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September 7, 2021 | EntertainmentFrom the blog

Do You Need a Music Sub-Publisher?

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Updated: June 6, 2022

There are many opportunities for independent songwriters and composers to profit from their music.  It is important to understand available opportunities and how best to exploit them.

Songwriters can potentially generate revenue from multiple sources.  These include:

  • sales of records, downloads and on demand streams (mechanical income)
  • inclusion in TV shows, movies or other audio-visual work (synchronization income) and
  • public performances on television, radio, the internet and by live performers at licensed venues (performance income).

Performing rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP and BMI collect performance income from American licensees.  Similar PROs operate in other countries and collect for performances in their own territories.  Often, those foreign PROs have a reciprocity agreement with their American counterparts: the foreign PRO collects on behalf of both foreign and domestic songwriters in its own territory and transmits to its American counterpart the money collected on behalf of American songwriters and publishers and vice-versa.

Some foreign PROs collect moneys other than performance income.  Those moneys are usually not transmitted back to ASCAP or BMI, because the American PROs do not reciprocate; they do not collect non-performance income.

A local music publisher, however, may be able to collect that money – as well as locally-collected performance money, which otherwise is often transmitted American songwriters and publishers very slowly – and transmit it directly to an American publisher quickly. 


This local music publisher, which administers local affairs on behalf of an American publisher, is called a ‘sub-publisher’.  Experienced music publishers (and self-published songwriters) commonly engage a local sub-publisher in each major market.  A sub-publishing agreement may apply to specific songs or a songwriter’s or even a publisher’s entire catalog.

In addition to ensuring that local PROs promptly pay collected royalties, a local sub-publisher takes on many of the roles in its local market as does the American publisher in the U.S.  A sub-publisher will typically monitor for copyright infringements in its territory, license local use of the music, collect locally generated royalties and enroll its clients’ music with the local PROs and other copyright management organizations.  In return, sub-publishers typically receive a portion of the revenue they generate as an administration fee.  Such fees frequently vary between 10 percent and 50 percent of revenue and can be broken down into different percentages specific to each kind of exploitation.


Sub-publishers provide a local presence that concentrates on generating revenue in their particular territories.  A sub-publisher can license cover recording and synchronization with film and television projects.  A sub-publisher may also pitch music placements to local media outlets and commission the translation of lyrics into the local language.  Having ‘boots on the ground’ in a particular territory can often increase a song’s exposure in the local territory, as a local publisher frequently has local industry connections and better knowledge of the local marketplace, leading to wider dissemination and more prominent placement opportunities for the song.


Established U.S. publishers often have existing networks of sub-publishers to handle local matters.  Independent songwriters who are not working with established publishers or administrators may need to forge these relationships themselves, especially if their music has particular relevance to one or more foreign territories.  Latin music, for example, may find a much broader market in Latin America and songwriters in that genre may be well-served by a few local sub-publishing arrangements in particular territories.  Jazz writers, too, may benefit from sub-publishers in Europe and especially in Japan.


Sub-publishing agreements are negotiable.  The term of most sub-publishing deals is relatively short, so there are opportunities to re-negotiate an agreement to obtain more favorable terms as a songwriter’s or publisher’s catalog increases in value.  Independent songwriters and publishers should consult an experienced entertainment attorney regarding issues such as the duration of a sub-publishing agreement, the scope of rights to be granted, the particular territory afforded to each sub-publisher, appropriate administration fees and advances and other concerns that can greatly affect  a songwriter’s or publisher’s earnings.

Photo by Marcela Laskoski on Unsplash

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