Importance of music publishers questioned

Unrecognized players in the music industry, publishers have a mandate, among other things, to promote the songs of their artists in the hope that they may receive royalties under copyright. But some are now questioning their contract with their publisher, given the little income it manages to generate. Especially since these contracts often oblige them to cede part of the copyright of their catalog to this intermediary for life.

“There would be something to review [dans les balises encadrant les contrats]because it is an area where there are currently few rules. Especially since many people in the industry, whether artists or record companies, have improvised as publishers in recent years, “laments David Bussières, guitarist of Alfa Rococo, and above all co-founder of the Regroupement music craftsmen (RAM).

For musician and singer Sabrina Halde, formerly of the group Greenland, editors remain very competent in certain contexts, while they are completely obsolete in other circumstances. She gives as an example the publisher of Greenland, Third Side Music, which had managed to pass one of the group’s songs in an Apple advertisement broadcast during the Oscar ceremony in 2015. A lucrative investment that the Quebec group would never have managed to unearth it if it had published itself.

There would be something to review [dans les balises encadrant les contrats]because it is an area where there are currently few rules. Especially since many people in the industry, whether artists or record companies, have improvised as publishers in recent years.

“But Greenland made music in English. If we’re only targeting the Quebec market, I imagine it’s less worthwhile to take on a publisher, since there’s less advertising, fewer films, fewer TV series to sell your music to,” says Sabrina Halde, who hasn’t signed a publishing deal since going solo.

Lifetime contract

This whole debate around the role of publishers in the music industry was started once again by artist Philémon Cimon, who, after attacking his distributor and his former record company in recent months, recently published a letter on social networks against his publisher, Editorial Avenue.

Editorial Avenue is affiliated with Audiogram, now owned by Quebecor. When Philémon Cimon signed a contract with this record company in 2010, he says that it was strongly suggested that he also agree with Éditorial Avenue for the publishing part of his work. In the contract, which he finally ratified under the advice of a lawyer, it was indicated that Editorial Avenue would collect 50% of the income from royalties on the songs from the first album he was going to release under the Audiogram label. It was then expected that the publisher would take 40% of the royalties on the second disc, then 25% on the third.

It was also stipulated that the contract lasted six years. At the time, Philémon Cimon believed that he would regain ownership of 100% of his copyright at the end of this deadline. However, he later understood that the contract in fact binds him for life to Editorial Avenue for the pieces he created during this six-year period. This means that for the songs on the album summerpublished in 2014, Éditorial Avenue and Philémon Cimon will share the income from copyright until the death of the artist. The publisher could even remain the owner of the pieces 25 years after his death.

“I find it incredible that I did not understand that when I had called on the services of a lawyer. Anyway, lifetime contracts like that shouldn’t be legal. They would have given me 99% of the income, there is something in the symbolism that I find twisted if they remain the owners of my music for life, ”denounced the singer-songwriter in an interview with the Homework.

The managing director of Editorial Avenue, Daniel Lafrance, finds it difficult to explain the indignation of Philémon Cimon. He maintains that the terms of the contract were clearly reported to the artist at the time of signing. Mr. Lafrance recalls in the same breath that artists are never required to use a publisher when they join a record company.

Anyway, he does not see how such a contract is abusive, especially since it is the norm in the industry. Before Philémon Cimon, all the artists on the Audiogram label, from Daniel Bélanger to Jean Leloup via Ariane Moffatt and Pierre Lapointe, agreed to assign 50% of their copyrights on their first album to Éditorial Avenue.

“These revenues are a pillar for us. It allows us to build wealth. And that allows us later to invest in new artists. If I sign contracts that only last five years, my company would be worthless. Without that, we couldn’t sign with five or six new artists each year,” defends Daniel Lafrance, according to whom Philémon Cimon wouldn’t have made much more money even if he had published himself.

Unknown profession

A lawyer specializing in arts law, Bertrand Menon argues that it would be difficult to legislate to prohibit contracts that bind artists to their publisher for life. However, he calls for a lot of work to be done in the industry to demystify the role of publishers.

“The problem with publishing is that it’s a profession that is misunderstood by most artists, but also by the publishers themselves. Many claim to be publishers in Quebec, but very few actually are. When there is a contract with a publisher, the artist is entitled to expect that his catalog will be administered and that there will be income in return. But there are a lot of publishers who don’t do any of that,” says M.and Menon.

The problem with publishing is that it is a profession that is misunderstood by most artists, but also by the publishers themselves.

The Association of Music Publishing Professionals retorts by ensuring that its members have all the skills necessary to make a catalog profitable. At the Professional Society of Authors and Composers of Quebec, artists who hesitate before signing a publishing contract are recommended to consult their legal advice service first.


Corrigendum: In the first version of this text, it was mentioned that the publisher was co-owner of the copyright of part of the work of Philémon Cimon in order to earn 50% of the income on these rights. However, the publisher is indeed the sole owner of some of the singer’s songs. As indicated at the start, however, the publisher and Philémon Cimon split the revenue equally, 50-50, on the copyrights of these pieces.

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