercial uses for your songs. These uses could involve radio play, TV commercials, concert performances, nightclub plays, and so on. In other words, anywhere there is money to be made from music, your music can be involved in it, therefore offering you the opportunity for further financial success.

The process of turning your music into a business requires administrative tasks. But many artists will hand off the responsibilities, or business rights, to a third-party instead.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

This third-party person is the publisher. They will handle the administrative rights for you, and for that, you enter into an agreement with them, which requires an incentive for them to work with you.

Publisher’s Agreement

What a music publishing company requires is that you assign the copyright in your songs to them. This gives them the right to act on your behalf for all business undertakings involving the use of your music.publisher's contract

For that, it’s standard that a 50/50 percent split in royalties will be paid out to both of you for the partnership. So, for every $1 your song earns in royalties, you’ll receive .50¢, and your publisher keeps .50¢.

Some music publishing companies, however, may have a more generous split in favour of the artist. An example of that is the TuneCore Publishing Administration.

Self Publishing

Publishers are normally expert at finding business opportunities for your music to capitalize on, so for some people, this is the preferred route.

However, more than likely you’re reading this post because you yourself want to start your own music publishing company and keep all your royalties. Or, you want to be a music publisher yourself because you have the business savvy, and want to assist other talented artists who aren’t getting anywhere businesswise.

Good for you, you’ve come to the right post.

Since we’ve established what a music publisher does, or how a music publishing company works, we can get into how to actually set one up…

start music publishing company checklistStep 1 – Affiliate your music publishing company with a PRO

This is the absolute number one very first thing that you must do before you do anything else, ever.

I know that statement was clamorous as hell, but there’s a reason for that…

And we’ll get into that soon, as well as show you how to go about affiliating your music publishing company with a PRO…

Sure, you don’t even have a company as yet, so why would we say this is the first step?

Well, keep reading…

Firstly… What’s a PRO?

To the uninitiated, a performance rights organization (PRO) is a society that collects royalties on your behalf from people or entities that use your music publicly.

An entity or business could be playing music at a nightclub, event, concert, restaurant, you name it. If your music is part of the music they use for their event or business, and they are making money from it use, you should be earning.

That is where the PRO society steps in.

The societies are not-for-profit bodies that act on your behalf by making deals with various other for-profit entities (TV stations, radio stations, nightclubs, party promoters, concert organizers, theme parks, etc.) that want to use your music publicly.

There are four major PROs: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR. More on them later, as well as which of these to choose.

Why it’s important to affiliate with a PRO first

The societies mentioned handle the accounts of many labels and publishing companies. Because of that, they will reject your submission if you happen to have a company name that is the same as, or even similar to, a name that is already affiliated with them.

This makes it easier for them to pay out monies to the right people, and not send paychecks to individuals or entities that have similar names to yours.

You definitely don’t want that to happen. But that’s not all…

It would be frustrating if, after creating a company with its name printed on music, copyrighted, registered, and released under a label and publisher’s name, you find out you cannot collect royalties because your name is the same as someone else’s…

That would be entirely disheartening, and completely suck.

So the best thing for you to do is to come up with some unique names first, and then send them in with your application form.

How to choose a name

Come up with a list of at least 15 unique names that you like. It could be anything from a random assortment of your favorite words in the dictionary, to street names, fruits, animals, or funky name spellings. Get creative. But stay clear of names like “Hit Music” anything generic like “Acme Music,” names like that are obviously taken and will surely be rejected.

Now, narrow down that list to 3 of your top favorite names.

Next, do a Google search with your name “+ publishing” to see if someone else is using it. You can also use “music,” “music group,” “records,” and “record label,” and so on.

If your favorite choices seem to be taken, cycle through your name favorites list until you come to 3 unique names.

Also, you’ll find that this exercise will cause you to naturally come up with more names on your own. Just have fun with it.

Once you’ve found your top 3 unique company names, you can submit them, in order of preference, with your PRO application to a society of your choice. At least one of the names submitted will surely be accepted.

If you’re a songwriter, composer, or producer…musician

You will need to register with only one of the PROs, as they do not allow you to register with more than one at a time.

You will need to register yourself as both a “songwriter” (even if you’re a producer or a composer/instrumentalist) as well as a “publisher.” This gives you complete 100% rights to collect all of your royalties as both the creator and publisher of your work.

If you’re a label owner or publisher…

On the other hand, if you start a record label or a music publishing combusinessmanpany with the intention or releasing and publishing other people’s work, you will only need to register your company name as a publisher. You will only be collecting royalties as a publisher of the music you release.

You’ll also need to have several companies, one for each PRO you join. More on this later…

Which society to join?

Once you’ve got your name, and know what you’re signing up as, you’ll just need to go to the society’s websites and get there application form:

The first two ASCAP and BMI are the most preferred. Why? Well, SESAC and GMR are by invitation only. So, that narrowed down your choices for you.

If you’re a songwriter, producer, or composer, and you plan on releasing only your own music, you will need to sign up for either ASCAP or BMI.

If you are a publisher or label owner, and hence will be releasing other people’s music, you will need to sign up for both ASCAP and BMI. You’ll most likely be representing artists affiliated with either, so it’s best you sign up for both.

What you’ll need…

Keep in mind that in addition to the regular information you need to provide (like your name, address, age, etc.) PROs are going to need information about all the music in your catalog.

