In terms of the basic work of publishing – licensing songs and collecting fees – all publishing companies do the same thing. However, different publishing companies accomplish these goals in different ways. Some music publishers are very hands-on with the songwriters on their rosters. These publishers usually have a creative team whose job it is to work directly with the songwriters to help develop their craft. They may do everything from providing feedback on compositions to offering songwriting seminars/workshops and pairing up songwriters that they think will work well together for collaborations. These publishing companies are often also very aggressive when it comes to generating opportunities for their songwriters and the compositions they represent. Instead of, say, waiting for some label to call looking for a song for one of their artists, the publishing company itself will call labels and others who may be in need of songs to place their songwriters’ work.
On the other end of the spectrum are publishing companies who essentially function as accounting firms. Though they certainly want the songwriters signed to their company to excel in their craft, they don’t get very involved in the creative process. Instead, they check out songs, make a projection of the earning potential of a track and then “buy-in” for a share. Further, they are not very proactive when it comes to placing songs. They do provide all of the song accounting services a writer needs, but they react to requests instead of soliciting them.
As a songwriter, before you sign a publishing deal, you need to know how your publishing company operates. If it is early in your songwriting career, you could benefit greatly from having a publishing company that offers you support and actively promotes your work. On the other hand, the larger publishing companies that don’t offer much in the way of promotion and support operate that way because they can – they ARE getting offers and they already have people interested in their rosters, so chances are that they have the connections in place to get your songs considered. Ultimately, you’ll have to opt for the company that feels like the best fit, but be sure you understand what to expect from your publishing company.