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How To Start Your Own Publishing Company



Copyright Bobby Borg 2003,2006,2008


Self-publishing becomes an option for writers who weren’t offered a publishing deal, who weren’t offered the “right” publishing deal, who chose to hold onto their publishing rights to gamble on the big payoff with a greater share of the earnings, or who weren’t asked to sign over their publishing rights at the time of signing a record deal. In any case, here’s a very brief overview of the bare minimum you have to accomplish to get started.


Affiliate with ASCAP or BMI

     The first step in starting your own publishing company is to contact one of the two performing rights organizations (ASCAP or BMI), affiliate yourself as a writer and a publisher, and fill out the necessary clearance forms. Yes, I’m aware I’m leaving SESAC out of this discussion, but that’s only because you need to be asked by SESAC to join. SESAC is a smaller organization and is selective in choosing its members. Unless you’re a fairly established writer, or you feel you’re going to be the next Diane Warren (who, for those of you who don’t know, is an extremely successful songwriter), it’s not likely you’re going to start with this organization.


Publisher Affiliation

     As a self-publisher, you’re required to affiliate with one of the performing rights organizations and to pick a name for your music publishing company—for instance, “Uncommon Name Songs Unlimited.” You’re also asked to include two more alternate titles (three names total) in case another music publisher is already using your first choice. The less common the name you choose, the better chance you’ll have of no one else using it. As of 2007, the fee for affiliating with ASCAP as a publisher is free. BMI charges a one-time fee of $150 if you’re an individually owned company and $250 if you’re a partnership or corporation (although this may change soon). Contact ASCAP ( and BMI ( for details.


Writer Affiliation

     Writers are required to have a separate writer affiliation with the performing rights organizations. Remember that the performing rights organizations always send the “writer’s share” of earnings directly to the writer, regardless of who the music publisher is—even if it’s you. So again, whether you self-publish or not, you must always register as a composition’s writer. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, you cannot affiliate as a writer with two performing rights organizations at the same time. However, should you be the joint writer of a song, your partner can affiliate with one organization while you affiliate with the other, as long as song percentages are cross-registered to match. In other words, an ASCAP writer can register as 50 percent writer of one song, while a BMI writer can register as 50 percent writer of the same song. There is no fee for affiliating with either ASCAP or BMI.


Clearance Forms

     As both the writer and publisher of your songs, it’s absolutely essential that you provide your performing rights society with detailed information for every composition so that you can be entered into their system and paid. More important, because a song is divided into two separate and equal categories—the writer’s share and the publisher’s share—you must indicate the percentages in the compositions you own. If you’re the sole writer of a composition, you own 100 percent of the writer’s share and 100 percent of the publisher’s share. However, if you write a composition with your four-member band and you’re dividing the credit equally, then each member owns both 25 percent of the writer’s share (4 x 25 = 100), as well as 25 percent of the publisher’s share (4 x 25 = 100). It’s not uncommon for bands to form one publishing company under a partnership agreement or corporation. Under these circumstances, all of the songs are registered to that company as the sole publisher. Incomes are then divided under the terms of the partnership.


Filing a DBA or FBN

     The next thing you have to do to become a self-publisher is to file for a DBA statement with your county clerk’s office (see your local yellow pages). A DBA, or “doing business as” statement, is sometimes called a “fictitious business name,” or FBN, statement. The reason you need one of these lovely pieces of paper is to enable you to cash checks made out to that clever publishing company name you’ve come up with. Can you imagine the headaches you’d have in the bank when you try to cash a check made out to John Doe Song Works without one piece of identification proving the connection? That’s what a DBA is for.

     Getting a DBA is easy. After filling out specific forms furnished by your county clerk, paying a fee ranging from around $45 to $60 dollars (fees vary from place to place), and submitting the contents of the form to a local newspaper for printing (a procedure for which your county clerk will provide assistance), you’ll receive your certificate soon after.

     One more thing: Since your bank won’t allow you to deposit money into an account with a different name (such as one under your personal name), you also need to set up a bank account under the name of your publishing company. When opening a bank account, you may need to provide a Social Security number or a federal tax identification number (which, for a business, is basically the equivalent of an individual Social Security number). A tax identification number can be obtained through applications filed with the IRS. (Contact the Internal Revenue Service at 800-829-1040 or


Filing Copyright Forms

     Remember when we discussed filing copyright registration forms earlier in this chapter? Well, if you have already filled out and sent in forms in your own name only, then you have to re-file them using your publishing company’s name as the copyright claimant, or file an assignment transferring the rights to your company. Again, if you have any questions regarding how to fill out a copyright form, the Copyright Office will be more than happy to assist you. The copyright registration fee is currently $45. Online registration is $35. (Call the Copyright Public Information Office at 202-707-3000 or log on to


Other Administrative Duties

     Okay, you’ve finally got your publishing company set up. You’ve registered with ASCAP and BMI, so you know you can start receiving performance statements, but how do you ensure the proper collection of other incomes derived from your songs, such as mechanical royalties, synchronization fees, print royalties, and subpublishing monies? And how will you pitch your music so that income starts rolling in and know how to negotiate certain license fees for the use, for example, of one of your songs in a film? These are all good questions and beyond the length and the scope of this article. So please be sure to pick up your copy of The Musician’s Handbook Revised and a copy of How To Market Your CD and Create a Buzz by visiting our website’s store. I look forward to hearing from you.


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Warning: This material is copyright registered by Bobby Borg ©2003, 2006, 2008. All rights reserved. If you copy material from this web site, for use in any printed or electronic media, please ask permission of Bobby Borg first by email at All credits, links to, and copyright notices must be posted.

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