You will need a list of your music, or the music you plan to release/have released, plus information on them:

  • writers
  • publishers
  • recording/production date
  • release dates
  • etc…

You can get the application and information from the links provided above. The entire process takes about 5 weeks, so don’t rush through the entire thing. Bookmark this post and come back to it when you’ve gotten the first step out of the way.

Step 2 – Register your music publishing companyRegister your company

Now that we’ve gotten the first essential step out of the way, it is time to create an actual business.

You can go about this two ways.

You can either register the name you submitted and was approved for by the PRO as either an LLC (limited liability company) or corporation. Or, if you’re in the US, you can create what is known as a “fictitious business-name statement.”

Other countries will have similar options, so those are your two choices.

The best recommendation, which is what most people do, is you create a business name. Corporations and LLC require a structure that would be far too complicated for your needs at the moment. All you need is a business name (or “fictitious business-name statement”), separate from your personal name, under which you will be conducting business.

If your music publishing company ever happens to expand to the point of requiring paid staff, with all the fun tax stuff that that requires, then you’re free to change to a corporation or LLC in the future.

For now, just register your business name (in the US, fictitious business-name statement).

This step will take about 2 weeks max if you provided the correct information. So again, don’t rush it, just relax and take your time…

Bookmark this page and come back to it when you need the next step.

Step 3 – Registering copyrightregister copyright protection

After you’ve registered your business name, you will have, in essence, a music publishing company. But there are still a couple more steps that you need to take in order for it to be in full effect.

You want to protect the interest of the music you work with, and run an ethical publishing company that represents either your music or the music of your artists.

The next essential step, then, is to register copyright to the music.

You will be registering the copyright of the music in the name of the publishing company under which you will be doing business (that is why you needed to register you company name first).

If you plan on, or went ahead and registered for a corporation or LLC first, you will need to get some tax advice first before doing any copyrighting stuff. There can be serious consequences for holding copyrights in these entities, and you want to make sure you’re OK (see why we insisted on filing for a fictitious business name?)

If it happens that the copyright to the music you want to publish has already been copyrighted (in your name or the name of someone else, for instance), you’ll need to file an assignment at the copyright office to effectively transfer the copyright over to your publishing company’s business name.

For US persons, you can register your copyrights here: www.copyright.gov

International persons simply locate their local copyright office.

Step 4 – Register songs with a PRO societyperformance rights organisations

There may be reasons why you haven’t registered your music to a PRO when you first affiliated with them. Maybe you didn’t have any music as yet, or you were required to have music released first. Either way, at this point you can now register all of your music. Simply fill out the forms required for submitting your songs.

Keep in mind, you will have to register your songs as either a songwriter or a music publisher, not both. So…

  1. if you’re a publisher or label owner publishing other people’s music for them, you register the songs as a publisher (that way you take publisher’s credit, and assign songwriter credit to the artist your represent)
  2. if you are a songwriter, producer, composer, register your music as a songwriter. Since you’ve started a music publishing company, you will be conducting the publishing aspect of your music under your business name already.

Step 5 – Tying up some loose ends…

Congratulation! You’re in business! You may now operate your music publishing company  as a writer, publisher, or label owner.

However, there are a few other aspects to publishing that you may want to take note of. These are not considered “priority,” but they are good bases to cover regardless, and can be done after you’ve set up the essential framework above.


Don’t leave these people out.

SoundExchange is PRO as well. But while the PROs mentioned above are responsible for collecting monies for the public for-profit use of your music, SoundExchange is responsible for collecting royalties for the digital transfer of your music.

This includes satellite radio, internet radio, cable music channels, and other streaming services that fall under this category.

Why is this important?

Well, streaming and digital-transfer of music is becoming more and more lucrative. In fact, that is where the real money is for a lot of artists and music labels these days. Many artists have become successful through digital streaming alone, so you want to ensure you have that covered.

Encode your music with Nielsen BDS Radionielsen bds radio logo

If your songs are played on terrestrial radio (your regular FM radio), it’s a good idea to get your songs encoded so that it can be tracked and monitored.

How to do this?

Send an email directly to the Client Services Department at Nielsen through their email address, clientservices@bdsonline.com, with “Virtual Encode” as your subject.

In that email provide the following:

  1. Your Full Name
  2. Music Publishing Company or Label Name
  3. Contact Number
  4. Primary Email Address
  5. Any Additional Contact Information

You will receive login information which will provide you with the details needed to log into the Nielsen site.

Once you’re on the site, you can upload your songs and use the virtual encoder to generate codes for each song you’ve released.

Where to release music…

If you were wondering, you can release music either through Tunecore, CDBaby or Label-Worx, among the many other choices available. The first two are preferable for songwriters and producers, because it’s simpler.

Label-Worx is a full service label platform that provides complete services for people who are interested in creating and running a music label. If this is the direction you prefer to take, then this is a good option for you.

Conclusion – Your New Music Publishing Company!

And that’s it!

You’ve learned how to start a music publishing company. If you followed all these steps, you are now in business. Good job!

To break it down, here is what we covered, in 5 simple steps:

  1. ✓ – Choose a unique name for your music publishing company, and affiliate it with a PRO
  2. ✓ – Register your music publishing company as a business name, corporation, or LLC
  3. ✓ – Register the copyright of your songs
  4. ✓ – Register all your songs with a PRO
  5. ✓ – To cover your bases, join SoundExchange and Encode your songs with Nielsen

All the best success with your new music business!