If you’re a songwriter, it‘s important for you to learn as much as possible about music publishing.  Whether you’ve signed a publishing deal, administer your own publishing, or work without any publishing entity, you need to ensure that you know how to claim all the royalties that are owed to you.

Signing a deal with a publisher

There are many obvious advantages to signing a deal with a music publisher: they can constantly, actively seek licensing opportunities for your music, on a full-time basis; they strive to get the most monetary mileage out of your songs, whether it’s through recording, live performance,  or synchronization (or “synchs,” placement in commercials, TV shows, films, videogames, digital platforms, etc.); while doing so, they can negotiate fair market value for synch placements, and know what license fee a song should command in any given medium based on terms, use, and territory; they can arrange co-writing sessions with other songwriters, or participation in song camps, including some co-writers or camps that you might not be able to attain without them; and a publishing deal allows you to focus on making music, rather than having to do the labour-intensive business of exploiting your own songs.

Furthermore, music publishers can provide music-industry market intelligence to help develop a songwriter’s career. They can further that career by championing the songwriter – talking them up, getting them on panels, in showcases, included in articles, and so on. Publishers can track the writer’s income, a task likely too time-consuming for the writer to do on their own. A publisher can ensure that the writer’s songs are registered in every territory where they’re showing activity (e.g., being played on radio, performed live by other artists, etc.).  A publisher can  obtain, and submit to SOCAN, cue sheets when a writer’s song has been licensed for audio-visual use in a film, TV, or other screen production, whether domestically or internationally.

Working without a publisher

Alysha Brilla

Alysha Brilla

Singer-songwriter Alysha Brilla has taken the indie route, after spending time with a major publisher and deciding to do it herself.

“I’ve gotten some synchs and some licensing deals on my own,” says Brilla, now working on her fifth album. She adds that one of the advantages is autonomy. “I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for anything. I can sign off on everything myself, and I get to solicit and approach people myself. There are pros and cons to it, but for me it’s been the better choice.”

Among the disadvantages of working without a publisher is the fact that the songwriter likely won’t be able to actively seek licensing opportunities for their music on a full-time basis. They’ll have to spend their own time and effort chasing those deals, which takes time away from writing songs. And to go it alone, the songwriter also needs to be able to negotiate effectively when licensing their music, in order to ensure that they’re fairly compensated for their work.

In Brilla’s case, she’s dealt and consulted with artists, managers, and other publishers, so she has a good handle on negotiations. “I have a good idea of what the range is, and all the different variables when it comes to licensing,” she says. “I’m never worried about not getting an adequate amount for my music because I don’t have a publisher: I always ask for what I think is competitive.”

The value that’s potentially generated by a song placement can be substantial – and if you’re a writer, being a novice negotiator can bite you in the butt, as singer-songwriter Donovan Woods discovered all too well when he initially self-published under his own  Meant Well imprint.

“I was just writing songs on my own and I had very little understanding of anything,” says Woods, who recently signed with Concord Music Nashville, after spending three years at Warner Chappell Nashville. “I remember I licensed something to TSN to be used during the intro of a Grey Cup game for something like $104. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea. I was kind of doing it alone.”

Starting your own publishing company

Donovan Woods

Donovan Woods

Woods says  it can be an advantage to have your own publishing company in order to conduct business with a larger publisher. “When you have a co-publishing deal with a publisher, you own 50 percent of your publishing and 75 percent of the song,” says Woods. “You have to form your own publishing company to hold that publishing stake.”

“Having their own publishing company makes it easier for the songwriter to assign a publishing administrator, or a publisher,” says Michael McCarty, CEO of Kilometre Music Group, and former Chief Membership and Business Development Officer of SOCAN. “If the songwriter has an administrative deal with Publisher A, and their publishing reverts back to them when the deal expires, it makes it easier for them to newly assign the administration to Publisher B. And if the songwriter is earning significant money from publishing, then it could be tax-advantageous having half of that money flow through a business, splitting the income to pay less tax.”

