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Songtrust vs. Sentric vs. CD Baby Publishing vs. TuneCore Publishing

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Songtrust vs. Sentric vs. CD Baby Publishing vs. TuneCore Publishing

Which admin publishing company will work best for you: Sentric, TuneCore Publishing, CD Baby Pro Publishing, or Songtrust?
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.
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Let’s just get this out of the way from the get go. If you’re in the States, no, ASCAP or BMI will NOT collect all of your publishing royalties. 

Before we jump into this full report, bookmark this page. You’re going to be referencing it a lot in the future. Trust me. Oh, and I updated this (finally) after having only CD Baby and Tunecore as part of this report. Ok moving on!

One of the biggest points of confusion in the indie musician community is publishing. You can pretty much interchange “publishing” and “songwriting.” Whenever we’re discussing “publishing” it’s for the song. Or “the composition” if you’re fancy. 

Publishing is NOT the recording. 

Publishers represent songwriters and control (sometimes own) compositions. 

Labels represent artists and control (often own) master sound recordings.

Ownership and representation for composition and sound recordings

So when we’re discussing Admin Publishers in this article we’re only talking about the pink circle above. 

So If you cover my song and release it. You own the master sound recording, I still own the composition (since I wrote the song). My publishing company would collect my royalties from your cover recording. And your label (or distributor) would collect the royalties from the master sound recording. 

But, if you’re like me, and you don’t have a publishing company, you still need someone to track down your publishing royalties. 

No, once again, ASCAP, BMI, PRS, SOCAN do NOT do this for you. All they do is help you collect your performance royalties. Yes performance royalties are PART OF publishing royalties, but not all of them. (For the record you can only be with one PRO in your country – ASCAP or BMI in the US. You have to pick one. You can’t be with both.)

There are still what’s called mechanical royalties out there. And PROs (Performing Rights Organizations – like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, PRS) do NOT collect mechanical royalties. 

How Do You Get Paid For Streams and Sales

First off, let’s breakdown what happens when your song (and recording) gets streamed and where that money comes from and goes. If you get a stream on Spotify, most of that money goes to the label (or distributor) for the recording

Below is the flowchart for the sound recording (master) side – reference the blue circle above).

Ari's Take Artist Royalties Flowchart (watermarked)

What are mechanical royalties? 

Mechanical royalties are publishing money generated from streams and sales owed to songwriters and publishers. (See the pink circle above)

Some of the money from that stream goes to the PRO for the performance royalties and some of it goes to the mechanical rights organizations (MROs). On the publishing side, it’s about equal these days of what goes to the PRO and what goes to the Mechanical Rights Organization (MRO).

The below chart is what happens when your composition (the song you wrote) gets streamed or downloaded and where that money goes. 

Ari's Take Songwriter Royalties Flowchart (watermarked)

+How To Get All Your Royalties You Never Knew Existed

So if you are just signed up with a PRO, you’re missing out on about half of your money!

How do you get your mechanical royalties if you don’t have a publisher? Well, you could call up the 60 mechanical rights organizations (MROs) around the world, learn how to speak their language and say that you are the rightful owner of the mechanical royalties. 

Or you could work with an Admin Publishing Company. 

Admin publishing companies were created to help the indie songwriter collect all of their publishing royalties from all over the world. 

For clarity, admin publishing companies do NOT own your copyrights. 

They merely track down your royalties (sometimes issue licenses to outlets), take a commission, and then pass on the money to you. 

Before we get into the comparison, I know I’m going to get a lot of questions about this from US based indie songwriters. 

+How Do Producer and Songwriter Royalties Work

What is the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC)? Do I need to join it? 

If you remember when the Music Modernization Act (MMA) got passed in the US congress a couple years back, well the MLC came out of this law. 

