What's the difference between a record deal and a publishing deal?

Two of the most crucial business partnerships an artist will enter into are a record deal and a publishing deal. Here we breakdown exactly what these contracts are, what artists can expect to receive, and what they need to do in return.

Two of the most crucial business partnerships an artist will enter into are a record deal and a publishing deal. Here we breakdown exactly what these contracts are, what artists can expect to receive, and what they need to do in return.  

Record Deal

In a few words, a record deal is an agreement between a recording artist and a record company based around the copyright of the artist’s recordings.

An artist signs a record deal to benefit from a cash advance which they hope will take their career to the next level. As well as this injection of funds, which often allows an artist to quit their day job and focus full time on the music, they can expect to receive support in releasing their music, be it individual tracks, or an album. The record deal will support with studio time, creative support and the creation of artwork and videos. The album release will be a campaign, consisting of marketing, distribution and rights management. The artist will also benefit from access to that label’s network, profile and influence in the industry. 



In return, the label expects the artist to sign over exclusivity and ownership of the sound recording copyrights, or master rights, created under the agreement. This will tie the artist to the label for an agreed number of albums or tracks, and control of all of those tracks will remain with the label.
In terms of payment, each deal varies enormously, from the label keeping most of the money in the case of the major record labels, to a 50/50 split once the artist becomes profitable, a deal which is common with some of the indie labels. However in almost all cases, the artist will not see any money until the initial investment that the label made is recouped. The expectation is that after this initial outlay, the artist is popular enough to begin earning a living through newly opened revenue streams, perhaps their merch, or their live shows. However, following the drop in value of recorded music in the 2000s,  many labels now require a percentage cut of an artist’s revenue streams also, in order to safeguard their investment. 

 
Publishing Deal


A publishing deal is formed between songwriters and music publishers based around the copyright of the writer’s songs. 



A songwriter may decide to sign a publishing deal for similar reasons as an artist signing a record deal: they need access to cash in order to give up the day job, and want to benefit from a team to manage their copyrights and seek new writing opportunities in the form of sync, co-writing and original commissions. 

Songwriter Hannah Vasanth explains exactly what to expect from a publishing deal, 

“The whole point of a publisher is that they’re meant to get your songs to people you can’t get songs to.”

Unlike with a record deal when the sound recording copyright is handed over to the record company, the songwriter assigns the performing rights to PRS, who then split the profits 50/50 between songwriter and publisher. The rights to reproduce and adapt are signed over to the publisher, these are then monetised and the income split between themselves and the songwriter.

It is possible to have a publishing deal without assignment of the copyrights. What is known as an ‘administration deal’ allows the songwriter to benefit from the management support and opportunities but they will not receive as big a cash advance as if they were willing to assign copyrights. 

So, how are they different?

A record deal involves the recordings of songs, whereas a publishing deal is focused on the songs themselves. If an artist is both a performer and a songwriter, they will usually have a record deal and a publishing deal, often with different companies.
In a publishing deal, the songwriter remains the main earner, as, unlike in a record deal, they have not signed over the copyright to their songs. In a record deal, the earnings from the songs will usually go to the label, to cover their investment, with the artist earning a living from other streams such as live shows.  

Learn more about record deals and publishing deals at our Industry Takeover seminars. Find out more HERE