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The Plain & Simple Guide To Music Publishing: An Interview with Randall Wixen

Hal Leonard is proud to publish the latest edition of Randall Wixen’s The Plain & Simple Guide To Music Publishing. In this exclusive email interview with Tom Farncombe, Strategic Partnerships Director for Hal Leonard Europe, the author gives us some insight into the book and the world of Music Publishing:

The Plain & Simple Guide To Music Publishing is distributed by Hal Leonard, which is the world’s leading publisher of printed music. However, printed music is just part of the overall Music Publishing industry. Can you summarize what the business of Music Publishing is all about, for the absolute beginner?

“Music Publishing” is very much a misnomer. Music publishers devote most of their time to managing intellectual property. More specifically, music publishers manage songs. This encompasses copyrighting the song, clearing it for public broadcast (radio, TV, internet, etc.), and licensing physical, song files, streaming, tv, film and advertising uses throughout the world. This book takes the reader behind the scenes to show how the licensing work is done and what the normal terms and conditions of the licenses typically are. Without a good understanding of how the rights work and what they’re worth, the songwriter or manager is apt to be taken advantage of.

This is the fourth edition of The Plain & Simple Guide To Music Publishing. What prompted you to write the book in the first place? Were the other books and other sources of information out there simply not up to scratch?

Much of the information on music publishing that was available before this book was usually in the form of a chapter in a broader music industry survey. Don Passman’s book All You Need To Know About The Music Business was inspirational because Don reduced complex concepts down to simple analogies and examples that the average person could understand. I wanted to do something that was technical enough to be really useful, but simple enough that you didn’t need to be a lawyer to follow and understand. From the reviews that have appeared about the book, I think I struck that balance in the way I intended.

The UK version is an industry first: a Music Business book dedicated purely to Publishing from a UK perspective. How did it come about?

The first three editions were released in the USA and were very successful. It became a standard text book at many university-level music industry programs. About 10 years ago we started Wixen Music UK Ltd. and I would hand out copies of the book to potential clients as a little “office gift.” Invariably I would get asked questions about how things were done in the UK, and could I please explain more about the UK publishing industry in the next edition. Naomi Asher, who runs Wixen Music UK Ltd. and who has a post graduate degree in copyright law from Kings College, and Stacey Haber, a London based attorney, contributed their expertise and knowledge to the UK-adapted edition.

What has changed in the world of Music Publishing since the 2014 U.S. edition? Is it all about streaming and its ramifications for traditional income streams, or are there other issues to consider?

So much has changed in the music publishing industry throughout the world that there was the fear that by the time we got anything into print, everything would change. Fortunately the book that is now in print is very current and up to date. I believe the overall “consumption” of music and streaming as the preferred method of delivery will both continue to grow, and songwriters and publishers will begin to make back the devasting losses of income they sustained over the last decade. I remain concerned, though, about the perception that music isn’t worth very much or that it should be free. People work hard to create their art and need to be able to say how their works are used and be fairly compensated for it.

You’ve been outspoken about songwriter’s rights in relation to the administration of streaming royalties and the Music Modernization Act. Do you see things moving in the right direction now, or is there still a basic imbalance to put right around the payments that publishers and writers see from streaming?

Well there are imbalances that remain, but we’re now moving in the right direction. For example, if a film wants to use music they typically pay half the fee to the owner of the master recordings and the other half to the songwriter and the publisher. With streaming it has significantly skewed towards the recording (i.e. the record company gets the bulk of the money) and away from the songwriter and the publisher. This has to change and things are now moving back towards the traditional equality. I think the MMA will move things towards higher streaming and broadcasting rates as well in coming years as the business models become more stabilized.

Do you think Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive will have a significant impact on publishers and songwriters?

I do. It’s a meaningful sign that steeps are being taken to ensure that creators of music are going to be properly remunerated for their work. Websites like YouTube previously hid behind so-called “safe harbour provisions” which allowed them to claim that they weren’t infringers of copyrighted creative material and that the true infringers were the companies and individuals who uploaded the material to their website. They maintained that they had no responsibility to police the material that they were delivering and they made it nearly impossible to remove unlicensed material from their sites without legal expenditures that usually exceeded the actual damages to the creator.

Is current copyright law in the USA and UK/EU fit for purpose, given the changes we’ve seen in the industry over the last 10 years?

It has to evolve to fit the current paradigm. I wish it was evolving quicker. It’s awfully hard to resist getting things for free or cheaply, so it is an uphill fight for creators.

Do you have any advice for new songwriters and composers around publishing (other than purchasing a copy of this book ASAP!)? How can a young writer equip themselves to avoid getting a bad deal or getting ripped off?

I often see amazingly talented folks have “nothing” careers in music, and mediocre talents thrive because in addition to some basic talent, they have enormous drive and knowledge about the field they are entering. Talent is an asset, but it has to be paired with innate drive towards realistic goals, responsibility, responsiveness, honesty, reasonably healthy living, and surrounding yourself with competent managers, bandmates and lawyers who believe in you and whose advice is not self-serving. Don’t overlook the business aspects of what you’re trying to accomplish. Be familiar with the big picture. Having the best songs in the world won’t help you if you show up late to gigs, blow off interviews, are rude and nasty to fans, and smell bad. 😊



Randall Wixen: The Plain And Simple Guide To Music Publishing: Books on Music

Randall Wixen: The Plain And Simple Guide To Music Publishing

Music publishing is one of the most complex parts of the music business, and yet it can be the most lucrative area of income for musicians. Expert and industry veteran Randall Wixen presents a clear, concise approach on how music publishing works today. It is written for the lay musician/songwriter but contains enough substance to be worthwhile for those already holding positions within the business. Topics covered include everything from mechanical, performing, and synch rights to sub-publishing, foreign rights, copyright basics, types of publishing deals, advice on representation, and more. Get a view from the top, in plain English.
“[This book] could be the most valuable writing partner you’ll ever hook up with.” — Tom Petty
“I stayed up last night engrossed by this book. Everything I once vaguely knew or should have known was written in such a straightforward and well-written style. I’m really trying to devote the necessary time to pull the various strands of my publishing companies together, and your book gives me further inspiration.” — Jay Landers Sr. VP A&R, Universal Records
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