How Do Publishers And Songwriters Split Royalties?

sontown_songwriting royalty splits


We get lots of music business questions in SongTown and how publishers and songwriters split royalties is a common one. So, I thought I’d answer it in today’s 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 Mills 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.

Royalty splits 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). Therefore, they split royalties 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.  So, 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 writers and publishers split royalties.

Happy writing! Marty


Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

28 thoughts on “How Do Publishers And Songwriters Split Royalties?

    1. 33.3% for each of the 3 writer’s for total writers share

      33.3% for each of the 3 publisher’s for total pub share

  1. In a situation where there are 2 songwriters, both of whom have publishing companies, and 3 publishers because the writers have agreed to give 5% each to the record label’s owner’s publishing company for every song that is recorded and released, why is a ASCAP telling a writer that the writing and publishing shares must match in order to register the song?

    The writer shares are 25/25. The publishing shares are 20/20/10. (ASCAP works on the 100% formula, instead of BMI’s 200% formula)

    This can’t be an unusual situation in terms of publishing splits.

    1. Bob, the writers share for ASCAP would be 50/50, not 25/25…same as BMI. You file your writers share separately from your Publisher share at ASCAP.


  2. Thanks for posting! It’s surprising how much confusion there is around splits, rights, royalties and licensing. I find that I am still learning even having years in the space. And I still find myself wracking my brain with the accounting — but the more a writer can understand on their own, the better.

  3. Great post! So if the songwriter doesn’t have a publisher but has a co-write on a commercially released song and the PRO collects their writers share, do the PRO also collect the publisher share too which is by default the songwriters or is they money in limbo until the writer gets a publisher? How does that Songwriter in that scenario get the full writers and publisher share which they have by default?

  4. Hi! This is helpful, but I’m still confused. I’m looking at leasing a beat from a producer. The lyrics are totally mine. His lease agreement says he’d get 50% writer’s share and 100% publisher shares. I don’t have a PRO, I’m an independent artist that uploads to Spotify, etc. via Distrokid. The lease also says I cannot register my song with a content identification system or register it with the US Copyright Office. I don’t understand when writer/publisher shares come into play because the lease also says I’d keep royalties, as long as I’m within the range of the agreement (50k downloads and 500k streams). There’s also this little line: “Licensee will pay mechanical royalties at one hundred percent (100%) of the minimum statutory rate, subject to no cap of that rate for albums and/or EPs.” These are the things that stood out to me. How bad is this lease?

    1. My advice would be to hire a producer to create a beat for your song and you own the master…or find a co-writer to write the song with you that does beats. And you split the copyright evenly…But before that, join a PRO and get an admin service so your royalties are collected. I would always consult an attorney before signing anything. I’m not an attorney but I can tell you to be careful.. This contract wants you to give up rights that are yours when you create the song, so be careful!


      1. Clay gave excellent advice here, because according to what I read, this is a horrible deal. How would you ever make money from the finished song with all of those terms? Especially since one of those terms is NOT registering the song’s copyright? When you see a deal like this, don’t just walk away from it, RUN!!!

  5. First you say the publisher gets the royalties and then delivers the writer’s portion to the writer. Then you say the PRO gives the royalties to the writer and bypasses the publisher. Are they collecting from different resources? Can you clarify this?

    1. Lou, The PRO collects performance royalties. The publisher controls your administration and collects the mechanical royalties from record companies… which you get a portion of depending on your deal with them. Two separate sources of income.

  6. Marty, I was surprised to read… “That just means that the publisher gets all of the publishing shares. Clay and I both started out this way. ” That’s the first time I’ve heard either of you say this. If I’ve heard you correctly in the past, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard you both say that we should not have to give up 100% of our publishing even if we’ve never had a cut…yet you are saying that you both did this when you started out.
    Could you please explain a little more on how you feel about this?
    I am aware a songwriter who is looking for a publishing deal needs to be aware that if he starts signing single song contracts that his catalog will not be as attractive as it could be to a prospective publisher.

    1. Ave, Marty is referring to a staff writer contract. Where you are getting paid a draw to support your family by the publisher; and the publisher is covering all demo cost. In that case, a new writer usually retains no publishing in the beginning because the publisher is investing large amounts of money into the writer. If you are a new writer and offered a single single contract by a publisher who is not paying you a draw and paying for your demos, then you keep more publishing yourself. The publisher has invested nothing in you financially.


  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.


    1. So in the case where I purchased a beat, but never got into a contract or any of that sort.
      Would mean I own all rights to the beat?

      According to:
      “Writers without any sort of publishing arrangement own both their writer’s and publisher’s share by default.”

      Thank you!

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