Music Publishing in South Africa

music publishing south africa
Image Credit: The modern musician

Several years ago I tried to register my compositions with SAMRO for the first time, and on the application form I noticed a section with the title “music publisher”. And of course, I didn’t know what it was because I was still familiarizing myself with music industry jargon.

So I phoned the samro office in Johannesburg and asked what music publishing was. The consultant gave me a short explanation without going into the details. But after that phone call, I had a basic understanding.

In this article I will explain to you what music publishing is and how it works. Although the blog post title ends with “South Africa“, but publishing works the same way irrespective of the country.    

What is music publishing?

A music publisher can be an individual or an entity (an entity in most cases) responsible for managing and promoting the works of the composer or author and ensuring that all royalties are collected and paid to the client (artist). 

It sounds simplistic right?

Well maybe not, so let’s go over the next point and I’ll show you how this works.

How music publishing works in South Africa

Just to be clear, I make reference to “South Africa” in the title again because I will be mentioning South African organisations in the following paragraphs.

Music publishers help composers and authors earn money by licensing the works to film and television production companies, advertising agencies and other media. Composers and authors in this context refer to music producers and songwriters.

Now you might be asking yourself “Isn’t that the record label’s job?”

Well not exactly and I’ll explain further.

It all depends on who holds the right to control the copyright. The record labels usually control and own the recordings (the master recording or masters in short) and the music publisher controls the rights to the composition and lyrics.

But it’s not uncommon for the record label to wear both hats. If that is the case it means they would control both copyrights.

If you are still trying to understand what I just said, I would recommend that you read the previous blog post first on how you can own your masters in order to get clarity.

In South Africa CAPASSO (Composers, Authors, and Publishers Association) is responsible for administering what is called Mechanical Rights.

Mechanical royalties are paid to songwriters and composers each time a record is reproduced, downloaded (including ringtones), streamed and printed (sheet music or lyrics).

Let me give you a basic example. For each vinyl or CD pressed/manufactured, a mechanical royalty has to be paid to the songwriter.

However in order to receive these types of royalties, your music publisher (or you) has to be registered with CAPASSO.

But what about SAMRO?

SAMRO’s role is to administer the performing rights only.

And to give you an example, if your songs are playlisted on radio, national television or performed at a bar, SAMRO collects license fees from the music users and distributes them as royalties to composers and authors.

How music publishers make money

Music publishers do not charge you money upfront. Instead, they render the service on a commission basis and so they can only be paid when you get paid.

The typical percentage split is a minimum of 33.33% but a 50/50 agreement is also common but this varies from publisher to publisher.

Where can I find a music publisher in South Africa?

Below is a list of my top 5 reputable music publishers in South Africa and I have also included website links.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are music producer, songwriter, label owner or artist manager, music publishing is one subject that you have to understand well.

The music industry can be confusing I know and there’s just so much that you have to know. But if you want to have successful and sustainable music career then you should arm yourself with knowledge.  

If you have any questions and thoughts, please do comment below.

14 thoughts on “Music Publishing in South Africa

  1. So how does one go about to getting an exclusive licencing deal with a major record label in terms of publishing?

    1. Hi Keorapetse

      There is no exact formula but you have to increase your visibily from a musical and brand standpoint.

      When your music gets traction on TV and radio the majors will take note and chances are they will come to you.

      But going to them and proposing such a deal will probably not work especially if they have never heard of you. So there would be very little incentive for them to sign you to an exclusive publishing deal

  2. Hi Gauta
    First of all I’d like to say I appreciate the information you’ve put forward about the music business, very helpful.

    With regards to publishing, I’d like to ask or rather confirm if you’re able to be self-published (as an independent record label) and still outsource a co-publisher or better yet an administration publisher;
    and if so would it mean that they (the admin publisher) would be entitled to 25% of the 50% publisher royalties of the mechanical royalties and you would be entitled to the other 25% because you (label) are self-published?

    1. Hi James

      I’m glad that you find the information useful.

      Yes, you can self-publish as an Indie label. If you decide to co-publish, 25% of the royalties would be a better deal for the admin publisher. However it is not a hard and fast rule, it all depends on how you negotiate.

  3. Please clarify my thoughts: Publishers were only necessary during the times of vinyls and cds printings, because now artists can just use eg. Distrokids to collect 100% streaming royalties. Why do we still need publishers? if not only for sync rights?

    1. Hi Tiago

      Publishers are still necessary in the digital age. Aggregators such as Distrokid collect royalties (sales) from your Spotify’s, Apple Music, etc.

      On the other hand music publishers, administer and collect mechanical and performance rights royalties. Experienced publishers can open doors and allow you to monetize your music on a large scale by licensing your works to advertising agencies, film and TV Production companies, etc

      Hope that makes sense

  4. Hi, thanks so much for simplifying the roles above. I have 2 questions to ask:
    First question – If I were to record my first-ever single at a random studio, does that mean I still have to find a record label to sign up with? Or are studios affiliated with particular labels?
    Secondly, in your opinion, do I need a record label AND publisher, or just a publisher?
    Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Denise

      You don’t have to sign up with a label to release your single. You can release it online on your own with the help of a reliable digital distributor such as Label Worx and Landr. In most cases recording studios operate as independent entities and are not affiliated with labels (although some operate as studio/label).

      To answer your second question. In this day and age I would advise you to bypass the label and sign up with a publisher. Record labels will only take a chance on you only if you are generating a buzz. So it only makes sense to release your music online first on your own and see what happens from there.

    1. Hi Sandile

      The labels generate their money via record sales (selling physical CD’s, vinyls, digital downloads, streams, etc), licensing, publishing, etc

  5. Hi Gauta
    Thanks for your valuable information. As a songwriter should i send my demo to a publisher or a record label and am i suppose to register my song with e.g SAMRO/CAPASSO first before sending out my demo. And how many songs should I include in a demo. Thanks

    1. Hi Paul

      It is advisable to register your songs with with SAMRO and CAPASSO. When that is done, then you can submit your works to a music publisher. You can include as many tracks as you like, there’s no restriction.

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