A songwriter’s livelihood is largely or entirely based on income generated from their musical compositions (music publishing) where ever they may be performed. It makes sense, then, that songwriters would maintain complete and accurate information with respect to their musical compositions. Yet, most songwriters do not keep up with this simple task.
If you are a songwriter who wants to earn a living from the songs you write, it is imperative that you maintain a complete, detailed, and accurate music publishing catalog.
Before we get started, you should download a copy of our editable Songwriter Split Sheet form to reference. Click the button below to get started.
What Is Your Music Publishing Catalog?
When I say you should maintain a complete, detailed, and accurate publishing catalog, I mean that you should keep an actual index of your compositions in some type of digital spreadsheet that details essential information that can be easily provided to those who license your compositions. At the very least, this index/catalog should contain the song title, all of the writers, all of the music publishers, and accurate writer and publisher splits for each of your compositions.
See the spreadsheet below, which sets forth the basic information that any publisher or licensor of your music will need to know regarding your compositions.
Writer’s Share and Publisher’s Share
In the above spreadsheet, you can see that the writer splits and the publisher splits each equal 100%, totaling a 200% allocation for each composition. Some prefer to allocate 100% total for each composition (i.e. 50% total for the writer splits and 50% total for the publisher splits), but the 200% allocation system is becoming more and more accepted as the standard.
This system can be confusing, but when you understand how royalties are divided for a composition, you may see the logic behind it.
In practice, income generated by a composition is divided equally into a “writer’s share” and a “publisher’s share.” Generally, this means that for every $100 dollars that is generated by a composition, $50 (or 50% of the total income generated) is allocated to the writer(s) as the “writer’s share” and $50 is allocated to the publisher(s) as the “publisher’s share.”
So, the $50 received by the writers, although only 50% of the total income generated by the composition, equals 100% of their “writer’s share” and will be divided amongst the writers according to the writer splits. Additionally, the $50 received by the publishers, although only 50% of the total income generated by the composition, equals 100% of their “publisher’s share” and will be divided amongst the publishers according to the publisher splits.
So,when putting together your music publishing catalog, be sure that the writer splits and the publisher splits each total 100%. Then you will know what percentage of the “writer’s share” and “publisher’s share” each party is entitled to for each composition.
Note: If you prefer to maintain your music publishing catalog using the 100% total allocation system (i.e., 50% total for the writer splits and 50% total for the publisher splits), that’s fine. What’s most important is that you are documenting and maintaining this information. Also, if you are fortunate enough to have a publishing company administering your compositions, that company may already be maintaining your catalog (or part of your catalog) for you . However, it is always incumbent upon the songwriter to provide and/or confirm the details of each composition. Furthermore, some publishing companies are not always as invested in the accuracy of your information as you will be. So, you should always keep track of this information regardless of whether or not you are signed to a publishing company.
Songwriter Split Sheets
Be sure to obtain a fully executed songwriter split agreement (or “split sheet”) for each composition that you co-write with other songwriters. This will provide documentation for the information provided in your music publishing catalog. Obtaining the split sheet should be done as soon as possible, as split sheets tend to get lost, splits tend to change, and additional songwriters pop up out of nowhere as time passes, especially if the song achieves success. Save every fully executed split sheet in a physical file or keep a photocopy of each completed sheet in a file on your computer.
Why is this information so important?
The information contained in your music publishing catalog is the information that you will provide to anyone licensing your compositions. If you ever plan to license one of your compositions (e.g., for use in movies, television shows, video games, streaming services, print publications, etc.), the person or entity licensing that composition will require this information, as it tells them from whom they need to obtain licenses and to whom they need to make payments and at what percentages. If you are unable to provide accurate information on your composition, or if this information is not readily available, you may miss out on the licensing opportunity. Furthermore, incorrect information leads to incorrect allocation of income.
A well maintained and managed music publishing catalog will not only help to ensure that you’re not letting opportunities and money slip through the cracks, but it will also make you more attractive to a publishing company that may want to sign you to a publishing or administration agreement. No publishing company wants to play cleanup by taking on a catalog that has not been properly maintained and/or is a complete mess. Typically, a publishing company will only take on a messy catalog if the catalog has substantial earnings. If there isn’t a lot of money coming in, the publisher may pass on a difficult catalog. So, having a clean music publishing catalog might be what sways a publishing company towards signing you to a deal, as it will cost the company less money (i.e., time) to take you on and plug your catalog into their system.
Making a living as a professional songwriter often requires doing more than just writing great compositions. One of those additional requirements is actively maintaining and managing your music publishing catalog. There are numerous benefits to doing this (some of which I have set forth above), yet there is no downside. So, start taking your songwriting career seriously and begin maintaining your publishing catalog today!
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