Which Publishing Administration Service is Best for You?

So It Goes

If you want to maximize your music-related income then it would make sense to set yourself up to receive all of the royalty sources you’re entitled to, right? If you’re an independent artist who has not signed a deal with a publisher or a label, then the easiest way to do this is to register with a publishing administration service.

Publishing administration services have relationships with collection societies all over the world, and they’ll collect the mechanical and performance royalties owed to you by these societies. Unless you’re fluent in all of the world’s languages and you have the time to affiliate and register your songs with each of these societies, then affiliating with a publishing administration service is your best option as an independent musician.

As we all know nothing is free and that includes these services. So one must speculate, and maybe even do a little bit of math, to determine if the juice is worth the squeeze. If so, the next decision you have to make is which service is best for you. In this article, I’ll give you the rundown for each of these services, and I’ll help you determine if the extra income outweighs the costs of these services.

Note: In this article, I only talk about performance and mechanical royalties. All of these entities offer some form of synch licensing services and avenues for YouTube monetization, but I feel like it would be easier to discuss that in a separate article.

Publishing Administrator vs Distributor

Before I proceed I want to explain the difference between these two services because you’ll need both. As I said, a publishing administrator will collect your royalties from societies all around the world. Distributors are the ones who will actually get your songs onto all of the digital stores and streaming platforms, and they’ll collect the money you make from download sales and streams (this is different from the writer/publishing royalties). Of the three publishing administration services that I’m about to detail, only CD Baby and Tunecore offer distribution services. If you decide to go with Songtrust, you’ll have to go through a separate service for distribution.

Publishing Administration Services: Three of the Big Players

CD Baby Pro

CD Baby Pro is CD Baby’s combined distribution and publishing admin service. This means you can use CD Baby as a one-stop shop to get your music onto digital stores and collect your worldwide royalties. They also offer services for manufacturing and distributing physical copies of your music, vinyl, and CDs. If you sign up with them here’s what they’ll do for you:

  1. Affiliate you with a US-based PRO such as ASCAP or BMI, or if you’re already affiliated with one of these PROs, they’ll take over the administration of your existing affiliation. These PROs collect your performance royalties in the US and payout 50% to the writer/you (writer’s share) and 50% to CD Baby (publisher’s share) who then takes 15% of that 50% before sending you the rest.

  2. Register your songs with collection agencies worldwide.

  3. Collect your performance royalties worldwide.

  4. Collect your mechanical royalties worldwide (global streams and international downloads). In the US, when a song is downloaded on iTunes, they pay the mechanical royalty of 9.1 cents per download to the master recording owner (you). You then owe that 9.1 cents to the publisher (also you). So you’ll receive US generated mechanical royalties through your distributor. When your song is downloaded internationally, iTunes pays the mechanical royalty the collection agency of that country. This is money being withheld from you as the master recording owner and is owed to you as the publisher. So you’re paying yourself these mechanical royalties, but if you don’t affiliate with a publishing admin service, these royalties remain withheld by the collection agencies in these countries. Streaming services pose a similar problem. Streaming services pay the mechanical royalty directly to the publisher, but if you’re acting as your own publisher, the problem is that these services don’t have a way of finding you. So to collect mechanicals for streams you need to affiliate with a publishing admin.

If you use CD Baby Pro, here’s what it’ll cost you:

  1. At the time of this writing, they charge $34.95 for you to register a single and $69 for you to register an album

  2. They take 9% of the net income paid to them by partnering digital stores such as iTunes. So iTunes takes their cut, pays the rest to CD Baby who then takes 9% before passing it on to you.

  3. They take 9% of all download sales through the CD Baby digital store.

  4. They take $4 from each CD or vinyl record you sell. You determine the price you want to sell it for. No matter the price you choose, they take $4.

  5. They take 15% of all royalty revenue they find for you.

Summary:

There is no sign up cost, but you have to pay for each song/album you register. They take a 9% cut of all download sales after the digital store has already taken their cut. They take 15% of all royalty income. So even if you already paid the $100 to affiliate with a US PRO, they’ll take over the administration and take 15% of the 50% paid by the PRO to the publisher (you). You get the full 50% of writer’s share.