Before the MLC there was Harry Fox Agency (HFA) and Music Reports in the US that collected mechanical royalties. Both were not awesome. And it was extremely difficult for indie songwriters to sign up with them to get their US mechanical royalties. But, and this is a GIANT Minaj but, they only collected US mechanicals. So if you were streamed anywhere else in the world, you wouldn’t get those mechanical royalties. 

Now, the MLC has taken the place of HFA and Music Reports in the States. 

All US mechanicals, by law, are required to be paid out to the MLC. And the MLC’s accounting is paid for by the DSPs (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, etc). So they don’t take a commission or a fee out of your money. Dope!

So, do you need to sign up? 

The simple answer is no, not if you register with an admin publishing company. 

Think of the MLC as one of the 60 rights organizations in the world. If you ONLY had your music streamed in the States, then sure, the MLC is all you need to register with. But who ONLY has their music streamed in the US? 

About half of your publishing royalties for streams is paid to PROs and half is paid to MROs. 

Admin Publishing Company vs. Publishing Company

As a clarifier, this comparison is only for admin publishing companies. Admin pub companies do NOT own your copyright. Traditional publishing companies will own your copyright. Traditional publishing companies also help you get cuts, get into writer rooms, write for the stars, and pay advances. These admin publishing companies merely collect your publishing royalties from around the world. Every publishing company has an admin department (and many publishing companies actually use Songtrust or Sentric for their admin).

Do You Need Your Own Publishing Company?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about creating your own publishing company. Because ASCAP pays 50% of the money directly to the writer and 50% directly to the publisher, if you don’t have a publisher listed, you’re missing out on 50% of your performance royalties. That’s why many people think you need to create a publishing company. In reality, many do create a “vanity publishing company” if they don’t work with an admin pub co and if they’re with ASCAP so they can get 100% of their performance royalties. If you work with an admin publishing company you do NOT need to register a vanity (or any) publishing company to get 100% of your publishing royalties. That’s what these admin companies do.

If you WANT to create a publishing company and sign songwriters and such, you can create one, and then you should use an admin publishing company to administer licenses and collect the royalties for your songwriters. But you do NOT need to create your own publishing company to get your money.

Ok, so let’s dig into the comparison.

CD Baby Pro Publishing

Most people know CD Baby as a distributor. They can get your music into the DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music. A few years back they added a publishing arm. They called it “Pro.” But that confused the hell out of everyone. Because what musician doesn’t want to be considered a pro? People thought, “for an additional $40 I can be a pro? Sign me up!” Little did they know that “Pro” wasn’t “professional” it was actually “publishing.”

+CD Baby distribution review

Anyway! CD Baby Pro Publishing (they’ve since added “Publishing” to the name – thank you!) is administered by Songtrust. Meaning, when you ask CD Baby to collect your royalties, Songtrust is the one actually doing it ‘whitelabeled’ for CD Baby. So you don’t have to sign up with Songtrust, you just login to your CD Baby account and all the information is right there. Under one roof. Easy peasy.

CD Baby boasts 1.85 million songs and 275,000 songwriters as part of their program, adding 100K new songs a quarter. 

This makes them one of the largest admin publishers in the world (probably only second to Songtrust).

CD Baby also has a sync department (guy – his name is Brett). And, unlike TuneCore, it’s non-exclusive. Meaning, you don’t have to use CD Baby as your sync licensing company if you want to pitch your music to music supervisors directly or work with an outside sync agent. If you do decide to work with CD Baby for sync, they have had some successes which you can read about here. They operate more like a music library than a sync agency. In this sense, they are in the direct lane of Songtradr (who similarly offers sync services and distribution – but no admin publishing as of now). I would definitely not depend or expect sync placements from CD Baby, but if they come in, it can be a nice bonus.

+ Songtradr Review

The biggest downside to CD Baby Pro Publishing (other than the name “Pro”), is that they will NOT collect any of your songwriting royalties for songs you don’t distribute with CD Baby distribution. 

Meaning, if you and I write a song and I release it for my own artist project with, say, DistroKid or Atlantic or UnitedMasters, CD Baby will not collect your publishing royalties. This is the deal breaker for anyone who co-writes.

