The recording business is relatively new compared to other sectors of the economy. And a lot has changed in the roughly 100-year history of recorded music sales. The major developments have occurred over the last 20 years. Particularly over the past five years, we have been exponentially propelled into a bright new world. Today, we’ll focus on one particular facet of contemporary music distribution: self-publishing, or more specifically, how to publish your own music and distribute it to the general public without a label.
On this journey, there are a few obstacles to overcome, although none are very demanding on their own. Therefore, we divided the five categories of publishing your own music into. Even though they are not required in any particular order, each one is significant.
1. Go PRO (Performing Rights Organization)
One of the first steps to take if you’re serious about publishing your own music and want to earn royalties from it is to connect with a performance rights organization (PRO). PROs essentially guarantee that you will be paid royalties for your music when it is performed or played in public spaces (such as bars, restaurants, and so on).
Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and ASCAP are the two PRO mainstays in the United States and are frequently referred to as the Coke and Pepsi of PROs (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers). SESAC is another PRO that exists, however this one is a little more exclusive than BMI and ASCAP.
Both BMI and ASCAP have benefits, like workshops and meet-and-greets, and each has a long list of artists, from small-time songwriters to pop superstars. Either as a writer or a publisher, you can join BMI or ASCAP. As the song’s writer, you’ll get half of the royalties, and the publisher will get the other half. In other words, if you are your own publisher, you will get all the royalties. Fees are different for each PRO and each status (writer or publisher). In short, joining BMI as a writer is free, but becoming a publisher costs $150 one time. As a writer or publisher, it costs $50 to join ASCAP. On their websites, you can find out more about fees and payment schedules.
2. Try a publishing administrator
If you don’t want to deal with the details of publishing yourself, you could hire a publishing administrator. For a small fee, these groups will take care of your music’s publishing, marketing, and distribution rights. This way, you won’t have to publish your own music and you’ll still get paid fairly when your copyrighted property is sold or played. Publishing administrators are companies like TuneCore, DistroKid, and CD Baby. For example, CD Baby Pro takes 15 percent of any royalties they get for you. By using these sites, you can share your music on every digital platform (Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon Music, etc.) and get paid for streams, downloads, YouTube plays, and even ringtones!
Below I show the process for Tunecore and DistroKid in a series of videos on my YouTube channel.
Music is one of the most powerful forms of passive income once you get the ball rolling.
3. Make it your business to publish your own music
If you want to be your own publisher, you should set up a legal business entity to handle fees, taxes, and transactions. So, you can keep your personal money separate from your business money. Also, you might not be the only person in charge. For example, there might be four people in a band. Each member may have a certain job to do when writing and recording, or everyone may do about the same amount of work. By keeping records, you can easily figure out who does what, how much they get paid, and who might join or leave the group.
Most people who want to publish their own music do so through a Limited Liability Company (LLC). You can set these up online or with the help of a lawyer.
If you’re in Georgia, CLICK HERE to see the LLC online setup process.
4. Don’t forget to copyright
No matter how you plan to publish or sell your music, you should make sure you have the rights to it. If you put out your own music, you already have the copyright to it. If you want to be sure you own your music, you can go to the U.S. government’s copyright website (or the one for your country) and pay $35 to register (for U.S.).
Copyrighting your music is more of a precaution than anything else. Even though you technically own your own music when you make it, if you don’t claim a copyright, you can’t use certain legal rights. For example, someone might “steal” your melody or lyrics. Even though you wrote your song first, the other artist has the copyright to their song and you don’t. Most likely, you’ll lose that fight.
5. Distribute Physical Copies
Even though most people listen to music online these days, that doesn’t mean people don’t still like to collect CDs and vinyl records. In the past, record labels used their own channels to make and sell physical copies of music. Back then, unsigned artists didn’t have any real way to make or sell records. In recent years, some business-minded people saw an opportunity in making these tools, which gave artists of all levels a chance to get their work out there.
We’ve already discussed CD Baby when it comes to the business side of publishing. The company also makes and distributes CDs and vinyl records. CD Baby has connections to tens of thousands of stores, so it’s easy for them to get your album on shelves. The site also lets you sell your music through Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, a personal website, or CD Baby’s own store. CD Baby does, of course, get a cut of each record sale.
The truth is that labels are going away. Like newspapers, infomercials, and talk radio, they will be around for awhile longer, but DIY musicians who make their own music are making them less important every day. Even though you’ll still have to pay to publish your own music, it won’t be nearly as much as what labels take from even the biggest artists. There’s nothing stopping you from putting out your music and making money from it. The gatekeepers can’t stop the crowds of eager people any longer.