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Song Writing Credit


Phred

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So, I just read the whiter shade of pale thread about song writing dues. I have a question about song writing credit. Here is an example song... Please don't steal it as I haven't Copyrighted it yet ;) .

 

Title: Greatest song ever

2 bars of drum intro
.
Guitar Riff
|ee b d e| e d g g| x2
.
Verse/Chorus
Em           D            C         C  D
Here are the best lyrics in the world
.
Keys solo over Bm
.
Verse/Chorus
F#m          E            D         D  E
Here are the best lyrics in the world
.
Outro riff
|f#f# c# e f#| f# e a a| f#     |
.

As you can see I worked very hard on this song. :D

 

Here is my question. Imagine I brought this award winning song to my band, but all I had were the chords and melody to the lyrics (no words), and the kickass keys solo.

 

Drummer: adds two bar intro - very creative intro.

Guitar Player 1: hears intro and puts together that ingenious riff.

Singer: writes those incredible words to my melody.

Guitar Player 2: comes up with the arrangement seen above (minus the key change).

Bass player: suggests key change after the keys solo.

 

So who should get song writing credit and in what order?

I'm just saying', everyone that confuses correlation with causation eventually ends up dead.
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You wrote the melody, so you.

Singer wrote the words, so singer.

Nobody wants to piss anyone off, so everyone else.

 

Arrangements are copyrightable some places, and it really does sound like a group arrangement. But for songwriting it's really just the 2 of you, and up to you 2 whether to bring the others along for the ride.

I played in an 8 piece horn band. We would often get bored. So...three words:

"Tower of Polka." - Calumet

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What consistutes the melody of the song?

 

What if I wrote a song like satisfaction, but just the lyrics, chords and the lyric melody. Then a guitar player came along and put that wicked guitar riff on the song - is that part of the melody of this song, or is the melody only on the words?

I'm just saying', everyone that confuses correlation with causation eventually ends up dead.
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What consistutes the melody of the song?

 

What if I wrote a song like satisfaction, but just the lyrics, chords and the lyric melody. Then a guitar player came along and put that wicked guitar riff on the song - is that part of the melody of this song, or is the melody only on the words?

Why not just spread the love and give everyone credit? What have you got to lose?

 

I mean, if the song doesn't make it then 1/5th of nothing is equalivalent to all of nothing.

 

If the song does make it, I doubt the extra split is going to make much of a difference unless you're just plain greedy.

 

So why not build up some goodwill among your bandmates by spreading the credits evenly based on contributions?

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I've always believed people should get credit for the things they do. If someone contributed to the song and its a part of the song then they deserve credit. JMHO

Agreed. The world does not need another Sting.

 

His bandmates in the Police got absolutely ZERO credit for their contributions.

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Right, but here's the deal.

 

Another band's cover of the song is gonna use the melody and lyric. Probably little else, though there have been exceptions.

 

Sheet music for the song is gonna use a melody and a lyric.

 

So, conversely, should they get credit for the melody and lyrics, when (a) they didn't do them and (b) that's all that's universally copyrightable?

I played in an 8 piece horn band. We would often get bored. So...three words:

"Tower of Polka." - Calumet

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The "traditional" way to do it was that the creators of the words, melody, and chord structure were considered the songwriters. These, along with tempo, were traditionally the only parts needed for sheet music. A solo or supporting bass or drum part was not considered part of songwriting because they were not considered essential, and solos and rhythm parts were derived from a "limited language" (a shuffle beat, walking bass, etc.) and not protected by copyright law.

 

The exceptions that evolved were when parts came along that were so integral to the song that they were as important as the melody. The Nolo Music Law book I'm getting this from also mentions "Satisfaction" as well as the drum solo on "Wipeout," and the bass lines from "Come Together" and "White Lines." In this kind of case, if the part is generally indispensable, the creator of the part should be considered a songwriter.

 

All that being said, if you want to include the other members of the band as some have suggested, that's up to you. The only thing you "have" to do is make sure everyone is treated fairly and is happy. :thu:

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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So, conversely, should they get credit for the melody and lyrics, when (a) they didn't do them and (b) that's all that's universally copyrightable?

Yes they should. Melody is not just the notes but the spaces between as well (rests).

 

Many drummers for example contribute a rhythmic idea that changes the structure of the song from its original form. This takes the form of rests which to me are as important as the notes themselves.

