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Here’s what we learned at PRS’s AVA panel on music publishing in electronic music

A host of experts recently joined PRS’s Ashley Howard at the London festival and conference to help demystify this important topic.

Daniel Cave
  • By Daniel Cave
  • 14 Mar 2024
  • min read

Earlier this month, PRS for Music hosted a panel session at AVA Festival London 2024 all about demystifying music publishing in electronic music.

Panel moderator Ashley Howard (PRS's Relationship Manager, Dance Music) invited our trio of experts — artist, writer and vocal producer Kelli-Leigh, Warp Publishing General Manager Nadine Riezouw and b:electronic publishing's Global Director Mark Lawrence — to discuss the different publishing rights that electronic music creators need to be aware of, as well as advising on when to get a publishing deal and, crucially, how to ensure creators get paid.

Here’s a round-up of the best insights we gleaned from this panel about music publishing in electronic music.

Know your rights

Kicking off proceedings by discussing copyright in music publishing, our panellists agreed that a clear understanding of this subject area is critical when it comes to getting paid. b:electronic’s Mark explained that, traditionally, music copyright is split into two: the composition copyright and the master recording copyright. However, when it comes to electronic music, the lines are blurred somewhat as ‘dance music came in and ripped up the rule book’.

Mark also emphasised the importance of the length of a copyright: master rights exist for 70 years following a recording, while publishing rights remain in place for 70 years after the last person who wrote the work has died. ‘These are automatic rights,’ added PRS’s Ashley. ‘But you can assign these rights to a collection society like PRS in order to receive royalties.’

That’s not all there is to consider, though: there’s also the performing rights and the mechanical rights. ‘It’s a stunningly simple topic!’ Mark joked, before offering this explanation: ‘If it’s on the radio, TV or played at a gig, that’s a performance right. The mechanical right is about copies of a song, [as in] earnings that come from vinyl sales, downloads and streaming.’

Sharing the creativity

‘One of the best things in [electronic music] is the relationship with your audience — [songs] can very quickly get to the dancefloor,’ Kelli-Leigh noted. However, when a piece of electronic music doesn’t pull in big streaming numbers, or is only ever played in a club, it’s more than vital than ever for creators to know their rights. This is particularly applicable to songwriters and vocalists, who might potentially have a claim to the master rights of a work — and that’s before we factor in any subsequent remixes.

When it comes to getting paid, Kelli-Leigh is a fan of the ‘fair share’ method. ‘If you’re in the room [writing] together, I do believe in equal splits,’ she said, before recalling how she’d previously been in situations where someone has made a minor edit to a work and then asked for more of the rights. ‘I’m happy to give some away, but be aware of who did the least,’ she cautioned.

This equal-minded approach can be followed regardless of the songwriting process: be it writing in a studio together, a vocalist sending something to a publisher to pitch, or a producer forwarding on an instrumental. Publishers can help, Nadine noted, when inequality looms. ‘We encourage our artists to take a 50:50 approach, but we loop in if there is a power imbalance,’ she said. ‘We trust our artists, but we sometimes have to ask for evidence of contribution. It’s why having a demo or a paper trail is important.’

Mark agreed, particularly in regards to new artists: ‘If you’re early in your career, it's tough to stand up in the room at the time. That’s where we come in.’ Agreeing on song splits as early as possible, he added, is key to achieving a positive outcome for all.

Data and sync

Ensuring that the correct songwriting and recording metadata is registered to a newly-published track — so that every time it is played, its creators earn royalties — is essential, said Mark. ‘Every piece of data [recording, writing, songwriters] needs to be on everything as early as possible,’ he advised.

Nadine noted that the increasing importance of metadata is beginning to change the shape of the publishing industry, revealing that ‘the current roles we hire for are tracking managers and data analysts’. Music creators themselves need to keep an eye on what data is attached to the work they want to get paid for, as Kelli-Leigh observed: ‘Just in case, log in to your PRS account and check your works, because you might not be getting paid.’

The conversation then turned to sync, which is another great way for creators to benefit from their publishing rights. Publishers, working on behalf of their artists, can try and get their works used in TV, film, advertising campaigns and so much more. ‘Often publishers go to studios and say, “You used something like this last time on Love Island, and now we have 40 other versions you might like,”’ Mark explained.

Publishers can often help their artists build up a bank of music for sync purposes, he added. One such resource is by putting on songwriting camps to create music specifically for other media, ultimately increasing the ways creators can earn royalties from their work.

The value of music publishing

In a similar vein, Ashley laid out how publishers do a lot of the background work — from administration and data collection to creating creative opportunities — to ensure that their artists get paid.

Being aware of the role of a publisher and your publishing rights as early as possible is vital when it comes to making money from your music explained Mark, who added: ‘Find a [membership society] at the earliest feasible point in your career.’ This is particularly important in electronic music, where songs are often played by DJs long before they’re officially released — meaning that the correct registered metadata is essential when it comes to getting paid. ‘A DJ might road-test the song, and you might get more royalties from live playing than its actual release,’ Mark added.

So when should creators try and get a publisher? It’s got to make sense for each individual, explained Kelli-Leigh: it’s important to consider your back catalogue, how you might benefit from such a relationship and the creative opportunities on offer. ‘It also has to be the right publisher,’ she concluded.

It’s therefore not essential to try to find a publisher as soon as you start laying down a beat or vocals. A typical journey, Mark explained, would involve joining a membership society, registering your works and then finding a publisher. You also shouldn’t expect publishers to go out of their way to find you, Nadine advised: ‘Be out there DJing, be visible and find your community. It goes both ways.’