Music Publisher

The Job and What's Involved

Music isn't just played and recorded; it is also published. Once a piece of music has been published it can be tracked for royalties (payments due to songwriters/composers) from sales, radio play or commercial use, such as featuring in a TV advert. The songs and musical compositions are managed by music publishers (in partnership with songwriters and composers), rather than by the artists who record them. Music publishers focus on building a catalogue of songs or musical compositions by discovering new writers, or by acquiring the rights to existing songs/compositions.

A music publisher pays the songwriter/composer a percentage of the earnings resulting from a variety of uses of their songs/compositions, including recordings, public performance, production of printed music and the use of music by other users, including filmmakers and advertisers.

Those working in music publishing may specialise in one of five fields, but may also work across some or all of these areas.

Specific duties may include:

  • Artists and repertoire (A&R), involving talent spotting and promoting the careers of songwriters and composers:
  • Actively searching for new talent at concerts and gigs or by listening to demos sent in by artists and agents, and signing up new writing talent.
  • Pairing up composers, who create the melodies, with lyricists/librettists, who write the words, to work together.
  • Pitching (promoting) songs to various users of music and responding to briefs issued by recording companies, in the hope that a recording artist will use an existing song or commission a songwriter to create a song for the artist in question.
  • Networking with people who use music commercially, such as advertisers or broadcasters, to exploit 'synchronisation' opportunities - for instance the use of music in TV, films, video games, adverts.

Rights administration, covering the contracting and legal side of publishing:

  • Drawing up publishing agreements between publishers and songwriters.
  • Licensing the use of music.
  • Registering new works with the PRS for Music (formerly the MCPS-PRS Alliance).
  • Liaising with international sub-publishers and overseas royalty collections agencies.
  • Taking legal action when copyright is infringed - for example, when any part of a composition is used without a licence.

Production and editorial, involving commissioning and publishing of new music:

  • Reading manuscript scores received and deciding whether editing or rewriting is required.
  • Converting edited manuscripts into printed music using notational programmes.
  • Liaising with designers and printers.
  • Editing and proofreading the text and music.
  • Developing a catalogue of published music.

Sales and marketing, covering the distribution, sale and hire of music:

  • Planning and implementing marketing campaigns for printed music products.
  • Liaising with music dealers.
  • Organising promotional events and circulating information to the media.
  • Managing a hire library and loans of music to performing organisations.
  • Invoicing, stock control and warehousing.
  • Licensing live performances.

Accounts and royalties, dealing with financial aspects of the business:

  • Tracking the use of music, collecting royalties and fees.
  • Distributing the royalties to writers, composers and sub-publishers.
  • Preparing and analysing profit and loss statements, and balance sheets.
  • Payroll and credit administration.
  • Preparing various statistics.

Music publishers typically work regular office hours, Monday to Friday. The hours can be much longer if attending evening events, particularly for those that actively search for new talent as part of their job. This may require travelling throughout the UK and possibly abroad to assess new musical compositions.

Starting salaries can range from between £12,000 and £22,000 a year. After a few years' experience, music publishers may earn up to £40,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Like most jobs in the music industry, many of the positions for music publishers are in London. Getting a foot in the door can be hard initially, but once in the sector, it's easier to move upwards.

The largest major UK music publishers are Warner/Chappell, EMI, Universal and Sony/ATV. There are also hundreds of independents, for instance Chrysalis, peermusic, Mute Song and Notting Hill. There are also specialist publishers for virtually every genre of music.

Jobs are often advertised by word of mouth. The Music Publishers Association (MPA) posts jobs on its website,

Education and Training

There is no one route into this type of work and no specific qualifications are needed. Practical work experience is often valued more than qualifications by potential employers. Formal musical training may be an advantage when applying to a classical publisher.

Many begin their career at PRS for Music (formally the MCPS-PRS Alliance). Entry level jobs at PRS for Music may involve cross-referencing song registrations and updating databases.

Relevant BTEC Higher National Diplomas (HND's), foundation degrees and degrees are available at colleges and universities. A degree in music industry management may provide the wider industry knowledge required. Available as both a full-time three-year programme and five- to six-year part-time programme, applications are usually considered on an individual basis. Check entry requirements with individual course providers.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work

Other routes in could include:

  • Finding work placements with record companies or music PR agencies.
  • Promoting local bands.
  • Organising and promoting local gigs.
  • Writing gig reviews for local or student press.
  • Getting involved in student or community radio.

Experience in a related area like public relations, event organisation or advertising could also help. Knowledge of accounts and contract law is also valuable.

The Music Publishers Association (MPA) runs four induction courses each year for those new to, or seeking to enter, the music publishing business. Lasting one and a half days, these are designed to provide a general overview of the music publishing industry.

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Training is mostly on the job and involves building on knowledge, experience and contacts that have already been acquired.

The MPA/MMF run a management development programme. There are four models, each examining very different aspects of music management.

Members of MPA can also benefit from specialist seminars, covering areas like royalties, contract law, negotiating, copyright and sampling, global music publishing, broadcast blanket licences and strategic planning.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A music publisher may require some of the following:

  • An excellent ear for music.
  • Thorough knowledge of musical notation.
  • Good judgement and understanding of what might appeal to particular audiences.
  • Negotiating skills and a head for business.
  • The ability to juggle multiple tasks and meet deadlines.
  • Self motivation.
  • The ability to network with people of all backgrounds.
  • A good grasp of copyright law.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, a music publisher could move into a managerial role.

It is possible for music publishers with enough contacts and experience to become self-employed.

Overseas employment may also be possible.

Get Further Information

British Recorded Music Industry (BPI),
Riverside Building, County Hall,
Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JA
Tel: 020 7803 1300

PRS for Music, Copyright House,
29-33 Berners Street, London W1T 3AB
Tel: 020 7580 5544

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