“If your company is incorporated, your tax rates are only 12 percent,” explains Phil Goldband, a Managing Partner at Toronto-based Gold Entertainment Accountants. “Had you not incorporated, you’d be roughly at the 40 percent tax rate.”

But you have to ensure that your publishing company runs as an above-board business. “You’ve got to open up a separate bank account, and you’ve got to keep track of your expenses. Anything you pay on credit, you have to keep the invoices,” says Goldband. If you do start your own publishing company, you’ll also need to ensure that when you claim expenses, those expenses remain within the confines of business. For example, if your dog is your company mascot, don’t claim the food it takes to feed him as an expense. “If you get too aggressive, you’ll be double-taxed – both on the corporate and personal levels,” Goldband advises.

Goldband’s colleague, Oksana Bernatonis, says that if your songwriting income is fairly low, it might be prudent to wait before you take the step. “If you’re saving more than $3,000 to cover [the] costs [of incorporating the publishing company], then it’s worth it,” she says. She also says that in order to apply and receive certain large grants, being incorporated can sometimes give you an edge: “Some grants that people apply for require a corporation. To get $50K or $100K in grants, you have to incorporate.”

Your songwriting income will determine whether you’re ready to start your own incorporated publishing company. “If your songs are earning under a few thousand dollars a year, it doesn’t likely justify the costs of incorporation and maintenance of the company,” says entertainment lawyer Kurt Dahl. “There are a few scenarios that might indicate that the time is right. If you find yourself licensing music internationally, entering a sub-publishing deal with a foreign publisher, or being offered a co-publishing deal from a third-party publisher, the time is right to incorporate your own publishing entity.”

You don’t have to go the incorporation route: another alternative is being a sole proprietor.

“Sole proprietorship is the same as being self-employed,” says Bernatonis. “So instead of filing a corporate tax return, you would file just the regular personal tax return at a graduated rate. You’d have to report everything, so there is no tax deferral.” While there are no fees to establish your sole proprietorship, you’d also lose any potential tax breaks you’d receive by incorporating your music publishing company [such as tax deferral from one year to the next, in a high-earning year].

“And once you reach $30,000 in income, you have to pay HST and register for a business number with the Canadian Revenue Agency,” Bernatonis adds. “Royalties are usually zero-rated, so there’s no HST on royalties. But you still might want to register, because you can claim HST back on any expenses you’ve paid.”

Another big difference is that if legal issues pop up,  you may have more protection if you’ve incorporated your company, and be more vulnerable as a sole proprietor.

Whatever path you choose, rest assured that SOCAN will be there to collect your royalties and ensure that you get paid.

Steps to Start with SOCAN

If you’re applying to become a SOCAN member publisher, membership isn’t automatic, although the qualifications to become a SOCAN publisher member aren’t strenuous.

Whether you’re setting up your publishing entity as a sole proprietorship or an incorporated company, before deciding on, or registering, a publisher name for the entity with the appropriate governmental registry, we recommend that you contact our Information Centre at 1-866-307-6226 to verify that there’s no other SOCAN publisher member already using that name.

If you’re starting a sole proprietorship for your publishing, to apply for SOCAN membership, you’ll need to provide a copy of the sole proprietorship document (such as a statement of registration issued by the appropriate governmental registry), and either your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or business number, for tax purposes. If you’re providing a business number, we’ll require a document that shows that the number is associated with your particular sole proprietorship. For more details on registering a sole proprietorship, click here.

If  you’re starting an incorporated company, to apply for SOCAN membership, the company must meet at least one of the following two criteria:

  • The company owns at least five copyright-protected musical works written or co-written by a writer member of SOCAN (e.g., you), or by a Canadian; or
  • The company is entitled by contract to receive the publisher’s share of the performance credits of at least five copyright-protected musical works that were written or co-written by a writer member of SOCAN (e.g., you), or by a Canadian.

And to apply for membership, you’ll need to provide a copy of the relevant publishing agreements to demonstrate that the company meets one of the above criteria .

