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A co-writer and I were discussing last night publishing deals and draws. The way I knew it worked was a publisher liked your songs, saw potential cuts, and signed you to a 1-3 year deal with a monthly draw and you would have to write so many songs a year, 30-50 100% songs. Do these kinds of deals still exist? Or is there a new trend? We were wondering if anyone knew or could speak to the question of, "What kind of publishing deals could one expect to be offered now a days?"

Tags: deal, music, publisher, row, songwriter, trends, writing

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Hello Debra,

The deals started thinning out about ten years ago. As downloading came in more and more, the ability for publishers to pay writers to learn dissapeared as well. Six years ago there were 1480 writing deals with about 2500 publishers. There are now around 310 with around 850 publishers and of those about 100 that pay any money whatsoever. Very simply supply and demand.
The people with deals now are the Jeffery Steeles and Craig Wiseman, who have many hits and write with many of the new artists that come to town continuously. The other half are new writers who are considered potential hit artists. They are usually around for about two years before they are released on record. By then they have established reputation and the credentials needed to take the next steps.

The way deals most likely come now are first meeting publishers on a social level. Then there are the "come by from time to time to let me know what you are doing." type of things. That is called an "open door" deal. Then there is the exclusive representative deal, which they would ask that you only bring things to them. There are the Single song contract, which does happen but many of those are not quite "official" as they are more a "let me play this for someone else and see what I can get with it."

Most all publishers are going to ask two basic questions. "Who do you write with" and "What else you got?" Publishers no longer develop writers, as they expect them to come somewhat developed.They are interested in activity and enthusiasm. they will want to get to know you for some time before they commit to anything. If someone brings them songs that are demoed and ready to pitch that can help in the overall relationship. Within some relationships they may offer to pay for demos, some do not. It all depends on the belief they have in you.

Many hit writers now did not get offered a deal until they had cuts or even hits. You are known by your most recent record. So the best advice is to write a lot of songs with a lot of people. You never know where they are going to lead. It is much past just the song. It is overall catalogue, overall attitude, and overall perseverance. Since the burn out rate is so high and people move back to where they come from so fast (average stay is six months) no body wants to invest money until a lot of ground work is done.

For artists, the rule now is that the hit writers, (Steele, Rutherford, Wiseman, etc, the usual suspects) are writing and being part of the development process on new artists years before the general public is allowed to even see them.

My pseronal experiences are most recently in working with an artist out of Kalamazoo Michigan, Frankie Ballard, who six months after we wrote our first song, signed a full publishing deal with SONY and three months after that signed a record deal with Warner Brothers. He is in the studio now with Micheal Knox, who produces Jason Aldeen.

The other is with a school teacher out of Green Bay Wisconsin, Julie Moriva, who is involved with Steel Magnolia, a duo who just won the "You can Duet" Telelvision program. They won a record deal and are being produced and managed by Scott Borchetta, the brains behind Taylor Swift. The duo have many songs they have written with Julie and are currently recording their first record. They are number 38 on the Billboard charts and have a new video and song, "Keep on Loving You" climbing the video playlists. If they continue to do well and Julie gets one of the singles, she may get a publishing deal from Borchetta and Taylor Swift's publishing company. It is all in how they do.

That is pretty much where it is now.

this answer is exactly the kind of trend information I was looking for. Thanks MAB... I guess I am ahead of the six month curve being here over two years now... I don't see myself leaving any time soon... I definitely love this place and music more than anything in my life and I am not letting go. I am pretty much married to music and it is going to have to walk or cheat on me, and bring me to court before I walk away...

Your remarks on this post give me real facts and trends to focus us and keep me focused. Thanks for writing!
well said !!

You are welcome. It is actually what I do for a living. I teach songwriting and the Nashville music business, primarily to out of town people and newbies. Have been around a long time and been in it about anything writer's go through. If you live in Nashville, you should attend some of Doak Turner's "Third Sunday at Three" parties which are great networking events.

Good to hear from you and take care.

