Composers need publishers. But are they there to help us, or help themselves?
This series has given you an inside perspective on the opaque world of library music and helped to clarify many questions. What music should you write? (Authentic, minimal and upbeat music.) Who should you send it to? (Library publishers.) How much will you get paid? (Lots, if you write a lot and make it good.) And when will you start to see royalties? (From three years after the music is released.)
A repeating theme has been the importance of the library music publisher, that powerful gatekeeper who either guides you onto the glittering path or ignores your demos and leaves you watching your life clock. The publishers’ importance comes from their key role as quality filters, organisers and salespeople, standing between you, the composer, and the large clients such as ad agencies and TV production companies who pay publishers to use the music.
This month we take a closer look at the world of the publisher to find out what makes them tick. As a library publisher myself, I’ll offer my own inside view, alongside interviews with a pair of Vice Presidents at the major BMG Production Music and the co-owner of a strong independent New York publisher, Video Helper. Once you have a better understanding of the publisher’s work and needs, perhaps you’ll have a better chance of finding work with them.
So, who are these Dickensian publisher overlords, growing fat from your toil in gilded offices and jetting around the world while mocking your humble begging emails and plotting to reduce your royalties?
Some composers really do have this impression of library publishers. As a composer-publisher I’ve read these complaints in forums and occasionally stuck my oar in, but hopefully this article will help to mend a bit of this mistrust. That said, before we break into a hymn to the publishing world’s selfless saviours, I have certainly heard statements from publishers like “Why not just remove the writer’s share of sync royalties?” and “Never invite writers to a party, they’ll just hassle you for work.” I’ve also heard publishers vow to never hire some poor writer again just because they were new, didn’t understand the rules and committed some sin or other out of ignorance, such as asking for a royalty split that no-one would agree to, sharing their tracks on YouTube before they were released or handing in ‘unmastered’ mixes with bus compression on. So yes, some library publishers can be mean, but thankfully most are pretty OK.
Whether it’s human nature or capitalist sickness, most publishers want more money. Better business income means hiring more staff to take away various...
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