Emily Mitchell is a music publishing specialist for social media giant TikTok, and has previously worked at Facebook and Songtrust. I had the chance to talk with her about the world of publishing, as well as the 2021 music industry as a whole.
So Emily, for those who may not be entirely sure, would you please explain what music publishing is?
Sure! So, you have a song. There’s two halves to that song where
you can earn revenue, or two different revenue streams. One is the recording, and the other is the composition, or the song itself. Music publishing is basically making sure that songwriters receive all the different royalties that they would earn associated with the song itself. So that could be streaming, videos, playing stuff live, stuff being played on the radio, and so on. Anytime that someone is using a song that you wrote, you should be earning music publishing royalties on it.
Here's the example I use the most to try and best explain the difference between the two revenue streams. Let’s take “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney. He’ll make money on both his composition, and his recording of that song. But if I record a cover of it, he’s still going to make money on publishing, because I'm using the song that he wrote. So from his one song, he can be making money on up to thousands of different recordings from other artists. The person who records it can make money off of their specific recording, but the song will always belong to Paul McCartney. He’s always going to get paid those songwriting royalties. Rules & regulations vary by country and all that good stuff, but that’s the gist of it.
How does that process get moved along? How does an artist go about getting these royalties?
To get those royalties as a songwriter, you really have to be diligent about registering your works and maintaining your credits. The minute that you write a song, you should get on your account of your performing rights organization (ASCAP or BMI) and register the song there to get your performance royalties. Then to collect mechanical royalties, you either need to either sign up with the MLC (Mechanical Licensing Collective), or if you have a publisher, they will do all of that for you.
Take us through a day of work in the life of Emily Mitchell.
At TikTok, as a platform, we use music everyday. Our users are using music. So essentially, we’re just securing those rights, and we have to pay out royalties for the use of that music. So it’s just a lot of making sure that we have agreements with publishers, so that we have the rights to use that music. Just putting all the mechanisms in place to make sure that people are getting paid.
So it’s not as easy as just write a song, release a song, make money? There’s a lot of work in between that music publishers take care of.
There’s a bunch of stuff you have to do, right? You just have to make sure the songs are registered, because for example, a platform like YouTube isn’t gonna know who to pay if the song’s not registered. So it’s kind of your responsibility to make sure that you are registering with a performing rights society, and that you sign up for some kind of publishing administrator like Songtrust, or a CD Baby Pro type of service, just to take care of a lot of that work for you.
Because it is a lot of work! It’s almost impossible as a single songwriter to go out and register your song in every country in the world. It’s just not really realistic to do that, and to know who, and when, and how. So having someone to help aggregate that work is the best way to make sure you have all of that money. I think a lot of people think it’s as easy as just putting their song on Spotify and that they’re just gonna make their money. But they’re missing a whole second half of income unless they follow through on all of those steps.
You’re from Tupper Lake, New York, but now you live in New York City. How much has life changed for you working in the music industry, going from living in a small town, to living in the most populated city in the U.S.?
Yeah it’s super interesting, and super super different. I always feel weird when I come back home now. I mean, the population is like 3,000 people. So when I was at Facebook for example, I’m thinking “Oh, there’s almost as many people in this office building, if not as many as there are in my whole hometown.” It’s super weird. I think it’s cool, because when you get into New York for example, I’ve met so many really cool people, and you get exposed to so many different backgrounds. There’s just so much diversity out there that you just don’t necessarily get exposed to when you live in a small, northern New York town that’s just like, all white people, y’know? So I think it’s been cool, it’s really broadened my horizons in a lot of different ways.
Do you think that someone looking to make it in the music industry needs to move to a hub city, such as New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville to be successful?
I actually don’t think you need to move to a big city. I think that anybody can make it as long as they’re willing to buckle down and really, really hustle. A lot of the music that gets popular nowadays is recorded in people's bedrooms. TikTok for example is a platform where people go super viral overnight, and then all of a sudden they’re getting approached by major labels. So I think if people are really hustling, going out and touring, and learning how to engage in all of the available social media platforms that have emerged, I think that really anyone can do it. But that’s easier said than done. It’s not easy to drop your life and hop on the road, but I think anyone who does that and really commits to it can be successful these days.
