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Thursday, June 7, 2018

What They Don't Tell You: Music Publishing IS Spreadsheets


Not that you care, but it's not about sheet music so much anymore, nor is it about advances on future royalty income.  It's not even that much about finding commercial placements in movies or recording artists for the songwriter's works.  Licensing and royalty collection are administrative tasks artists can do themselves, or they can hire agencies to do it on their behalf so they can avoid the annoyance and focus on writing & recording. 

What these people need more than anything else to do this grunt work for you and take their cut is data and metadata, and the way you provide it is spreadsheets.  There are so many different types of rights and royalties out there to be had, there are specialists and no one-stop-shop for all of your song and music publishing needs.  So, whether you attempt DIY publishing or agree to give a cut to someone else to do it for you, they're going to need you to get the data to them, and like it or not, there's only one good way to do so.

Just as Soylent Green IS people, what "the expert advice-givers" never tell you about music publishing is that it is nothing but spreadsheets and copy/pasting.  Get used to your keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl+C to copy and Ctrl+P to paste) because they're going to come in handy if you have your own music publishing company. 

In this day and age anyway, that's pretty much all music publishing amounts to - in order to have a chance to get any royalty money at all from songs you've written, you submit spreadsheets to organizations who find you that money, most of whom take a cut first, then they give you the rest.  They can't do any of it for you, nor can you do any of it for yourself for that matter, if you don't first have a bunch of data in spreadsheets.

In the digital era, although vinyl records are experiencing a temporary resurgence in popularity, brick and mortar record stores are not.  When you write your own songs, record your own versions of your own songs, and sell those recordings online, you have certain licensing rights.  So, with that in mind, perhaps it shouldn't be too shocking that digital metadata about your songs and recordings needs to be uploaded to databases, and one known, somewhat easy way to do that is via spreadsheets.  Yes, it's true, spreadsheets are therefore the basis of making sure you get paid for all the various licensing rights you have.   

These organizations and agencies who collect your various royalties for you each need slightly different data, so they each have their own spreadsheets, their own templates, their own formatting, their own requirements for submission, etc.  So, get ready to copy certain things like your song titles from one into another.  Some care about ISRC #s, some care about ISWC #s, some care about UPC #s, etc., and some care about the same ones as each other too, but no two ever care about the same exact numbers as each other.
It's a royal pain when you have a 100+ song catalog like me.  Ultimately, these collectors take a cut to do the  even more painful tasks of bugging the online music retail stores, download stores, streaming services, etc. to check their records for your songs and get them to pay fairly.  Unless you have tons of free time and you are a lawyer in addition to being a songwriter/recording artist/publisher, you're generally glad to give them their fee upon collection.

Can't do it without populating and submitting those spreadsheets though, which I suppose you could pay someone to do for you, but this is the part that you must get right from the get-go, so it's better to trust yourself, particularly if you're like me and represent yourself alone.  Some have a web user interface with fields to populate, some even taking advantage of auto-complete, so that helps.  Even so, when you upload one at a time in that manner, they often then allow you to download what you entered as - you guessed it - a spreadsheet.

Who are these organizations who need the spreadsheets, you might be wondering?  All of them, basically.  Even those whom you'd expect would have awesome software to handle this kind of stuff, like Google and their YouTube Content ID RightsFlow Partner program, still have a bunch of dreaded spreadsheet templates!  Other "tracking companies" for lack of a better thing to call them might include some names like Harry Fox, SESAC, Kobalt, AdRev, Re:Sound, SongTrust, Songfile, TuneCore, TuneSat, Rumblefish, etc.  Quite often music-related companies that provide other music-related services such as distribution or cover song clearance also offer publishing administration services like the ones I'm referring to here.

Whether they call it import/export/ingest or some other term, it's all about unique identifiers and codes.  People have to act as liaisons to the number-crunching machines, and one of them in the process is you doing your copy/pasting and attaching those .xls or .csv files to an email.  Other people then have some grunt work ahead of them - which may be as easy as connecting to YouTube's database, performing searches, finding matches, comparing ID#s, doing some accounting, etc. - in other words, all digital computer-based work;  whereas it may be as hard as making actual phone calls to real people, sending emails, or even getting lawyers involved.  Machine automation and artificial intelligence can't read your mind for much of it yet, so human beings are still required.  Now you know what most probably don't about music publishing - in a nutshell, it is mostly spreadsheets.