How Do Writers and Publishers Split Royalties?




We get lots of music business questions in SongTown and this is a common one, so I thought I’d answer it in a post. The business side of music is not as complicated as it seems.  Here are the basics of writer/publisher deals and how money is split.

There are two shares of royalties for each writer when a song is created.  Each writer has a “writer’s share” and a “publisher’s” share.  So, if there are two writers on a song, there are four shares assigned to that song.  Two writer shares and two publisher shares.   They way those shares are divided depends on the contracts that the writers have entered into.

In my case, I’m signed to an exclusive publishing agreement with one publisher.  And my deal with them is a 50/50 co-pub.  That means that for every song I write, I get my writer’s share and 1/2 of my publishing share.  My publisher gets the other 1/2 publishing share.  Many new writers get publishing deals that are called “straight publishing deals”.  That just means that the publisher gets all of the publishing share.  Clay and I both started out this way.  That’s a common scenario and reduces the risk for the publisher.

Other writers sign single song deals.  Those deals only affect one song at a time.  That song is split based on the contract, but most single song deals are straight publishing deals as well, with the publisher getting all of the publishing share.

When a song gets recorded and money starts rolling in, the publisher gets to first recoup the money they have paid a writer for advances and demo costs (for all songs, not just the one that got recorded). Then, the money is split according to the contract.  Writers without any sort of publishing arrangement own both their writer’s and publisher’s share by default.

The only exception to that rule is that, generally, most writers get their writer share directly from their PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, etc), even if they haven’t recouped with their publisher.  That’s why radio singles are extra nice.  You get paid even if you aren’t recouped.

That’s it in a nutshell.  You now know the basics of writer/publisher splits.

Happy writing! Marty


SongTown Co-Founder/Songwriter/Author/Speaker

9 thoughts on “How Do Writers and Publishers Split Royalties?

  1. I wonder if an experienced songwriter in Nashville (or wherever) gets a better deal as the experienced writer has the ability to pitch and contact many other people in the business in their locale, and thus are more valuable to the publisher for that reason? The only thing it appears a publisher is worth is his/her/their contacts within the industry. Would I be right on that?

    1. Robert, an established writer who has already had some success is much more likely to have bargaining clout if approached by a publisher so they may get a better deal. Publishers, in addition to pitching songs also set writers up to write with other writers that a writer without a publishing deal may not be able to get on their own. If you want a little more info on this…as well as when it’s a good idea to say NO to a deal head over to read my latest blog which ironically coincides nicely with Marty’s post here… I do a blog each month 🙂

    2. Robert, yes, as with in biz, the more success you have the more your bargaining power. But a good publisher goes way beyond just contacts. They offer insight, intuition, and tireless work to get artist to record a writers songs.


  2. What if you have a producer who made the whole beat and a rapper who wrote and performed the lyrics. Is the producer and rapper each considered a writer and publisher? Do both take half of the writer and publisher share?

  3. I have a question… So lets say there’s 4 writers on a song and two of them have their own publishing companies so the split reads

    writer A: 25%
    writer B: 25%
    writer C: 25%
    writer D: 25%

    writer C Publishing: 50%
    writer D Publishing: 50%

    Does that mean that writer C & D are splitting their original 25% with their own publishing entities or are all writers splitting the 50% writers share and then the publishing companies splitting the 50% publishers share?

    Hope this example is clear. lol. Thanks in advance.

    1. A co-writer’s publishing doesn’t effect another writer’s publisher. Each writer controls their own portion of the song and their own publishing.

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