Sorry for the late response. Didn't see this 'til now. Publishers still do the kinds of deal you describe. If there is a "new trend" it is on the part of the writers. My perception - and many writer friends share this take - is that the ONLY reason for signing with a publisher is the DRAW. Many publishers [at least the ones with valuable catalogs] have gone the route of the record labels, essentially collecting money and doing as little as possible to earn it. I have a friend here in town with many covers and hit records under his belt and his publisher was STILL doing nothing to get his work out to artists. He finally pulled out of the deal, got all his copyrights back and started his own publishing company.

I prefer - and this is strictly a personal call - to pay my plugger a retainer. I know he's motivated and when he does get covers for me, he collects 12% for 2 years and that's it. A much better deal as far as I'm concerned than giving a publisher HALF of the pie for the life of my copyright.

But paying the equivalent of another rent each month to a plugger isn't always easy and who wouldn't rather GET a check from a publisher instead? It comes down to which approach works for you.
so you are saying - get a plugger and stay in control?

What kind of retainer is general and /or competitive?
$300-400 per month is average Deb and that's not "chicken feed" for most of us but remember YOU are the employer. There are about 40 pluggers here in town and they range from clowns who are all talk to top notch, very well connected people with impressive track records. The point is YOU can interview them and make sure that they can deliver what they claim they can. Mine is accessible all the time. I can call him, meet him for a drink, just ask questions or pass along artist possibility ideas that come to mind. He gives me detailed written monthly reports describing his progress. I've had tunes with NYC publishers and $250/hour lawyers who I had to call 5 times just to get one call back 2 weeks later. Yes it is about control but also about getting the most "bang for the buck."
Thank You Debra for posting this, and Thank You Marc-Alan Barnette for your answers, and Thank You Tim Lowry for putting another piece of information in the mix. You too, Joe Pasquale

Great advice from all of you, been back here now two years this Nov 9th. All the years I spent here before back in the late 70s 80s til 91, you could not find this kind of information, except from publishers and writers in the know. The internet has helped in that way for sure, getting out information. Now if we could all come up with the direction the New Music Business Model for distribution is taking us maybe we could all make some CENT$$$
Thank You all Bobby
I think it is still like you say in Nashville. The trouble with a publishing deal is that you are expected to co-write. You will be putting your name on songs that you do not believe in.
i think there has to be some form of compromise. If you want to write songs for the art and not worry about keeping a job, writing songs you don't like, then i would say find a publisher that honors that or don't expect to get a deal. It is a lot like a job at that point. graphic designers that love what they do when they get a job for a toilet company and they ask them to make their slogan of "don't JUST flush your life away". I am sure that artist, as they sit there designing the graphics wonder why they aren't sitting in Italy painting the city scapes and why they have to design toilet ads. But there is a trade off for them - they get to be creative, for pay BUT sometimes they have to design toilet ads.

If you followed my analogy at all (lol) - i think sometimes you like the cowrites, sometimes you don't - but if that song burns up the charts and you get to do what you love for a living and for pay then it is worth the occasional song that you don't believe in...

what do you think?
I suspect we are about to see a return to the music business of the '40s - '60s where it was all about hit singles by performers who didn't write their own material.

While the bar for quality is probably higher than it has been in years, there are about to be huge opportunities in all genres due to the shift away from albums. Singer/songwriter and group economics were almost entirely based on the assumption of potential huge album sales.

That is an interesting perspective. What is it that would indicate that to you? I actually think it is totally the other way, in that we will see almost NO songs written outside of the artist or their inner circle. With the effects downloading have had on the industry and the current 360 degree deals, artists are pressured more and more by the companies they are represented by to be writers on anything they do.

In my opinion where country is now is where rock became in the 60's with the Beatles. Before then, there were clearly writers and artists. The Beatles changed all of that in 64'. From there on out the artists were expected to be the writer and were not excepted by their peers, the industry, critiques, etc. That is what has happened in country now. The peers, the industry are expecting artists to take over more of the writing chores and are signing very few people who don't intern as writers first.

So while there may still be outside writers scoring songs on the charts, for the most part, the pure writer/artists line have blurred forever.

But only time will tell.



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