 

Again I think what have you got to lose? If the song never goes anywhere, then a portion of nothing is equal to all of nothing...

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I usually choose to err on the side of giving credit. But I'd contend I am under no obligation to give a drummer credit for a song where I wrote the melody and lyric. He did not add the rests between the notes, and I can't really imagimne when he would other than maybe the turnaround between verses.

 

But when the band works on something for 4 weeks, comes up with a general structure, gives up, and I take it home and write an entirely new song over that structure, even though I'm technically under no obligation to them (because I could easily put a new structure underneath - ask any organist about reharmonizing a hymn, for example), I'd have to be a real jerk to freeze them out of the credit: it was a group process, the group provided the spark and underpinning, and I just happened to be the only one who came up with something copyrightable.

 

True story, BTW - but the band didn't survive, and the song is sitting on my old PC somewhere half-written.

 

But IF I had walked in with my song first, and then they threw the structure underneath, I'd probably insist on sole songwriter credit - because I already had the melody and lyrics. If I coudn't do that, I'd be thinking long and hard whether to ever bring my own songs into a group project.

I played in an 8 piece horn band. We would often get bored. So...three words:

"Tower of Polka." - Calumet

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Originally posted by wades_keys:

Why not just spread the love and give everyone credit? What have you got to lose?

I'll tell you what you got to lose.

 

Portability.

 

Who knows if he's gonna be with this band forever and ever? If everyone gets songwriting credit for a song that he wrote lyrics and chords to, then he has to worry about them suing him should he leave this band and go to another.

 

Thankfully, I covered my tail when I recorded an album with my old band. Songwriting credit on all the stuff I brought to the table went to me, and me alone. When they unceremoniously fired me, my material went out the door with me.

 

Two of the songs I recorded with that band, I turned around and reworked the music and am playing them with my current band. Imagine my horror if one of the members of the old band tried to sue for songwriting credit - the bassist, for example - he wrote bass lines for the two songs in question from the ground up - even though I completely overhauled the music afterward, if I had given him a songwriting credit, I'd be SOL...

 

So there is a reason to maintain legitimate songwriting credit divisions within a band.

 

In the case above, the only person that legally has any claim to writing credit is the singer, for contributing the melody. Everyone else gets arrangement credit.

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Griffinator, if you presume that everyone's a jerk, they're likely to act accordingly. To be frank, your response sounds extremely selfish and self-centred to me and I would not want to work with someone with such an attitude.

 

Every situation is different and everyone has their own ideas about what constitutes songwriting credit. My own collaborator surprised me on the last album by giving more credit than I thought I deserved in one place but less in another. What mattered to me was that he credited me and showed me respect.

 

People will always have differences of opinion about what aspects of a song contribute to its success or to its main defining character. When I hand out credit myself, I am extremely generous in including anyone who had any contribution whatsoever to the development of the song. It is in general OK with me that others are not quite so generous, as long as their different approaches do not come from a lack of respect or from basic selfishness.

 

As a general rule, it is considered appropriate to split up the songwriting credits between lyrics (where applicable) and the supporting music. In most cases, the 50% of the pie that is left for the music is not going to make a big difference to the lyricist in terms of how many ways it is split up, so if a fairly democratic song arrangement approach was taken by the band, I think it makes sense to credit the full band.

 

Many people consider the chord progression to be the main piece of work regarding the arrangement, and whoever came up with the chords gets the songwriting credits. I am violently opposed to this idea. Maybe it's because I'm a bassist and feel the bass line makes a larger contribution to the overall feel of the song than the chords. Maybe it's because I played jazz for years, and we tend to revoice things considerably and yet don't get songwriter credits for what ends up being a vastly different sounding song using the same melody. So I think the chords are no more important towards songwriting credit than the drums or bass line; only the lead melody should count towards major songwriter credit. Everything else is up to negotiation and mutual agreement.

 

As far as reusing an idea later in another project, if you are a decent person and work with decent people, that should not be an issue. Many major well-known bands (including King Crimson) have songs that have been partially borrowed by one of the original contributing arrangers or writers to create a new song with a new project, with full permission and encouragement from the others. Good grief, folk artists and blues artists have been doing this for decades without people worrying about lawsuits!

