Cracking the Publishing Puzzle Part 1: The Role of the Publisher

Friday, 28 Oct 2016

In its basic form, publishing seeks to find an audience for every song. But as three publishing veterans reveal, there is much more to it given the opportunities and challenges of today’s music paradigm.  

As conduits between creativity and commerce, publishers take on diverse roles in a songwriter’s career. According to Marianna Annas, Head of ABC Music Publishing (Tim Rogers/You Am I, Ruby Boots, William Crighton), it all comes down to the individual songwriter.

“Publishers work with songwriters’ rights differently depending on their strengths, career objectives and what the songwriter needs from their publisher. Generally, music publishing is the management of the songwriting process and the discrete rights in the songs.”

The latter, of course, relates to copyright in a song’s underlying composition. Marianna emphasises how this is distinct from copyright in the sound recording, commonly administered by the record label or distributor. 

“Labels manage the recording process, market and promote the release of recorded music. This is only one element of a song’s life or creative and commercial potential,” she explains.

“In contrast, the publisher manages the various rights attached to a song and the different ways these rights can be embellished, whether through live performances, new recordings such as remixes or ‘arrangements’ by other artists, reproduction of songs in film and TV, print rights and more.”

When a songwriter signs a publishing deal, they assign the copyright in their music to their publisher. The publisher then tries to generate as much income as possible for their writers’ songs and compositions by pitching them to films, TV programs and advertisements; organising other well-known artists to record and perform them; and protecting their writers' works against infringement, such as unlicensed commercial use or plagiarism. 

But that’s not all they do, says Karen Hamilton, General Manager of 120 Publishing (Bombs Away, Sam La More, Joel Fletcher, SCNDL), who agrees with Marianna that every writer has different needs.

“Some writers simply need you to work closely with their label or management to maximise exploitation of their releases, some need a lot of A&R support, some need help setting up co-writes or securing or placing toplines and some want to write for other people.

“For many of our writers, we also act as pseudo management – providing business affairs services to finalise their contracts, helping plan work and release schedules or helping them get a record deal or booking agent.”

With their extensive network of contacts and resources, publishers can play a key strategic role in the career of a songwriter.

Damian Trotter, Managing Director of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Australia (Tame Impala, Sia, Paul Kelly, Delta Goodrem), says this was the case with APRA and ARIA Award winner Jarryd James.

“We signed Jarryd when he was not in a record deal. We arranged collaborations and an opportunity to perform in front of the industry at the APRAs in Brisbane.

“This ultimately resulted in us securing management and enormous label interest for him, from which he eventually got signed and has obviously gone on to great success.”

See Jarryd's game-changing performance at the 2014 APRA Music Awards below

When it comes to creating new work, publishers work closely with their writers to set up collaborations and co-writes – both locally and internationally, and often across genres.

“For those who are great in the genre, there are remix and ghost writing opportunities. But for the most part, our ‘EDM’ writers are writing or collaborating on J-pop or pop or even country songs in between releasing club bangers,” says Karen.

Such collaborations can be very rewarding. Damian mentions this year’s APRA Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year Alex Hope (pictured left with Damian), who initially penned a few hits with Troye Sivan.

“Off the back of these songs, we were able to sponsor her to move to LA and she has since become one of the most in-demand writers/producers in LA. We’ve also been able to place Alex in songwriting camps initiated by our US and Scandinavian offices.”

Damian notes how these camps and initiatives, such as APRA AMCOS’ SongHubs, have proven to be vital for songwriters.

“With Alex, this has helped her build a broader international network of writers/producers to continue to collaborate with for both pitching songs to other artists and writing and producing directly with some of these artists.”

For other songwriters, their work can also encompass the film, TV and theatrical worlds. Here, publishers can take a broader role in a songwriter’s career and this can be incredibly fulfilling, as Marianna shares.

“We recently licensed the iconic You Am I song Cathy’s Clown for Bombora Film’s Mambo documentary. Tim Rogers, known as the principal songwriter in You Am I, is also one of Australia’s most diversely talented artists. He has released several solo records, has composed for film and TV and is hugely in demand as a co-writer and collaborator. Tim’s solo album What Rhymes with Cars and Girls was developed into a theatrical production by the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2015 and the show will tour nationally next year.

“As a publisher, that’s what it’s all about - working with someone like Tim who traverses the entire spectrum of publishing activity and being able to provide support, negotiate on their behalf and explore new channels and opportunities.”


This is the first article in a series on music publishing by APRA AMCOS. Read part 2 on how to get discovered by publishers here.

For more info on music publishing, head to the Australasian Music Publishers' Association Limited (AMPAL)'s site: www.ampal.com.au.


Tags: aprap
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