Tip Jar: Get Your Songs Published

Molly-Ann Leikin, who’s written with and for everyone from Katy Perry, to Cher, Tina Turner, Anne Murray, Billy Preston, and Placido Domingo, has the following words of wisdom to share with you about the business side of being a songwriter. These tips and advice are taken from Leikin’s recent book, Insider Secrets To Hit Songwriting In The Digital Digital Age. 

A legitimate music publisher won’t charge you to publish your work. Only scuzz buckets do. 

What Publishing a Song Really Means

When my first song was published, I expected to see shiny sheet music with a nice picture on the cover. But I learned when a song is published, unlike a book, what a songwriter gets is a signed contract, and maybe a small check. Heavy on the maybe.  Sheet music isn’t printed until the song is a hit. Then a photo of the artist or band who made your tune a hit, will be on the cover. Your name will appear as well, but in small print. 

No matter how small the font, you still get paid per copy sold. That amount varies from forty cents up. Everything is negotiable. 

How Do I Sell My Songs?

Lots of new songwriters call me daily, saying they want to sell their songs. NO! Only sleazoids buy material, taking advantage of naïve writers who need instant gratification, recognition and maybe 10 bucks. 

There are scurrilous companies claiming to “buy” your work outright, but when you see one of their ads, delete it.    

Suppose you do sell a song for 10 dollars. What if that song goes on to earn $10,000,000.00? Your name will never appear on the credits, or copyright, and you’ll never earn more than that initial 10 dollars.  Period.

So don’t ever sell your songs.

Your Publisher and You 

You and your publisher are partners. However, writers and publishers are often at odds. Publishers feel their writers demand instant placements and deals. Writers complain full-time when that doesn’t happen, and feel their publishers are not paying enough attention to them. It’s like being a middle child. 

This debate will never end. However, once you, as a songwriter, make your first deal through the efforts of your publisher, everybody loves everybody again. You share limos to the Grammys, name your children after one another and then, when that positive wave subsides, go back to leaving dead possums on doorsteps. 

How The Song Royalty Pie Is Shared 

A song is a circle, like a CD. Draw a line through the diameter. The top half is the songwriter’s share. For each tunesmith involved, slice the pie equally. The bottom half is the publisher’s share.

All new songwriters are desperate to find publishers for their work. But there are publishers and there are publishers. You want a viable one, with recent hits and lots of current connections. A guy who placed a song on the B-side of a Snot single in the ’60s is not your best shot now.

It’s tough out there, even with the hottest hustle and lifetime connections. So, respect your publisher for trying to help you.

It’s Your Responsibility

As a writer, it’s part of your job to know who publishes the hit songs/artists in your genre each week on the Billboard charts. There is no fairy godmother who will do that for you. The schlemiels who pretend to be this miracle, really aren’t. So, it’s on you until you’ve got enough momentum on your own, for a real manager, from a muscle company, who will bully their way into making a deal for you.  

Until you sign with a pushy, persistent manager, it’s your responsibility. And if you don’t do it, nothing will get done. 

Nobody But You Will Ever Be As Passionate About Your Success As You  Are 

While reading the chart in your genre, if you honestly feel you and your material are right for a particular publishing company working with a hit artist, contact someone there.

If the artist writes their own songs, don’t bother.     

The best way in is to co-write, and be “invited into the room” while an artist creates new material. That usually won’t happen until you have some cred. 

Eventually you’ll get through. As you listen to all the songs on the current Top 40, realize those people finally got past the gatekeepers. So will you. Honest.

As you navigate the choppy waters of Musicland, make sure you’re dealing with legitimate professionals, and skip the grief. Save hard copies of all paperwork. NEVER, ever trust anyone to do anything without a signed agreement. If somebody you’re dealing with won’t do that, run the other way. Even a family member needs to sign paperwork. You can’t imagine the drama when writers have hits and their fourth cousins, who died five years ago, want in.

Avoid Cheap Music-For-Hire Companies 

Legions of smarmy companies prey on naïve, frustrated lyricists by offering to write and produce inexpensive “melodies” for those lyrics.  

On behalf of my clients, I’ve contacted most of these enterprises, and closed down dozens. What they offer sounds like a reasonable idea, but the reality is, the alleged original melodies are the same ones they sold thousands of times before, the singers are past their prime, sing flat and completely without feeling. None of the thousands of disappointed clients, who have contacted me after the fact, ever earned a penny. 

Songwriting is your life. Your songs are your children. Protect them. If you don’t, you have no business claiming to be an artist interested in successful commerce. The cheapest answer is just that. It’s never the best. And certainly not the only one. 

Think like a pro and write well today. I’m in your corner all the way.

MOLLY-ANN LEIKIN is an Emmy nominee who’s written with and for everyone from Katy Perry, to Cher, Tina Turner, Anne Murray, Billy Preston, and Placido Domingo. She penned themes and songs for over six dozen TV shows and movies, including Violet, which won an Oscar. Leikin has mentored two generations of Grammy winners and nominees. Leikin does private, personal, telephone consultations at songmd.com, and is the author of Insider Secrets To Hit Songwriting In The Digital Digital Age.