For more information on registering a corporation, click here.

PaupiereThere are beings who know they’re condemned to live a joint existence, but unaware of its true nature at first glance, because it’s so easy to confuse an extraordinary creative bond with romantic love. Such is the case of Julia Daigle and Pierre-Luc Bégin of Paupière, whose life as a couple failed, but whose musical project is doing quite well, thank you, in Québec, Europe, Southeast Asia, and South Korea.

You’d think they were from another era, like one of those biographical passages one reads on the walls of museums during a retrospective exhibition of a great painter, long gone. There’s an artistic aura to Daigle and Bégin that one can imagine permeating even the smallest part of their daily lives. They’re like artworks themselves, right down to the way they dress.

Unsurprisingly, Daigle started out as a painter and hat-maker in Québec City. Bégin, on the other hand, cut his teeth with the band Polipe (a formidable but almost-forgotten trio), but he was in town because he’d recently joined We Are Wolves and the band was on tour.

“I knew Vincent Lévesque and Alex Ortiz of We Are Wolves,” says Daigle. “When they changed drummers, they hired Pierre-Luc. We got along super-well. To be honest, we were a couple when I moved to Montréal,” she confesses with a giggle. “We were together for three years. We started by painting together, and at some point, he suggested I write the lyrics to a song, because it’s something which I was always interested in. Then, he asked me if I’d like to sing. That’s how our first single, ‘Cinq heures,’ was born. I find the realm of music the most satisfying because it involves a bit of everything else. I was able to collaborate on the cover art, work with the videos’ directors… I derive a lot of satisfaction from the visual aspects.”

The title of their latest album refers to how Julia and Pierre-Luc met, to the time that binds them to each other, almost in spite of themselves. Sade Sati isn’t Latin; it’s the name of one of the principles of Indian astrology, a seven-and-a-half-year cycle, which is the total age of the band. In the meantime, Éliane Préfontaine, an actress with the gaze of the sun, has joined them as a keyboardist and vocalist. She stayed on as the band’s third player until she decided, very recently, to have a baby. After one LP and two EPs, the Paupière adventure had come to term. “It wasn’t an acrimonious separation,” Daigle insists. “We’re still friends, it’s just that she wanted to have a child. It’s not one of those sad ‘band splits up’ stories. We’re super-happy for her.”

There’s been much written in the press that Paupière revives or emulates the sound of the 1980s, a comment that rightly annoys the band members. “It’s really the choice of instruments that imparted this colour because Pierre-Luc and Éliane played piano and synths,” says Daigle. “Ultimately, we’re inspired a lot by ‘chanson française,’ by the music of the ’70s – we both love prog rock – but I understand the comparison because of the synthesizers and the bass lines. That said, I don’t think our compositions are necessarily dated.”

That said, Daigle and Bégin have often said in interviews that they think of, and identify, themselves as punks at heart. But how is it that these same punks make such catchy, melodic, and seductive music? Daigle repeats and ponders the question: “I think it’s the raw energy we exude on stage,” she says. “It’s quite aloof. We don’t necessarily respect codes. Pierre-Luc almost always ends up half-naked. We never quite know what to expect. Our punk side comes out in our attitude.”

The year 1970 was a year of mourning: The Beatles became the first band in the young history of rock ’n’ roll to officially announce their split. But then, 1970 was also a windfall: each of the quartet’s members released brilliant, innovative, ambitious, and/or touching solo albums – Paul McCartney’s McCartney, John Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Ringo Starr’s Sentimental Journey – and all of them had the same palpable exhilaration of freedom that comes from being deprived of it for a long time. The Beatles broke free from expectations and their past.


Photo: Guillaume Plourde

“There’s something powerful in their emancipation and how they allowed themselves to do something on their own terms,” says Étienne Côté, alias LUMIÈRE, who also recently gave himself the right to do something by himself after years in the band Canailles: an album, A.M.I.E.S.A.M.O.U.R.

