To the outsider, the role of the publisher in the modern-day music business is perhaps the most bewildering of all. We all know what a book publisher does: a book publisher pays a writer (in the form of an advance and royalties) to write a book and then finances the printing, marketing and distribution of that book in return for a share in the profits. Music publishing is different. It is the record company that pays for the printing (or, rather, pressing or stamping) and marketing of a record, not the publisher. Likewise, when you buy a record it is the company’s name that is emblazoned on the label, not the publisher’s. You usually have to look very closely for the publisher’s name; you’ll eventually find it, in a tiny typeface, squeezed up against the edge of the label so as not to spoil the artwork. What has the publisher done in return for this dubious credit? Before answering that question, it’s worth taking a look at the role of the publisher of old, the publisher who, before the mass marketing of recorded music, was credited in a considerably larger typeface.
Before the days of the singer—songwriter and the boom in recorded popular music, publishing was the music business. Money was earned mainly by the selling of songs and music by publishers to performers. Publishers would acquire the copyright to a writer’s work in return for a small fee. The publisher