Self-Publishing Music: How to Publish Your Own Songs....

Why do you need to self-publish your music?

First things first: music publishing pertains to the commercialization of musical compositions, NOT to sound recordings. So, this information is relevant to songwriters, not to recording artists — although if you both write and perform, self-publishing can be very relevant.

To understand why it's so important for songwriters to have their music published, let's take a look at how compositional royalties are distributed: typically, 50% of the royalties for composition are accorded to the writer, and 50% are accorded to the publisher. That is known as a writer's and publisher's share. Writer's share always belongs to the artists, while the publisher's share is generally split between the songwriter and their publisher as per the publishing deal.

So, if you're only registered with your PRO as a writer (and don't have a publishing deal in place), you're getting only 50% of your compositional royalties. By self-publishing, you can access that other 50% and get the full royalties that you're due.

What does self-publishing mean?

Self-publishing means that you're not only registered as a writer but also set up a body to serve as your publisher. When self-publishing your music, you hold all the rights, IP, publisher's credit, and songwriter's credit. You get all the royalties and full control of the compositional copyright. But, in turn, you have to take on all of the duties of a publisher as well.

How to self-publish music

Self-publishing your music isn't as hard as you might think: it just requires registering as a publisher with a PRO. The tough part is taking on the actual role of a publisher: promoting your music, connecting with recording artists, and maximizing your royalty cashflows.

1. Make sure your music hasn't been published yet

This might seem a bit out there, but you might've already accidentally published your music — it's easier than you might think. For instance, when distributing your music through aggregators like TuneCore or CDBaby, you can opt-in for the publishing administration services without even realizing it. So, first and foremost, make sure that your compositions haven't been published yet.

2. Register with the PRO of your choice as a publisher

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) collect all royalties for songwriters — both for the writer and the publisher — so to get the publisher's share of the royalties, you have to register with a PRO.

Most of the PROs make it simple for you to join as a publisher: typically, you don't even need to set up a micro-company to serve as your publisher. To register as a publisher with ASCAP, for instance, all you need is an address, an email, and a US tax ID number.

3. Promote your compositions

Now, the previous two steps are easy enough to complete, and once you do, you can start earning the publisher's share on top of the writer's share.

But be mindful — if you self-publish your music, you don't have a publishing company on your side, which is often integral to your success as a songwriter. So, if you hope to build a songwriter's career (which probably means that you don't record your own music), you need to pound the pavement and get your compositions out there. That means networking, writing for better artists, pitching your compositions to music supervisors and hunting down sync opportunities, etc.

The 6 pros and cons of self-publishing music

There are huge advantages of self-publishing, including creative control and more revenue, but also huge downsides, like all that promotional and administrative work you'll have to do. We break down the pros and cons below:


1. Full rights

That is the biggest advantage of self-publishing your music: you don't share your copyright or with anyone, and you are not bound by the obligations that are a part of most publishing deals. You own 100% of the rights to your music outright and can license it however you wish.

2. Full profits

It goes to the point above: by retaining 100% of the rights to your music, you also get 100% of the profit that your compositions generate. You won't be kicking yourself over the unfavorable publishing deal you once signed and rueing all the lost royalties.

3. Full control over your career

Since publishers are tasked with creating commercial opportunities for your compositions, they also exert a great deal of control over the arc of your career. By self-publishing, you have full control of where your music is used, the artists you work with, how your music is synced, and more. Once again, you have no obligations, no minimum song commitments — freedom!


1. No advance

Publishers typically give songwriters an advance when they sign a publishing deal. This advance is meant to get you some funds to keep the lights on as royalties pass through the PRO pipeline. As much as two years can elapse between your song playing on the radio and the actual check arrival. If you self-publish, then you won't get an advance and will have to wait for the royalties to come in — which means that you'll have to find another way to pay the bills for a while.

2. More administrative work

The publisher is responsible for the administrative work involved with actually getting royalties from the PROs. The PRO system isn't perfect, and a percentage of your royalties will likely be lost in the PRO pipeline -- unless you're on top of the administrative duties enough to ensure you get the full royalties you're owed. There's also other grunt work that you'll have to do, like drafting licensing agreements, tracking cue sheets, and so on.

3. No help with A&R and promotion

Another critical role filled by publishers is promotion and networking: publishers have connections with artists, labels, and other partners on the recording side. If you self-publish, you will have to do everything yourself — pitching music syncs, growing your professional network, pitching to the radios, and more.

4 tips when publishing your own music

Here are some simple steps you can take to get the most out of self-publishing:

1. Compare PROs

Registering as a publisher with a PRO is one of the first steps you'll need to complete, but don't just go with the first PRO that sends you an email. The 3 major PROs in the US (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) each offer different benefits and incentives for members: for instance, BMI's benefits are geared slightly more towards songwriters. SESAC is invitation-only, but they take a more hands-on approach with creating opportunities for their members. So weigh the different options and choose the one best suited to your goals.

2. Investigate becoming a publisher

Self-publishing typically just means registering with a PRO as a publisher to manage to publish your own compositions, but it doesn't have to stop there. For added legitimacy you can start a publishing company, and even represent some of your friends. Having your own company can give you some added clout, especially if you publish the work of other songwriters.

3. Know when (and when not) to self-publish

Whether or not you should self-publish should partially depend on your position in the industry and your ability to create opportunities for yourself. If you lack friends in the industry and don't have the budget or experience to manage publishing duties, then signing with a publisher may be a good idea (if you have the option). If you feel confident in your abilities to publish and promote your work on your own — go full steam ahead on publishing!

4. Keep track of your music's use

As we've mentioned before, if you're self-publishing, then all the administrative and promotional work is up to you. Which means that you probably should get a good grasp on your music data. First of all, it will allow you to keep track of your progress and ensure that your career is on the right track. Then, it can help you scout out recording artists for potential collaboration — music data analytics can give you a clear view of what's going on in the artist's career. Is the artist hot now, or is it just an aftermath of the hype from that passed a year ago? Of course, not every decision you make here should be super calculated — it might be worth collaborating with unknown talent if you know the chemistry is there. But, in any case, data analytics can give you a better idea of what you will get out of the deal by giving you all pro-s and con-s.

And then, on the administrative side, music data can show you exactly when and how your music is used — which is crucial when it comes to monetizing your compositions.

Let's take radio airplay, for example. The airplay reporting systems used by PROs are not 100% foolproof, even when it comes to collecting royalties due in a single market, let alone if your compositions are getting on the air in other markets. That would mean that multiple PROs will have to communicate and collaborate to get the royalties into your pocket — which, given the state of music metadata, is a breeding ground for all sorts of errors and mishaps.

So, a big part of administrative works is tracking your use and claiming the royalties that the PROs might've missed — but to do that, you need an independent, reliable source of airplay data. That what makes Soundcharts Airplay Monitoring is the perfect tool for independent, self-publishing songwriters. It tracks over 1,800 radio stations across the globe using our proprietary audio fingerprinting technology — giving you real-time, free of human error data on where and when your music is played around the world. With it, you can track how your catalog is performing on the radio and ensure that you're not missing out on any royalties.

It's time get in the know!


Self-publishing might seem like an intimidating and complicated endeavor, but if you don't have a publishing deal on the table it may also be your only resort. To be successful as a songwriter without the backing of a publisher, you'll have to be enterprising, to say the least: in fact, your ability to network in the industry might be just as important as the quality of the songs you write. You'll also have to master some of the tedious details of administration. And all of this on top of your regular songwriting duties! But, if you can pull it off, you get twice the royalties and total creative control over the direction of your career.


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