If you’ve lived anywhere outside of a cave over the last 50 years, you’ve seen the rich and famous living large. You’ve probably seen recording artists and musicians living it up in 6-story villas, or swimming in natural pools on their own private islands. As an up-and-coming musician, you’ve almost certainly wondered where they’re earning all that money: that would be songwriter royalties. We will explore how to make songwriter royalties in this edition of Music Producer Tips!

The music industry is incredibly complex and notoriously unpredictable. Often, recording contracts border on unreadable. Not to mention, the people you see on TV field whole armies of lawyers to help negotiate and transform their art into songwriter royalties. Let’s talk about the basics of songwriter royalties and see exactly how artists make money in the music and recording arts industry.


First, let’s take a look at a dumbed-down example of how professionals in the music industry collaborate. They work together to produce the music you hear around you every day, whether at home, at work, in the car, in a bar, or anywhere else.

The beginning of the process is simple: an artist writes a song. As soon as it’s written down or recorded, the song is already legally copyrighted. Now, the artist knows he doesn’t have the production value to do the song justice or promote it properly, so people all over the world will never hear it.

Enter the music publisher. The artist and publisher sign a single song agreement, and then the publisher takes the still-new song and pitches it to record labels. A record label loves the song and gets a mechanical license from the publisher to use it.


In our example, the music publisher gets 50% of the mechanical royalties for each song sold. Let’s say the song becomes a major hit. Here come the songwriter royalties: the artist and the publisher split mechanical royalties equally. So in this case, the artist is getting 25%. Pretty good. The recording artist also gets royalties, but we’ll ignore that for now.


That’s not the end of the story, though. The songwriter royalties keep coming: the artist and the publisher also get performance royalties. This means they both get paid every time the song in question is played on the radio, on a commercial, in a movie, or in any other type of broadcast.

These types of royalties are cataloged, collected, and paid out by a PRO (performing rights organization). Some examples might include ASCAP or BMI. The specific PRO will vary, depending on the organization with which the song is registered.

So, the song is a hit. Songwriter royalties are coming in, and the song just keeps getting bigger. A bigwig movie producer is planning out his next big box office hit and absolutely needs the song in question in one of his key scenes.

Now, we’ve entered the realm of synchronization royalties.That’s when music and video are used together simultaneously:

  • When an artist’s song is used in a movie, TV show, or commercial, the original artist and publisher are paid a fee (this one depends on negotiation).
  • They’ll also get royalties when the work in question is shown. These are performance royalties.
  • If the movie, TV show, or commercial in question uses the artist-specific recording of the song, then that artist will also get a normal songwriter royalties. The amount depends again on negotiations between the movie company and the record company.
  • After all that, the artist and publisher will receive mechanical royalties if there are any sales of the soundtrack.

As you can see, there’s a lot of money to be made in songwriter royalties, and learning this lesson for how to make songwriter royalties is only the first step! So keep writing those songs, and get the training you need from a top Audio Engineering and Music Production school! 


A quality education from a good audio engineering school like F.I.R.S.T. Institute, one of the best audio engineering schools in Florida, can teach you the skills you need to succeed in the recording arts industry. There you’ll learn what you need to get your new audio production career off the ground, you’ll even learn your way around a studio and how to produce music, plus tips on how to gain music industry jobs after you graduate.

You won’t get our quality, hands on learning experience with passionate audio industry professionals anywhere else! Check out the Audio Engineering and Music Production program at the F.I.R.S.T. Institute audio production school today. Remember, we prepare you for a variety of music industry jobs, and that means you’re only months away from your dream career!