Record Labels and Music Publishers

by Fairouz Qoulaii

Artists starting out in the music industry will have to interact with various companies, such as music labels and publishers. A single company may act as a label and publisher, but this is not necessarily the case. The distinction between the two is important to understand.

What is a label?

Labels are marketing, know-how, and art direction organizations that help with artistic management, including recording and phonographic production. They also provide the artist with financial, commercial, and administrative support for the development of their project, including with the communication and marketing that goes with it. It is a kind of partnership that ensures the exposure of the musical project. Often a label provides financial support through a loan.

What is the role of a music publisher?

It is helpful to first define copyright in order to understand the role of a music publisher.

Copyright is defined under Canadian law as the exclusive right to communicate, reproduce or perform a work that will be protected as long as the author is alive and until the end of the fiftieth year following his death. Copyright can also be owned by a corporation or other property and can be bought, reproduced or sold, in whole or in part.

Music publishers hold and administer a portion of the copyright of the songwriter’s musical product when a contract is signed, where the songwriter assigns his or her work to the publishing director, who becomes the owner.

Publishing revenues are therefore divided into two categories: the author’s share and the publisher’s share. The latter concerns income and not ownership, that is the author may hold 100% of the copyright on a musical work under a contract but will still only be entitled to all or part of the editorial share, often 50% of the income from the exploitation of the work. 

The publisher represents the interests of the author-composer and maximizes the income from his or her catalog of musical compositions. The publisher ensures that the amounts owed to the artist are paid to the artist, for example, revenues from the sale of records, streaming platforms, uses in films or commercials, or other uses of the lyrics or music.

Considerations for an artist Labels and publishers work together and complement each other to ensure the success of an artist’s musical project. They each play an important role in the life of a musical work.