I've received a lot of emails over the years from my magnatune musicians about publishing, asking:
1) Do I need a publishing company?
2) Should I self-publish? Can I?
3) Is Magnatune going to become a publisher?
The short answers are:
- no, publishing companies are unnecessary, and usually evil
- you can self-publish. It's easy, and in the USA, free.
- I'm not going to be a publisher, because now that I know how publishing works, I know I'd just be taking a cut of your money for nothing more than filling out a few forms with ASCAP.
I did a bunch of research recently, and wrote up what I found in two blog entries:
What does a music publisher do for a musician?
Self-publishing your music - how to do it
If Magnatune has had any success licensing your music for film (and we do about 15 film licenses every month, so a lot of you have film licenses) you absolutely should self-publish, because you'll get automatically paid by ASCAP any time those films are shown, and if you're only registered as a musician with ASCAP/BMI, you're only getting half the money you're due.
If you're not an American musician, you have two options:
1) register with ASCAP as a publisher anyway. There's no requirement that you be a US citizen, you simply fill out a W8BEN tax form that they point to, so that the US government doesn't tax the money they pay you.
2) register with the collection society in your country. I can't give much advice on this, other than two anecdotal facts: 1) european collection societies seem to pay musicians more than the USA societies do (based on how much magnatune musicians tell me they get, if they get played on the radio in their country), and 2) the european societies' legal agreements are usually really awful, the societies are aggressively anti-internet, so it might be worth going with ASCAP even if it pays less. Your choice!
UPDATE in 2009:
"Film Music Magazine" columnist Mark Holden wrote me to say:
Re your blog, you’ve omitted a crucial fact about BMI and self-publishing. Through their works registration process and via cue sheet attributions, BMI allows their writer affiliates to designate a work as “author published.” BMI will distribute publishing revenues directly to the author via their writer statement four times a year. There are no extra fees associated with this designation; no muss, no fuss. On the other hand, ASCAP does not offer this option to its’ members.
Moving on, both PROs offer membership/affiliation to music publishers as you observe. While it’s true that the application fees differ, your conclusion that one agreement is inherently more punitive than the other is misleading and erroneous. Under your interpretation of the BMI publisher agreement, Sony, Universal, EMI, Warner, and everyone else would be prohibited from direct affiliation with foreign rights societies. That’s just not the case, obviously. In practical application, the BMI agreement is no more restrictive for a publisher than ASCAP’s.
But the central point to my request for you to amend your blog is that BMI offers the “author published” option, which is a very easy alternative to setting up a publishing entity with either PRO. It’s a terribly basic piece of info to omit on the subject of self-publishing in America. Because your blog doesn’t recognize this fundamental difference between ASCAP and BMI policy, the logic and conclusions of your post are seriously undermined. My suggestion just goes to accuracy and disclosure."