Music Publisher: Frequently Asked Questions

music publishing frequently asked questions
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The term music publisher can be confusing for many a young artist (even some experienced artists struggle to fully understand it).

If you find yourself in that situation, look no further because I have put together a FAQ list which will give you a better insight on the subject.

Let’s dive then.

What is music publishing?

In the music industry, a publisher is responsible for promoting, licensing and collecting royalties of musical works on behalf the songwriter.

Can I start my own music publishing company?

Yes you can. You have to register a formal company and register as a publisher with the relevant collection societies. But start in your country or territory first.

How can I start my own music publishing company?

For example if you are based in South Africa, you can start by registering your company with the CIPC. When that is done you will need to sign up clients (songwriters) and register as music publisher with SAMRO and CAPASSO.

How do music publishers get paid?

Music publishers get paid when the songwriter gets paid.

According Jonathan Shaw (a music publishing expert in South Africa), publishers are paid 50% net profits from sheet music (or ten per cent of the retail selling price). 

SAMRO’s rule of income distribution states that 66.3% of the royalties have to be paid to the writer. And the publisher will keep 33.33 %.

How does a music publisher differ from a record label?

A music publisher manages or controls the rights to the composition (lyrics). And the record label controls and owns the rights to sound recordings (the master copy).

How does music publishing in South Africa work?

Music publishing in South Africa works the same way as it does in other territories.  You just have to ensure that your notification of works is submitted on a regular basis with the relevant bodies such as CAPASSO and SAMRO.

If you are a songwriter it is highly recommended that you sign with a reputable music publisher in order for your music to gain exposure.

Can I study to become a music publisher?

A career in music publishing doesn’t require a formal college education. However you can study a music business 101 course which will include music publishing as one of the modules.  But very few (if none) schools teach music publishing as a standalone subject or course.

Is music publishing a profitable business?

Music publishing can be a profitable business. It is a viable business for most music industry veterans because they have built up contacts and networks over the years.

But if you are starting out it might not be profitable yet until you find countless of composers that you can work with.

Is SAMRO a music publisher?

No. SAMRO is a music collection society which is responsible for administering copyrights for composers and authors and publishers.

What is the difference between SAMRO and CAPASSO?

SAMRO administers the performing rights royalties of composers, authors and publishers. And CAPASSO is responsible for administering the mechanical rights of composers and music publishers.

What is the difference between performing rights and mechanical rights?

Performing right royalties are paid each time a song is performed publicly. E.g. Radio, Television, Live performance such as a concert, restaurant, shopping mall, retail shop, et cetera.

Mechanical right royalties are paid to the songwriter each time music is reproduced.

For example, when CD, DVD or Vinyl is manufactured, digital downloads on the internet, ringtones, streaming on websites such as Spotify, Film score or soundtracks, et cetera.

Is it a must to register with collection societies?

If you want to commercialize your music then yes it is a must. Collection societies will help to administer and collect royalties on your behalf from music users.

Do I have to pay the music publisher upfront for services rendered?

No. Publishers work on a commission basis so they will only get a cut from your royalties. Their job is to exploit the works as much as possible so you can both get paid.

Where can I find a music publisher in South Africa?

South Africa has an array of music publishers- companies such Sheer Publishing, Sony/ATV (Global), and Synchro Music comes to mind.


Music publishing is such a broad topic and it often gets complex when you publish your music in different territories.

You have to deal with other publishers, the agreements might differ, different collection societies have different will have different rules and so forth.

If I missed anything, please do send your questions through by commenting below.

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