Are there different types of music publishers?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Yes, there are three basic, different types of music publishers. Just as with record companies, music publishing companies vary in their sizes, services, and structures. The three types of publishers are: (1) “majors”, (2) “mini-majors”, and (3) “independents” (or “indies”).

The majors still include multi-national companies, such as Warner Music, Sony, EMI, and MCA Music. The mini-majors are publishers such as Famous. The Indies are the smaller publishers, which are individually owned and operated. Major music publishing houses have the advantages of several departments, each helping the company acquire and exploit songs, just as major record labels do.

What do music publishers do?

The law has defined music publishers as being: “A person that is authorized to license the reproduction of a particular musical work in a sound recording.” The best way to think of what music publishers do, though, is probably to compare them with what a recording company does…and the difference here usually comes down to differences in enforcing copyrights. While a record company usually makes money by holding the copyright in a sound recording, a music publisher makes money by holding a copyright in the musical work itself—such as the composition, score, or lyrics.

As with major recording companies, when a music publisher is one of the ‘majors,’ there is less and less importance between being the publisher and recorder: the ‘majors’ monopolize the process. However, it is no less important to be sure a professional reviews your contract terms (both for publishing and recording terms). Publishers make their money from enforcing a series of licensing fees for the use of published music. This means that publishers protect their musicians’ copyright interests, sometimes from recording companies themselves.

Is there Internet music publishing?

Internet music publishing has lagged behind other Internet developments…but big changes are coming. Though the Internet has changed the way music is purchased, some musicians wish the Internet was also being better used for music publishing. One reason for the industry’s restraint may be the ‘majors’ control over so much of both recording and publishing. However, as more and more musicians (writers and composers especially) become independent users of the Internet, changes in how their works can be published and protected are inevitable.

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