CD Baby Pro Publishing is made to ease the process for those who only release music through CD Baby, don’t co-write and don’t want to deal with the headache of having to think about outstanding royalties.

Best:

  • Can rep additional writers on the recording for additional $10
  • No exclusivity for sync
  • Direct collection from most societies
  • Collects from every society in the world
  • If used for distribution, simplified interface and payments

Worst:

  • Won’t collect royalties without distribution
  • No setlist submission tool (for live performance royalties)
  • Requires distribution
  • Charge fees per song (can get expensive with many releases)
  • High commission for sync
  • Works with some sub-publishers (double commission)

Sentric Music 

Sentric is the only company on this comparison based in the UK. Started by Chris Meehan, it has grown to be one of the largest admin publishing companies in the world. Sentric boasts that it is the largest submitter of live performance setlists (for performance royalty collection). Since they are UK based, and live performances can actually pay a hefty amount in performance royalties, they are all-in. 

You can currently make about 4.2% of the box office receipts on songs performed at a venue in the UK. 

Meaning, if you play a 1,000-cap club at $20 tickets ($20,000) and 100% of the music performed that night you wrote, you could expect around $840 for that one show. Now multiply that by a 20 date tour and you’re not going to want to leave that on the table. European countries actually pay quite well for live performances. The States do not.

Sentric is the only admin publisher that does not have a signup fee.

They primarily focus on B2B deals. Meaning, they like striking deals with companies (like TuneCore) where they can admin their entire catalog. Sentric has shifted away from trying to get songwriters to sign up to their platform directly. So much so, that Chris didn’t want me to include Sentric in this comparison! But, they have no signup fee, so I felt it would be a disservice not to let you know that they exist.

Sentric does the backend admin for TuneCore Publishing and Chris said that they prefer that songwriters just go to TuneCore (especially if they’re US based) and use them directly since TuneCore is set up better for ‘customer support’ and individual songwriter needs. But, again, Sentric is still open to all (as of this writing) and there’s no signup fee. So, if you’re looking for an admin publisher (who is literally just as good as TuneCore Publishing) without the signup fee, Sentric is your platform. They do take a slightly higher commission than TuneCore and the others (20% vs. 15%) so that’s something to consider.

Like Songtrust, they collect from most societies around the world directly. Which means you get your money faster (with fewer hands taking a commission).

Best:

  • No signup fee
  • No exclusivity for sync
  • Setlist submission tool – streamlined live performance royalties collection
  • Short term length (28 days)
  • Direct collection from most societies

Worst:

  • Higher commission (20% vs. 15% with the others, 50% on sync)
  • Works with some sub-publishers (double commission)
  • Does not collect from all societies worldwide

Songtrust

Songtrust is owned by Downtown – made famous by their publishing arm – which is also the parent company to CD Baby, FUGA, DashGo and others. Like stated in the CD Baby section, it does the admin for CD Baby (and others like Sub Pop, Secretly Publishing, Merge, Kill Rock Stars). Songtrust is one of the biggest admin publishing companies out there with over 3 million copyrights. 350,000 songwriters have direct deals with Songtrust. I spoke with Anna Bond, a Senior Director and who’s been with the company for 2 years. I’ve also spoken with Molly Neuman (current president of Songtrust) in the past. 

Quick shout out that Songtrust is one of the very few music companies with a female president!

Songtrust is the largest admin publishing company in the world, with over 350,000 songwriters and 3 million songs in their catalog.

The question I get asked most is “Should I sign up for Songtrust.” It’s complicated. If Songtrust didn’t have a $100 signup fee, it would be a no brainer – to make sure you get 100% of your publishing royalties collected. But you have to register with a PRO in your country in addition to an admin publishing company, and PROs do collect your performance royalties. The main benefit to Songtrust is that they will collect your mechanical royalties. Which, to be honest, don’t add up to be that much without millions of streams.

