How to Become a Music Publisher in the US

Just like authors need book publishers, songwriters and musicians need music publishers. These are professionals who possess a thorough understanding of the laws, guidelines and licensing procedures governing the music industry. They help artists to copyright, promote and market their music to record labels, streaming companies, and other consumers. If you’re passionate about music, this is a career you could enjoy.

What Do Music Publishers Do?

The key duties of music publishers include:

  • Securing publishing contracts with artists
  • Obtaining the necessary copyright documentation from the U.S. Copyright Office
  • Actively promoting and marketing clients’ songs
  • Licensing the use of copyrighted songs on behalf of the artists
  • Collecting royalties earned from use of copyrighted songs
  • Making royalty payments to artists
  • Handling cases involving the illegal use of copyrighted songs.

Work Environment

While established music publishers have physical offices, starting publishers often work from virtual offices. Although they’re typically on the job from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, many publishers spend evenings and weekends searching for talented songwriters and musicians.

Building industry contacts is an essential activity for music publishers. As such, you should be prepared to spend some time on the road attending live concerts, music conferences, and other relevant events.


The salary of music publishers greatly varies by the quality of songs in their catalogs. Experienced publishers dealing with established artists have a high earning potential. The following table provides the annual salary estimates for these publishers:

Career Level

Average Annual Pay

Starting music publishers

As little as $20,000

Experienced publishers

Up to $1,000,000

Source: CareersinMusic

Entry Requirements

Some individuals become music publishers by following an educational route and others rely on their experience and knowledge of the music industry.

If you wish to enter the profession through an academic path, earn a bachelor’s degree in music business or music merchandising and management. Some of the colleges that offer these courses include:

If you don’t fancy earning a degree, you can start out as an artist manager or music producer. This will enable you to build contacts with songwriters and musicians, and gain the industry know how required to establish a music publishing business.

Important Qualities

To pursue a successful music publishing career, you need to have the following competencies:

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Superb negotiation skills
  • Good organizational skills
  • Skills in financial, time and resource management
  • Honesty and integrity
  • An interest in music
  • Good networking skills
  • Knowledge of music laws
  • Skills in product management

Career Progression

As a music business graduate, you will certainly begin by working at an established music publishing firm. Your job will primarily include obtaining music for publishing.

As you gain more work experience and join professional associations such as the National Music Publishers’ Association or the Music Publishers’ Association of the US, you can move into self-employment by establishing your own company.

Even then, it takes a keen ear for music to identify hit songs before they become hits that can reap huge financial rewards. It is important to invest your time in developing contacts with promising artists.

Job Opportunities

Apart from music publishing companies, you can also find jobs in;

  • Recording labels
  • Performing rights organizations

In time, you can become the owner of a large music publishing company. You may also pursue graduate degrees in music business to land teaching jobs in universities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of all arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations will grow at an average rate of 7 percent through 2022. Although this means you’re likely to face some competition for jobs, many opportunities will be available in large publishing companies. You must, however, take the initiative to send your resume to these companies, as many of them do not advertise job vacancies.