01 October 2015

Chapter 27 – Signing to a music publisher

Now the wheels were in motion with Sony, it was time to meet with some music publishers. For those of you who are unaware of the roles a music publisher and record label plays, they are as follows. (Though please note the following is is based on my own experience). When an artist signs to a record label they often sign to a music publisher as well. In a nutshell, the record label is responsible for all things related to the ‘recording of the album’. Things like manufacture of the actual physical cd or vinyl, studio time and musicians, putting the album out, the marketing and promoting of it, and sending you on tour etc. The domain of the music publisher revolves purely around the intellectual property, in other words, the songs/compositions. Their job is to collect your publishing royalties, hook you up with other writers and to find other avenues to get your music into – ie adverts and film etc. Whether or not the publisher actually does these things depends…. Some publishers are great and are really hands on, some do bugger all.

The publisher (like the label) will give the artist an ‘advance’. An ‘advance’ is a sum of money that is, essentially, future royalties they think you will make. Since the company are making an investment and believe your music will sell records, they are happy to give you payment upfront which is usually split into three instalments. The first instalment is paid to the artist when they first sign the contract, the second instalment is given to the artist on delivery of the album and the third instalment is given upon release of the album. The artist often needs this advance because it’s their only source of income, a wage if you like, that allows the artist to live / pay rent while they dedicate their time to making their record.

You often hear of bidding wars between record labels and publishers when they’re trying to sign a promising act, which can involve large amounts of money. Times have changed quite a bit in the music industry – there isn’t as much money floating around for starters so advances are generally much smaller. The Spice girls received £250,000 on signing to Windswept Music in 1995 (which was a lot in those days!). Large advances are often a gamble for the publishers / labels because if the artist gets dropped or is a flop, the artist doesn’t have to pay a penny of it back. However, if the artist does have some success from their album, they won’t earn any money UNTIL every penny of the advance is ‘recouped’ (reimbursed.) So in an ideal world, if you don’t need the cash upfront, it’s far better not to have a big advance really, so you then have less money to recoup. Also, once you sign to a music publisher you are also signing a over a portion of the rights to all your songs, not only for the duration of the contract, but for many years after. So even if you part company, they will continue to collect a percentage of your songs, sometimes for up 15 years or so after (depending on the terms of your contract.)

So off I went to meet Chrysalis music. Chrysalis music was a British independent which is now owned by BMG. Emily and I had a successful meeting and they were keen to put something in place. But while the meeting went smoothly enough, I wasn’t convinced they were the right company for me. They were a popular, reputable company with a lot of great artists on their roster but big isn’t always best – I had been told that new artists / writers can sometimes get lost at a big company. I wanted to find a smaller company that was perhaps funded by a big company, and aside from wanting to find the right publisher, I also wanted to find the right people – key figures who believed in me, and who would put their faith and time into me … that was when I met Bob Grace and Simon Aldridge at Windswept Music.