I like that the headache is removed. I think Songtrust is a great company. I’m personally signed with them as a writer and have been very pleased with them. The royalties they have collected for me have well surpassed the signup fee, but you’ll have to crunch your own numbers to see if it’s worth it for you.

When it comes to “sub-publishers” (as you can see I’ve listed them as a “Worst” Anna assured me that the territories covered under sub-publisher agreements are smaller and the only way to get to them is through these local, sub-publishers. She said “we’d rather have, say, 90% of something by collecting in an otherwise-inaccessible music market via a sub-publisher, than 100% of nothing, which is what we’d be able to collect for our clients otherwise.” Fair.

Oh and they gave me a 20% off coupon code to readers of this. Use the code ARISTAKE.

Best:

  • Setlist submission tool – streamlined live performance royalties collection
  • No exclusivity for sync
  • Direct collection from most societies
  • Collects from every society in the world
  • 20% off signup fee with ARISTAKE coupon

Worst:

  • High signup fee
  • Works with some sub-publishers (double commission)

TuneCore Publishing

TuneCore publishing has gone through a ton of changes since it launched about 8 years ago. Longtime readers may remember my initial review of them back in 2013. When they initially launched, they built their program from scratch with the former head of Bug Music. Since his departure, TuneCore decided to dismantle the system he set up and dump their catalog into Sentric for collection.

+TuneCore distribution review 

I sat down with Chris Dampier, who heads TuneCore Publishing, for this review to learn more about the service. Chris previously worked at BMI, and before that Universal Music Group, so he has a deep expertise in the publishing space.

As of April 1, 2021, TuneCore allows users to opt out of its exclusive sync representation. 

Before this, you were not able to opt out of this, which was a dealbreaker for me. You can now continue to have TuneCore Publishing exclusively represent your sync rights or opt out of it and retain control of it. This update is a huge plus. 

The thing you have to understand is, with TuneCore’s 1 million songs, there’s absolutely no way the handful of people they have on the sync team can intimately know all the songs and know which would be best to pitch for various briefs that come in. Chris did reveal their own internal searching tool which enables their sync team to scan the million songs for keywords, tempo, lyrics and such to search their database for what they may need and pitch it accordingly.

But, of course, if you want to be successful with TuneCore’s sync team, you’re going to want to get to know them. If you’re getting millions of streams, you can definitely ask to meet the sync team and I’m sure they would be happy to meet and get to know you and then you’d be top of mind when they’re pitching music supervisors and ad agencies. But with hundreds of thousands of songwriters in this program, they obviously can’t meet with most.

TuneCore is administered by Sentric. The only real benefit of signing up for TuneCore instead of Sentric directly (other than the lower commission) is if you distribute your music with TuneCore they could theoretically audit your royalties. Meaning, if one of your songs is getting millions of streams, but your publishing report indicates otherwise, TuneCore Publishing cross reference this with TuneCore distribution and reconcile this. But this is only really done in the rare instance that a song is EXPLODING. As of now, this isn’t automated in their system for every songwriter/artist.

Best:

  • If also used for distribution, can audit your numbers
  • If used for distribution, simplified interface and payments
  • Direct collection from most societies

Worst:

  • No setlist submission tool for live performance royalties
  • Does not collect from all societies worldwide
  • Works with some sub-publishers (double commission)

Conclusion

If you want 100% of your publishing money and you don’t have a pub deal, signup for one of these admin publishing companies. Obviously, I can’t tell you which to signup for because everyone’s circumstances is different. 

CD Baby is easiest if you use them for distribution and don’t co-write. Songtrust is great if you do a lot of co-writing and do sync outreach on your own or with a sync agent. Sentric is best if you’re UK based, play live frequently and/or don’t have $75-$100 to spend right now for collection. And Tunecore is best if you distribute music with them, co-write, and don’t care about sync. 

Any questions? 

About The Author

Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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