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Songwriting Credit......

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Wandering if someone can help? I am in a band (4 piece) and we have recently replaced out guitarist and drummer. We are now receiving a lot of interest and things are starting to look promising.


The question about songwriting credits has arisen, and what sort of percentage split we should have between the band members. I am a guitarist/singer/songwriter and have written the entire set that we play, including lyrics and chord structure. Generally I will write a song, melody, chords and structure of the song and then take it to the studio. The other members will then put their bits in. Bass line, drums etc. Sometimes the arrangement may change slightly but most of the time it remains the same only filled out with the other instruments, guitar solos etc.


My question is: What is the fairest way to go about a 4 way spilt? Naturally I want to keep everyone happy so was wondering if there is a norm or generally rule of thumb when it comes to this.

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I don't know what the rule of thumb would be. I've done some songwriting, and collaborated with bandmembers. We pretty much agreed that anything we co-wrote would be divided equally. But we were doing it for our church and not for money, which changes things quite a bit!


It's good you are discussing these things now, before the fame and fortune.... There have been famous groups like the Band and the Mahavishnu Orchestra where songwriting credit amounted to some serious bucks and there was major discord about the matter!


It IS a legitimate question as to what constitutes collaboration. There's no doubt, if two guys both contribute to the lyrics and music equally from the get go, the pie should be equally divided. Your situation is more borderline, but definitely NOW is the time to discuss it! And these decisions no one can make for you!

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Originally posted by malcolmmacfadyen:

Generally I will write a song, melody, chords and structure of the song and then take it to the studio. The other members will then put their bits in. Bass line, drums etc. Sometimes the arrangement may change slightly but most of the time it remains the same only filled out with the other instruments, guitar solos etc.

They are your songs.


Contributing bits and pieces to an arrangement just to embellish it...isn't "writing" the song.


If you take away ALL those bits they contributed...does the core identity of the songs change?

If not...they're your songs. Publishing rights are yours to sell.


Now...the other members can receive some sort of performance/production compensation...not much different than what you would do with session players.

When session player come in and contribute their "bits" to the arrangement...

...they DON'T normally get any writing credits/compensation...

they get performance/production credit (sometimes) and compensation.


You have to really decide how much those bits make the song...the song.

miroslav - miroslavmusic.com


"Just because it happened to you, it doesn't mean it's important."

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Yeah, Miro is on the right track.


In the U.S. anyway, there are two copyright forms: one for the songwriter(s) on the Performing Arts (PA) form, and one for the contributors on the Sound Recording (SR) form.




You, Malcolm, have actually written the songs all by yourself. A song is usually considered words (lyrics) set to music (melody). That's all you need; you don't even need to arrange the chords (but you did).


There is some precedent for including other band members as co-writers, even if it is just a little "bit". For example, if a drum beat becomes so synonymous with the song that the song would not be the same without it, the drummer may see his/her name on the PA form.


Everybody that appears on the recording should appear on the SR form, except for hired gun session players. Instead of receiving recording credit, these people usually receive money up front for their efforts.


But bands aren't usually just a collection of hired guns, so I'd imagine everyone in your band would appear on the SR form.


Other reasons to receive songwriting credit in a band (or other situations) is if someone else suggests a change and that change is incorporated. Yes, even something small like a one-word change is considered co-writing, or a one-note change to the melody (but not chords or other accompanyment).


Well, then, it seems it would suck to be in a band unless you were the lead singer and wrote all the lyrics and melodies, right? Well, if you ever find yourself writing new songs in a band setting, your band mates become co-writers. Even if (a) they make suggestions that aren't used, or (b) they don't make any suggestions, if they are still actively participating in the songwriting process then they are co-writers.


What's so special about being a songwriter anyway? If a recording is played -- on the radio, on the jukebox, etc. -- the people named on the SR form are all entitled to receive royalties (through a Performing Rights Association like ASCAP or BMI). The songwriters on the PA form also receive royalties.


Also, as the songwriter, you can always re-record your song. Now when the new recording is played only the musicians on the new SR form receive royalties (and of course the songwriters).


Band mates can become jealous if your royalty checks are always larger. You'll be getting 100% of the songwriting royalties and 25% of the recording royalties. (Well, assuming you're self-publishing.) For actual CD/digital download sales, you can either agree to split sales evenly or (rightfully) demand a larger cut because you are the songwriter (again assuming you're self-published). [it's also common in cases where one band member handles all the booking of live performances to take a larger cut of those proceeds.] You may either (a) encourage your band mates to take a more active songwriting role, or (b) piss them off and have them all quit on you.


* * * * * * * * * *


Personally, I am torn on this subject. My primary instrument is bass. I've been in situations where all I do is add a bass line to someone else's original, where I've co-written songs, and where I've written songs by myself. Typically if I'm just adding a bass line, I'm given full reign. That is, I'm not playing note-for-note off of sheet music, or just what the songwriter is telling me to play. And I like to craft a bass line, not just lay down some inane crap. So, yeah, I have to work hard in that role, and I am writing, even if it's not lyrics or melody. Still, it's "too bad so sad" unless my "bit" really makes the song the song, as Miro put it.


OTOH, writing the lyrics and melody -- being the songwriter -- isn't exactly easy. I'll let my collection of unfinished songs be an example of that. You're really working without a net. What should the next phrase be? It's not like you're just following a chord chart so you have something to base your decision on. And without the song, there's nothing to hang the other bits on, so it's pretty important that somebody write the song!


* * * * * * * * * *


In closing, I'd suggest you visit your local library or bookstore and check out the books on songwriting and the music biz. If you look hard enough you'll find quite a lot of books on the subject. There are examples of "industry standards" and there are exceptions that work for unique circumstances. Also, seeking the advice of an entertainment lawyer never hurts. At least he or she can draw up an agreement that you and your band mates can sign that legally binds everyone so there are no questions later on.

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Songwriting agreements can be completely different; there needn't be a "standard" to which one conforms.

They can be as simple as the 50/50 split of Lennon/McCartney or the communal credits some rock bands tried or as one-sided as the Robbie Robertson credits from the Band. They can also be designated differently for each composition; split between multiple publishers (& even agencies); broken up as varied percentages or separated as lyrics & music (consider that someone might record a song instrumnentally...does the lyricist get royaltyies?).

All sorts of arrangements are possible.


The way you describe it it seems that the others's contributions are minor (much like what a session musician might contribute).

Those licks, fills, or even complete bass lines or harmony vovcals, etc., are generally considered "works for hire" whereby such contributions are an expected part of the process. Up until about the mid-1970s such parts were just part of the deal for regular players in hit factories like Nashville, LA or NYC.

Later some players began making deals for percentage points when they contributed distinctive parts.

Possibly your "collaborators" might prefer a flat fee for their contributions.


Be very careful about whatever agreements that you make. If you have successful songs, whether for you, your band or when covered by other artists, you can makeor lose a lot of money.

It sounds as if you feel that these are your creations & I'd make sure that you don't extend credit where you may later feel that you aren't getting what you deserve.


Also be careful about the agreements you make with publishers. Those, too, are not necessarily standard.


The best advice is to get leagl advice from an attorney familiar with current music biz practices & to be sure of how you really feel about "credit where credit's due".

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