Born in Sainte-Antoine-de-Tilly, on the south shore of Québec City, Côté was introduced to music by spending hours alone at his grandmother’s piano, when he’d visit her on weekends. At the age of 18, he played drums in a Jimi Hendrix cover band, and later began studying classical percussion at Université de Montréal. He never finished his studies, however. Why?

Because in 2014, his friend Antoine Tardif invited him to come aboard the hullabaloo-esque caravan that was Canailles (the demise of which we were recently informed). When we evoke, in passing, our affection for the oblique power-pop trio Polipe, of which Antoine was once a member, Côté becomes animated: “Polipe was very important to me!” he says. “They were major influences. When I was 16, they were 18, 19, and when they came back to Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, they invited us to their jam sessions.”

Despite his multiple experiences, and the many instruments he masters, Côté took a long time to allow himself to write his own songs. “J’me fais pas assez confiance/ La beauté est partout/ J’me compare trop/ Tout le monde est meilleur que moi/ À mes yeux/ Tout le monde est meilleur que moi,” (“I’m not confident enough/ Beauty is everywhere/ I compare myself too much/ Everyone is better than me/ In my mind/ Everyone is better than me”) he sings on “FREUD.EST.MORT,” a groovy self-flagellation session carried by a heavily George Harrison-style sitar riff. As a matter of fact, A​.​M​.​I​.​E​.​S​.​A​.​M​.​O​.​U​.​R is reminiscent of All Things Must Pass as much as it is of the ramshackle beauty of McCartney’s Ram.

“That’s very typical of me,” says Côté about his pernicious propensity to compare himself to others. “I waited this long to write my first song [in 2016] because I was afraid, no doubt about it. I was afraid it wouldn’t be good enough. I’m super-demanding. I’ve always wanted to, but it was like I felt it was never the right time. I wanted to really like my first song.”

And A​.​M​.​I​.​E​.​S​.​A​.​M​.​O​.​U​.​R offers many a good song, to say the least. A concept album set in 1971, this lysergic, naïve epic, straddling the line between love and friendship, features one LUMIÈRE and his companion CRISTALE (Naomie de Lorimier, also known as N NAO). They meet Briquette (Daphnée Brissette, with whom Côté played in Canailles, and who still plays in Bon Enfant), who slips LSD-injected candies on their tongues, so their hearts and imaginations are upended, for better and worse.

Proudly nostalgic for the 1970s, an era he obviously didn’t live through, Côté borrows sounds from the beginning of this pivotal decade – but also a certain ideal, as evidenced by the words with which he has labelled his project. “I find that ‘lumière’ (‘light’) fits quite well with what I’m trying to convey in my songs,” he says. “It’s something I have a hard time achieving in my life. It’s not easy, on a daily basis, to be a luminous person. It’s like an ideal that I have, to have joy in living, a good mood, a transparency, to be able to be honest. That, to me, is what light is.”

A​.​M​.​I​.​E​.​S​.​A​.​M​.​O​.​U​.​R is also the third album to be released in 2021 that was produced by Alexandre Martel, after Alex Burger’s Sweet Montérégie, and Cantalou by Thierry Larose. It’s was during an Anatole (Martel’s glam-rock project) concert that Côté met him… and stole a tarot card. “Alex was selling some really nice, screen-printed tarot decks at his merch table,” says Côté. “I didn’t know what they were at the time, I thought they were promotional cards. So I took one.”

He later realized that he had mismatched a deck. “I realized that I had left with the hangman card, which is now my favorite card,” he says, “because there’s an ambiguity in it. The point of view of the hanged man allows him to see the world upside down,” a bit like an artist. Étienne Côté waited until the end of A​.​M​.​I​.​E​.​S​.​A​.​M​.​O​.​U​.​R’s recording sessions to admit his petty crime to his colleague, out of fear of ruining their relationship. The memory now makes him giggle. “I don’t know why I was so afraid; it went well, in the end,” he says. A true friend is a friend that can forgive.