Some jobs on the business side might require a move to a hub, but because of the pandemic, a lot of companies now are adding remote positions. Which is super cool, because it gives so many more people the opportunity and access to those kinds of jobs, and these companies get such a broader pool of applicants. It's really important to network. That’s how I've gotten both of my last two jobs, through random network connections that I had. You never know when things will fall into place. Maintaining your network and constantly building upon the relationships that you have, I think it can really give you a leg up in the industry in general. It’s bizarre how small the music industry is.
USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reported that across 900 top songs from 2012 to 2020, women comprised a total of 21.6% of all artists, 12.6% of all songwriters, and 2.6% of all producers. I think it goes without saying that those numbers are disappointingly low. What are your thoughts on that situation?
It’s so crazy to think about, right? All those numbers are low, but it’s hard to fathom that barely over 2% of producer credits are for women, and how a woman has never won Producer of the Year at the Grammys. I think the industry has a really long way to go just on equal treatment of women in general. I don't know what the answer is to fix it. I think that women are probably constantly glossed over for certain opportunities, such as mentorship or apprenticeship opportunities. A lot of these disparities exist on the business side, and I’m sure there’s a pay gap as in most industries. So I think that we have a lot of catching up to do, and I think that it really starts with labels maybe having their artists work with more female producers and opening up more education opportunities.
We also have to get away from the double standards that come with some things. Like when Phoebe Bridgers smashed her guitar on Saturday Night Live, and everyone was calling her “over the top” and “unhinged”, when male rock stars have been glorified in doing that for decades. We’ve just got to get away from that sort of thing as a society.
Do you know of any organizations or resources for women in the music industry that people should know about, and/or can get involved in?
There’s a bunch of good organizations out there who are really trying to change a lot of this. Women In Music is great. They do meetups in major cities, and are constantly helping women connect to opportunities, jobs, companies, and employers in the industry. She Is The Music is another really great one. They set up a lot of songwriting camps for women, they work to set up mentorship opportunities, and try to help people find the resources they need to succeed. I think the work that both of those organizations are doing is really amazing.
You and I first met during our time attending the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. How did your education help you get to where you are now, and do you think that people who want to succeed in the music industry should go to college?
You know, I went to school having no idea what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I’ll be an engineer, because I wasn’t really a songwriter yet at that point. I just kind of said “I’m going to go to music school and figure this out.” But after my first year, I really fell in love with songwriting. And as much as I would’ve liked to do that as a job, I just don’t think I was ready to go do the whole “starving artist'' thing. I really admire people who do that, it just wasn’t something that I was looking for. I wanted to have more stability. So going through school, learning about all the different facets of the music industry, I realized that there was just so much to learn on the business side of things. Being a songwriter and loving songwriting so much, I found that music publishing was just the best choice for me in terms of combining the best of both worlds.
While I don’t think college is 100% necessary for everyone, a lot of jobs are going to ask for a bachelor’s degree. Do I think you need to go to music school specifically? No. I think college is just as much about self-discovery as it is about the actual things you’re learning. I feel like for me, I just learned so much about who I was and the things I wanted to do. The connections and friendships that you make in college are also super important. You just learn so much about yourself that I think that alone is almost worth it.
What’s some advice you would give to someone who wants to get into the music business?
I would tell people to entertain every opportunity that comes to you. Never be afraid to try new things, being open to anything and everything is so important.
And finally, you are an incredible songwriter and performer yourself, do you have any new music in the works?
I have a lot of material that's getting close to the finish line. I have a bunch of folk stuff and a bunch of indie pop/rock type stuff - so I'm trying to figure out how I want to approach releases. I'll definitely be putting out a few songs in 2022.
In the meantime, be sure to check out all of Emily Mitchell’s releases on all major platforms, links below.