Music Publishing and Distribution Contracts

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A music publishing contract is an agreement where a publisher and a writer of music agree to promote a musical composition and/or take the composition to a suitable recording artist.  The artist would be required to perform the composition under a music artist contract, a producer working with the artist would be bound under a music producer contract and the artist's record label would be bound under a music business contract covering the label's relationship with the publisher.

Types of a Music Publisher Contracts

  • Single Song Agreement - the writer gets a one-time advance for giving rights to a publisher
  • Exclusive Song Writer/Staff Writer Agreement - writer's services are exclusive to the music publisher for a specific time
  • Co-Publishing Agreement - most common music publishing contract; writer & publisher take equal copyright ownership of the compositions at issue
  • Administration Agreement - highly coveted agreement; the song writer/publisher self-publishes and licenses song to a publisher for a set time period & a royalty split)
  • Collection Agreement - writer retains copyright; publisher collects and disburses royalty income but doesn't exploit the work
  • Sub-Publishing Agreement - here, a music publisher allows a foreign one to act on its behalf in particular foreign countries
  • Purchase Agreement - one music publisher gets part of or an entire catalog of another music publisher

A music distribution contract is an agreement between a record label, music producer or artist where the distributor agrees to distribute sound recordings by an artist to various outlets such as music stores, the Internet or other avenues where consumers can hear the artist's performances.  Such agreements convey specific music distribution rights.

Common Terms and Provisions

While these agreements could have different parties involved, some basic provisions will come into play for either a music distribution contract or a music publisher contract.

  • Rights granted: the type of publishing and music distribution rights the distributor or publisher will receive
  • Pay/Royalty Rates: the level of pay to be given to each party as well as the percentage of royalties for each
  • Services or Duties

Legal Agreements to Be Aware Of

Generally speaking, publishing and music distribution contracts are not negotiable.  The terms of a music artist contract, a music producer contract or a music business contract with another party may not be relevant to the terms of a publisher or distribution contract though may affect music distribution rights.

A sampling of terms to watch out for are:

  • Arbitration provisions: these clauses are taken seriously in court & both parties need to be aware of their implication
  • Exclusivity or Non-Exclusivity of Services


In the event of a breach, a publisher or writer should examine their contracts for the remedies available to them.  Generally, one can go to court and win a monetary judgment.

Getting Legal Help

Before signing any type of publishing or distribution contract, it is best to consult a licensed, experienced attorney in music law.  This article is merely an overview and an attorney can provide more detailed, specific information tailored to one's specific needs.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice or representation,
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