Careers in music publishing rights determine who can use what music for various purposes and coordinate royalties.

There are a lot of steps between the initial writing of a song and its appearance in the public sphere; all of the music we hear every day in commercials, at concerts and performances, and in various media goes through a lengthy licensing process to ensure that the right people are paid for their work. Music publishing companies tend to have a division that deals with music rights - the rules that determine where the music in a company's catalog can appear, which involves a process called licensing. There are several types of licenses a company can issue to parties interested in using the music they control, depending on what they intend to do with it. Each song has a separate copyright for its composition and its master recording, and licenses are issued based on whether a song will be performed live, streamed or broadcast, covered, printed, distributed, or incorporated into some form of media, like a film.

Covers, samples, and collaborations by songwriting teams can complicate the process of who owns what, particularly when a new recorded version of a pre-existing song becomes successful. Those who work in music publishing rights need to have a thorough understanding of the terms of each license and what each client is looking for in order to make sure the money comes their way and goes to the right people.

Work in music publishing rights may include...

  • Recommending alternative options for song use
  • Negotiating music licensing and placement with productions
  • Monitoring commercial music use
  • Collecting license fees and payments
  • Distributing royalties to artists, songwriters, and other contributors

On the surface, work in music publishing rights looks a lot like many other jobs - most work occurs during standard business hours in a standard office. However, the music industry often calls for its workers to attend events, concerts, or networking socials, and these can be great business opportunities for anyone in the business. Nearly all copyright and licensing work happens within publishing companies, with a few exceptions, such as legal work and soundtrack music source companies. It's helpful to have a sense of what others in the same company are up to, since their work can have a lot of crossover. Those in people-facing roles especially need to maintain an awareness of industry activity and keep in contact with an extensive client network, which can be a deciding factor in any deal.

Finding work in music publishing rights can be tough without the right qualifications and connections. Many workers in publishing rights have degrees in music business, which can provide a helpful framework for some of the issues unique to the industry. It's common for those in supervising or regulatory roles to have a Master's in Business Administration (known as an MBA) or even a JD, if they work on the legal end of things; however, the most important aspect of these roles is an understanding of the rules and an ability to convey things to others in an approachable manner. Representative roles in licensing can be a great option for those who want to work in music rights, but have a less formal business background; it's entirely possible to turn an entry level role into a long term industry career.

If you're a media lover who's serious about ensuring songwriter compensation, think about pursuing a career in music publishing rights.

BMI is the largest music rights organization in the U.S, serving as the bridge between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that want to play their music publicly.

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers is a professional organization of songwriters, composers, and music publishers.

The National Music Publishers' Association is the trade association representing all American music publishers and their songwriting partners.