How to Self-Publish Music: A Beginner's Guide

If you want to get your music out there, this is one way to do it!

Main image courtesy of The Open University

If you’re an independent artist who wants their music to be heard, you might have heard of or even considered self-publishing your music. Although it can seem daunting, there are so many ways to go about doing it! 

It’s important to note self-publishing music pertains to commercializing musical compositions, and applies to those who are writers or writers and performers, not people who are exclusively performers. 

What are the benefits of self-publishing music?

In a typical music publishing scenario, the writer gets half of the royalties for composition while the publisher gets the other half. The writer’s share is what belongs to the artists, and the publishing share is usually split between the publisher and songwriter based on their deals. 

By essentially cutting out the middle man, you no longer need to devote 50 percent of your royalties to your publisher. You could be earning that other 50 percent, and this could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in revenue!

coins on top of sheet music
You won’t have to worry about half of your royalties going to your publisher if you decide to self-publish. Image courtesy of BMI.

In addition to being able to maximize how much money you make, you’ll also be able to say that you fully own and have the rights to your music. You don’t have anyone to share the copyright with, and nobody can tell you what you can and can’t do with your work. You’re entirely in charge!

This also means that you’re able to learn valuable skills and lessons related to marketing, law, and publicity, amongst so many other things. By having to go through the process of publishing your own music, you’ll gain a better understanding of the music industry and the publishing process itself. This means that you’ll have the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop so much through these experiences.

You’ll have freedom with your choices, which means that you’ll be able to publish your music wherever you want and use it for whatever you want. You’ll have the power to steer your career in whatever direction you want it to go by being able to make these major decisions independently. 

What are the drawbacks?

Self-publishing music can be a tedious process. It takes time, money, and effort, and not all of us are able to spare that, which is why self-publishing music isn’t always accessible or the best option for everyone. 

piles of papers on a desk
You might feel overwhelmed with administrative tasks without a publisher. Image courtesy of Best Life.

You’ll also find yourself having to play multiple roles. Because you don’t have a publisher working with you on things like promotion, marketing, and advertising, you’ll be responsible for covering all of your bases by yourself. At the same time, you’ll have to become familiar with laws related to music publishing, reproduction, and distribution, amongst other important concepts. 

How do you self-publish music?

All you need to do to be able to self-publish your music is register as a publisher with a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) that is responsible for collecting all royalties for both the writers and publishers. You’ll need to register as a publisher so you can access the portion of the royalties allotted to the publisher.

The first step in the process is to ensure that your music hasn’t already been published. Although it may seem straightforward, many people may not realize that they’ve accidentally published their music before without even realizing it. If you use a music distributing platform such as TuneCore, you may have already opted-in to services relating to music publication.

Once you ensure that your music hasn’t been published yet, find a PRO to register with as a publisher. There are three major PROs in the United States: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. However, BMI and ASCAP are the most accessible of the three because SESAC is by invitation-only. Each of them offer their own unique benefits as well as possible drawbacks.

BMI and ASCAP’s incentives are quite similar, but BMI’s incentives are more geared towards songwriters while ASCAP targets performers. BMI has a longer contract than ASCAP, lasting 2 years instead of 1. BMI does not have any signup fees and has slightly lower payout times than ASCAP, so you’ll be able to get your profits faster.

Once you’ve done your research on PROs, go ahead and register with one! Once this part of the process is complete, you’ll be able to publish your own music. However, be mindful of the fact that you’ll have to put a lot of effort into promoting your music, whether that’s through social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter or through in-person music events. Networking with other artists and people in the industry is key to your success as a songwriter and could make or break your career.

You can decide if you want to copyright your music, and how you want to go about doing that. Explore different licensing options, like the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) which collects mechanical royalties and distributes them to the rightful copyright owners. You can even decide to start your own publishing business to have more control in the process. 

apple music app on phone
Self-publishing music can be really difficult, but it can also be really worth it. Image courtesy of Business Insider.

Be sure that you identify and understand what your goals and ambitions are when it comes to your career. What direction do you possibly see your life going on? What works best with what you want? By keeping these questions in mind, you’ll be able to explore the different options that are available to you as a songwriter.

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Aarushi Pant

Aarushi Pant is a writer, animal lover, and activist.
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