All About Music Publishing Development Deals

Of great importance to many aspiring artists and bands is the “publishing development deal,” whereby a major publishing company will offer an advance to a promising songwriter/artist, in the hopes that his artist will eventually secure a record deal and establish a successful artist career.

For many young artists, this publishing offer is a “dream opportunity,” where he/she gets to quit their day job, so they can concentrate strictly on doing what they love best: working on their music. The idea that a publishing company (which is often affiliated with a major label) will pay for their demo costs, new studio equipment, some living expenses, and help shop you for a record deal, can be incredibly appealing.

There have been many artists who have benefited from this type of deal. Two current stars that come to mind are Beck and Paula Cole. Their respective publishers believed and invested in them at a very early stage, and these artists went on to become major acts, subsequently earning great royalties for themselves and their publishers.

Here’s how this deal usually works: a publisher will offer the young writer/artist an advance of about $12,000-$30,000 for a one-year deal, with options for two or three more years. In return, the artist assigns half (50%) of the publishing rights of all songs written during the term of the agreement. In most cases the publisher will retain their half of the rights for the life of copyright, with no reversion clause included in this contract. This is because the publisher is taking a chance on investing in a young artist, without any guarantee that this artist will even get a record deal, let alone have a hit and generate royalties.

In addition to providing the financial support, the publisher will try to work closely with the artist, offering valuable feedback and direction. The publisher may act in an A&R capacity, helping the artist assemble the best demo presentation to impress the labels when it is time to shop for a label deal. The publisher may also hook the artist up with a hit record producer to create some master quality recordings, and set up collaborations with other talented writers to come up with the best songs possible.

When the artist’s presentation is finally ready, the publisher will help shop the artist for the coveted record deal. At this point, the situation gets a little more intense. As the label execs start to give their definitive feedback, the artist and publisher get an immediate indication whether or not their publishing relationship (and all their hard work together) is going to result in the securing of the record contract.

If the artist does land the record deal, the publisher and the artist are on their way to establishing a longer-term, working relationship. The publisher will want to pick up their options for the publishing rights for the next several years, and they’ll be happy to pay the artist additional advances and bonuses. It is common for the publisher to pay an immediate bonus of about $20,000 when the artist signs their record deal, and advance another $20,000 when the album is finally released. The publisher can also be helpful in placing songs in films and TV shows, and in soundtracks.

If this publishing scenario sounds terrific for the aspiring artist, then it can be pursued. However, there are other factors to be aware of. First, by signing this type of development deal, the artist usually gives up reversion rights on these songs in the contract. Secondly, by going for the development deal first, the artist might miss a chance to ultimately attract a much larger advance ($100,000 or more) should they secure a record on their own. Of course, some artists simply want to keep all of the publishing rights, and not make any deal.

It is certainly not for every writer/artist, but this publishing development deal has proven to help many talented young artists. It is ultimately up to the artist to decide whether to give up publishing at an early stage to help boost their career.

Dale Kawashima is on Google+

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima