Heath johns

Heath Johns

Director of A&R - Universal Music Publishing Group - Australia


Publishing has always been a significant part of the income mix for working musicians, but as the recorded music landscape changes there is no doubt that many musicians are taking a more active role in understanding how publishing works and how they can derive an income from their song-writing.

As a percentage of their overall income, the percentage derived from publishing can vary greatly depending on the artist. Naturally those artists that achieve more radio airplay and those with songs that are more suited to synchronisation opportunities (such as film, TV, advertising etc.) will see more publishing activity than a niche act that sells a bunch of records but doesn’t necessarily write songs that achieve radio traction (i.e. many metal bands). That is not to say at all that these types of acts are undesirable to music publishers (in fact it is quite the opposite), it just means that their live show, album sales and merchandise deals may represent a larger share of their total income.


Being ‘pretty good’ is not good enough. In order for a band to attract my attention I really need to hear a rare quality in the song-writing. How can you say something that has been said a million times before in a way that is fresh, interesting and memorable? If I press repeat on a demo more than once, chances are that I will offer that writer a deal.

What Am I Supposed To Do by Darwin band Sietta had killer production and an undeniable melody. It sounded super-fresh the first time I heard it and it demanded repeat listens... and we signed them!

Star quality can’t be taught, you either have it or you don’t. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need a scissor-kicking and star-jumping front man, just someone that looks like they were born to be on stage and nowhere else. I never could imagine Freddie Mercury or Jimi Hendrix working at a bank or a car yard.


It should be easy to turn up on time to band rehearsal, studio sessions, sound-checks, media commitments etc. but some artists that are blessed with star quality and rare song-writing ability become complacent and forget to actually treat the people around them with common decency and respect. This is a massive turn-off and a sure-fire way to ensure a short career.


More often than not, an artist looking for a publishing deal should just focus on generating momentum. People like me are paid to take notice of any self-generated momentum and take the initiative to set up meeting and offer deals.

If you can sell out a 200-300 capacity venue in more than one city, have songs that are connecting at local indie radio and/or on any number of respected music blogs, have a video that is attracting 10,000+ views on YouTube etc - A&R people will find you.