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Publishing--first Thoughts...


Things for the Publishing Company:

Register with BMI ($150)—also register as a writer, which is free. I qualify now, because I’ve had a song published (in the Philippines, but it still counts).

Sign up with the Harry Fox Agency, so they can collect royalties when somebody else records one of my songs (or anybody’s songs that are in the Catalog).

Copyright all the songs (yes, I know—should’ve done that earlier). Really, nobody worries about that part until it’s time to pay royalties; at that point, it’s got to be copyrighted, so people know whom to pay royalties to.

Last is just a housekeeping thing—local business license in whatever town I’m living in. Just lets people know I’m there, and what I do. I can join the local chamber of commerce, help sponsor stuff—just basically get my name out in front of people.

The company already exists. Outside Services Ltd. (the logo is an outhouse) was my graphic-design business, 20 years ago; after I became a city manager, it morphed into a “pocket” consulting firm, that I primarily used for pro bono work. I don’t know if BMI will let me use the name; I doubt it’s taken, but they make you supply three names for your publishing company, and they pick one.

Can I do real publishing work? Not really; for that, you need Contacts In The Industry, and I have very few of those. (And I’m not in Nashville, New York, or L.A., where most of those Contacts are.) Over time, maybe with annual trips to Nashville, I might develop some, but that’s probably a long and tough process. I’m banging at the gates of a fortress that appears very protective of its own territory, and very much disinclined to welcome any outsiders in.

So what good is it? For my material, it’s just a convenient “box” to keep it in that says I know what I’m doing. If any of my songs are going to be played on commercial radio (not Internet “radio,” where most of the little guys don’t worry about such niceties), I have to have this—the station has to pay royalties, and even though I may never see a penny because of the way BMI calculates things, I have to be on the list of people royalties are supposed to be paid to, or the station can’t use my material. And I want my stuff played.

In the same vein, if anything I wrote is going to be recorded by someone else on a record they’re going to sell (and ideally, make lots of money off of), something has to say where my little piece of that money gets sent. (That may never happen, of course. But it’s like buying insurance—if it does happen, you’re covered. What’s that worth?)

Of course, if any Big Boys ever became interested in any of my material, odds are a real music publisher would be wanting publishing rights in exchange for their marketing work (that’s how they make their money)—and therefore, Outside Services Ltd. would be prepared at the drop of a hat to assign publishing rights (that’s how it works) if it looked like a good deal.

So where do other people come in? There is one other person at this point; Skip Johnson, who wrote one of the songs that’ll be on the New CD, wants me to handle the publishing stuff, so we’ll sign a contract (modeled after that one I got from the Philippines, but more favorable to the writer) that includes that willingness to assign publishing rights. Then Skip’s song will be in the same “box” mine are, just in case something happens that makes money.

(And actually, a little money will change hands. When my record company (also Outside Services Ltd.—might as well keep everything under one roof) has the CDs manufactured, it’ll be sending a check to (I think) Harry Fox Agency for a “mechanical license” on every song on every CD made (not every one sold). Outside Services will get a check—I’m not sure if it’s from Harry Fox or BMI—and will send a piece of that money to Skip, and a piece to me, since I wrote the rest of the songs on the CD. I think that’s how it works.)

Would it work for others? Sure. Some of the stuff I’ve done music for would qualify (I do tend to do music for very good lyrics). Both I and they would want to be selective, though—not everything needs to go in the publishing box. One doesn’t buy flood insurance in the desert, in other words. Some songs just aren’t marketable, and others appeal to a very small niche market (and in the latter case, one wouldn’t want to do publishing unless it looked like there was an opening in the niche). But if it looks like it might get played on commercial radio, or somebody wants to record it and make money, yep, you could use the insurance.

And that’s one reason I’ll be hanging out an “I’m a music publisher” shingle. I get the impression a lot of people don’t have any idea how the music business works, and that’s one reason they don’t get to break in, even on the fringes. I’m slowly learning a little bit. And maybe I can help.



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