An Exhibit of the Diehn Composers Room, Old Dominion University Libraries

Graphic Art
Musical Art

Basic Steps

"Art is a whore. You need money to make art because you have to live, and as soon as you begin to leave art, you lose face because you are just a vendor. You make money, but it's not art."

Edgard Varèse [in Vivian Perlis and Libby Van Cleve, Composers' Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music (New Haven: Yale UP, 2005) p. 106]

Step 1: Register your copyright

Your work is copyrighted as soon as you fix it on paper or some other durable medium. The most important action for you to take after setting down your work is to register your copyright with the US Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

Music has 6 different kinds of intellectual property rights:

  1. The right to make copies of the score or recordings
  2. The right to create arrangements based on the copyrighted work
  3. The right to distribute for sale, rental, lease, or lending, copies or recordings
  4. The right to perform the work publicly
  5. The right to display the work publicly, as in a motion picture
  6. The right to broadcast recordings
The printed notice

Composers make money from all these rights. Note the copyright notification on a composition. Called the Printed Notice, it should appear on your very first finished score or recording. It serves to reserve to you the composer all rights to your work. If you don't have the money to register your work, you can still protect yourself by sending yourself via registered mail a copy of your work and not opening it. Cancelled postage can serve to validate the date of copyright.

Pre-registration form
Pre-registration form. Available only after creating a username and password,
Registration form PA
Registration form for performing arts, available online,

Step 2: Find a publisher, or self-sublish

Directory of the Music Publishers' Association
Directory of Music Publishers of the MPA,

Once you have registered your work, make a copy of the score and a CD or DVD recording and send it to a publisher or publishers. The Music Publishers Association has a Directory that will give you the contact information. Other directories listed in our Guide to Resources can help you find a publisher suitable for the kind of composition you wish to publish. If you choose to send your work out to more than one publisher, it is advisable to let them know that you are doing so. What happens if you do not inform the publishers and sell the mechanical rights to your composition to both? Click here to find out.

If you choose to self-publish, do your homework on what it takes to reproduce, bind, market, and administer your compositions. Check the Guide to Resources to the exhibit for publications that may help.

Step 3: Negotiate your contract

Contract. Adolphus Hailstork Collection,
Old Dominion University, Diehn Composers Room, Norfolk, VA

Once you have found a publisher who is interested in publishing your work, you need to negotiate a contract with him or her. There are 4 basic agreements.

  1. Standard Single-Song Agreement
    • Performance income - Performance rights organization pays the "writer's share" to composer
    • Mechanical income - 50% goes to composer Print income -- $.08 to $.12 per printed edition
    • Synchronization income -- %50 goes to composer
    • Foreign income - Amount credited to or received by the publisher is split 50 / 50 with the composer
  2. Standard Long-Term Agreement
    • Entering into this agreement means all your work is for hire, and you do not retain any rights to it unless you negotiate them.
  3. Copublishing Agreement
    • Composer is paid 75% of mechanical income, print income and synchronization income, and gets 50% of the publisher's performance income
    • Copyright is jointly owned by composer and publisher
  4. Administration Agreements
    • Composer's company contracts with another publisher to administer rights.
    • Composer's company receives 85% to 90% of gross revenues from administration company

Below is a list of frequently used negotiation points with publishers:

  1. Royalties
  2. Advances
  3. Reversion of rights to a different contract if the composition has not been commercially exploited during the time frame specified

Step 4: Join a performing rights organization

Letter from BMI to Allan Blank
Letter to Allan Blank from BMI. Allan Blank Collection,
Old Dominion University, Diehn Composers Room, Norfolk, VA

There are three performing rights organizations created to protect the rights of composers: BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. They protect the rights of songwriters, composers and publishers by licensing a composer's music and collecting the royalties that are owed.





Step 5: Communicate with your publisher

Letter from Frank Erickson to his publisher. Frank Erickson Collection,
Old Dominion University, Diehn Composers Room, Norfolk, VA

Make certain to keep up to date with your publisher. Publishing companies do not put equal resources into marketing composers and their works. Decisions about appearance of the work, cover and album design, advertising, among others, need to be scrutinized. Above all, earnings trends should be carefully watched.

Copyright © 2006 Old Dominion University Libraries
Diehn Composers Room

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