TuneCore

Tunecore is also a combined distribution and publishing admin service who will provide the same services as CD Baby Pro. They’ll get your music onto digital stores, collect your income from sales/streams, and collect all the above mentioned royalty sources for you. The biggest difference between CD Baby and Tunecore are the costs. Also with Tunecore, you can sign up solely for their distribution service or their publishing admin service. With CD Baby you can sign up for their standard service which is distribution only. If you want to use their publishing admin service you have to sign up for CD Baby Pro which includes their distribution service. If you go with Tunecore, here’s what it’ll cost you:

  1. For their distribution services, they charge $9.99 per single per year. So if you have three singles they’ll charge you ~$30 each year those singles remain in the digital stores. For albums, it’ll cost you $29.99 per album for the first year and $49.99 per album for each year after that. The neat part though is that you get 100% of the profits generated from all sales/streams instead of the 91% you’d get through CD Baby.

  2. For publishing administration, they charge a one time set up fee of $75 and they’ll take 15% of all royalty income they find you.

Summary:

Recurring yearly charges for the distribution of your music isn’t all that appealing but keeping 100% of the income generated is. If the yearly fee totals up to less than 9% of your generated income, then it’s a better deal than CD Baby regarding distribution.

SOngtrust

Songtrust is a publishing administrator that does not provide distribution services so you’ll need to distribute your music through another service. There are several options here such as CD Baby’s standard plan, Tunecore, and Distrokid. I highly suggest looking into Distrokid. They’re the most affordable ($19.99 per year for basic and $35 per year for an upgraded version with some worthy features), they have a super simple user interface, and they let you keep 100% of the revenue your music generates from sales and streams. With the yearly fee, you get unlimited uploads, control over release dates, the ability to automatically split profits between members, and more.

Songtrust will register your songs with collection agencies around the world and collect your performance and mechanical royalties. So if you’ve got yourself a distributor and want to use Songtrust for publishing administration, here’s what it’ll cost you:

  1. An initial sign up fee of $100 per writer.

  2. They’ll start you off with 50 song credits which you use to register your songs with them (credit per song). After that, it’ll cost you $10 per 10 song credits. If you need to register a bulk amount of songs with them they also offer bulk packages. For bulk prices, you’ll need to contact them directly to work it out.

  3. They’ll take 15% of the royalty income they find you.

  4. If you’re already affiliated with a PRO you can transfer your catalog to Songtrust for them to take over the administration.

Summary:

Songtrust is a dedicated publishing administration service and a solid option to use in conjunction with your distributor. The cost is very similar to Tunecore’s pub admin service so it comes down to your personal preference between these two.

Squeezing Juice

Before you sign up with a publishing administrator one must consider whether or not it’ll actually bring in more money for them. When you sign up with one of these services they take 15% of all the royalties they collect for you, and that includes the royalties they administrate for you through US-based PROs (e.g. ASACP and BMI). If you affiliate with these PROs on your own, you’ll receive 100% of the royalties (minus a portion the PRO keeps (16-18%) which would still be kept by them even if you used a pub admin). So unless you’re getting a bunch of international streams and downloads, it may not be worth giving up 15% of all your royalties just to have someone collect a minor sum of international royalties for you.

For example: Let’s say you make $1000 in royalties through your PRO for US downloads and streams. With a direct affiliation to the PRO you’d get $840. If you used a publishing administrator, that $840 would go to your pub admin. They would then take their 15% before passing it along, leaving you with $714. So unless they were able to find you over $126 in foreign royalties, you’re giving up 15% of your US royalties for no reason. This doesn’t even consider the sign-up fee (although on a larger scale the sign-up fee is negligible).

So if you’re already with a PRO and have released music, maybe look into what percent of your streams and downloads are from foreign countries to determine whether or not it’s worth giving up 15% of your US-based royalties to receive them. Also according to Songtrust, if you sign up with them after your music has been released, they can usually collect and distribute most of your international royalties from the past 2-3 years. So it might be wise to wait a bit, see where your music is being listened to, then decide whether or not a publishing administration service is worth it for you.

References

https://www.manatt.com/Manatt/media/Media/PDF/US-Streaming-Royalties-Explained.pdf

https://www.songtrust.com

https://cdbaby.com

https://www.tunecore.com

https://www.bmi.com

https://www.ascap.com