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Publishing deals may come easier to songwriters than record deals, but that doesn't mean that a songwriter should take publishing deals less seriously. The following are some basic guidelines to use when shopping for a publishing deal.

1. Find out what publishers specialize in before you approach them. As noted before, some publishers specialize in developing singer-songwriters, while others are more interested in catalog acquisitions. Some publishers deal only with certain kinds of music, while others take all genres. Services offered by some publishers may be limited (for example, some publishers may not do their own administration), while other publishers offer a wide variety of services.

2. Even if publishers accept unsolicited material, call and ask around before you send anything to them.  It's important to ask questions if you don't know anything about the company. Find out what kind of package to send (some publishers like photos and bios included; others don't), who to send it to, and when the best time is to make follow-up phone calls. Ask other people in the music business about the publisher's track record. Above all, find out what legal right publishers have if unsolicited material ends up in their hands. Many lawsuits claiming that an artist or publisher stole a songwriter's material can be traced back to a songwriter sending unsolicited material.

3. Don't underestimate the unpredictability factor. There is no clearly defined set of directions to go about getting signed to a publishing company. What worked for one songwriter may not work for another.

4. Make sure that the publisher is associated with a legitimate performance rights society, such as ASCAP or BMI. This guideline should be applied especially if the songwriter is considering signing with a small, unknown publisher. If performance rights societies ASCAP, BMI or SESAC don't know that a writer's publishing company exists, then the songs aren't recognized by performance rights societies, which means that the writer runs an extremely high risk of not getting paid when someone else performs those songs.

5. Don't sign any contract without legal advice from a legitimate music attorney. This is a much-repeated "golden rule" in the music business, but it's often ignored by people who think it isn't necessary if the publisher they are dealing with is small and/or operated by a family member or friend. When it comes to signing over song copyrights to another party, there should be no such thing as an "informal agreement."



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