 

There is no one answer, but as I said, if you come into the picture with 0% trust then don't excpect anyone to do you any favours.

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Wow, dude. That's a lot of presumption on your part about my attitude.

 

Fact is, people steal material all the time, particular on the independent level. When you protect yourself with a copyright, you're insulating your own work from someone else stealing it.

 

Where that theft comes from? Most of the time, from a band split. One part of the band goes one way, the other goes the other way, and both want to draw off the old material to support their new projects. If I had been all "share the wealth" with my old band, I would have been up the creek, because they kept going with a new singer, and it took me nearly 6 months to put together another band. My songs would have been out the door with them.

 

It's not a matter of trust, it's a matter of reality. I don't make a big federal case about it coming into a project. I don't make a big federal case about it when songwriting goes on in the band.

 

My current band, as an example.

 

We all understand that the material we got started on (which I brought in complete) is my material. There was no case to make about this, everyone recognized it and understood it. The other guitarist brought a piece in that we worked on together. I wrote several riffs, and the chorus lyrics. The singer contributed to the lyric as well. Songwriting credit is split 3 ways when we get around to copyrighting it - no argument - but we all understand that, should we go our separate ways, he gets to take that with him, because it's mostly his song.

 

The singer also brought in a piece that we worked on together. Lyrics were all his. He wrote the foundational riff. I altered that foundational riff in certain parts, and embellished it with a secondary riff during others. Both I and the other guitarist contributed instrumental passages that significantly shaped the song, but are still non-essential to the main piece. As far as songwriting credit goes, it's the singer's piece, and I wouldn't venture to ask for a piece of that copyright.

 

So you see, my position isn't selfish, it's practical. Bands don't last forever, and anyone with any kind of realistic viewpoint understands that, and the ramifications of having proper or improper copyright delineation.

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Oh - as another example...

 

Another friend of mine is also singer in a band he founded years ago. They split up for a while, and the guitarist tried to sneak off and get copyrights on all the material they were playing. The singer wrote every shred of the stuff, and lucky for him he copyrighted it when their album was first released - or he'd have been just as SOL.

 

He reformed the band with a new guitarist - I'm looking forward to playing on our next show with them at a local club. Would've sucked if he hadn't been able to do this show because the guitarist stole all his copyrights...

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Originally posted by Mark Schmieder:

As a general rule, it is considered appropriate to split up the songwriting credits between lyrics (where applicable) and the supporting music.

Just to highlight this. Among professional songwriters, it is customary that half of the songwriting pie go to the lyricist. Definitely NOT written in stone but it is usually assumed unless otherwise specified. But, as there are no hard and fast rules, it is very important to hammer these things out before any collaboration takes place. You never know where that jam can lead.

 

FWIW, i know a very successful songwriter who plays no instrument but writes his own melodies and lyrics. Then he hires KB player to help him figure out the chord structure but will not include the pianist as a writer. Dead wrong IMHO.

 

JP

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Originally posted by wades_keys:

I've always believed people should get credit for the things they do. If someone contributed to the song and its a part of the song then they deserve credit. JMHO

Agreed. The world does not need another Sting.

 

His bandmates in the Police got absolutely ZERO credit for their contributions.

LOL!! after reading the first post...the first thing i thought of was Sting!!! take a song like Everybreath you take, sting wrote the melody/lyrics and chords (common prog i.e stand by me)...but that guitar part is integral to song...in fact ive heard it played without the riff and it sounds crap!!

 

i reckon spread the credit. When you read about the way U2 write songs...musically everyone contributes and its very hard to pinpoint who does what...so they are all credited.

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Wow - great information. I guess what I am reading is that there are no real rules to this. Just so we are clear, the example in my first post is an example. Not something that really happened. I wrote that... uh... 'song' myself and only for this example.
I'm just saying', everyone that confuses correlation with causation eventually ends up dead.
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BTW, it probably matters which industry you're in too. In church music, where the bulk of sales are sheet music rather than recordings (this truism probably excludes Gospel, P&W, and CCM), it's common to copyright the lyrics separately from the music. That leaves lyrics open to be sung to a new melody, and negotiation is only required with the lyricist.

 

If you look in the back of a hymnal, there are meter and hymntune indexes - so you can take songs of matching meter and sing them to a different hymntune. My favorite bit is to sing O God Our Help In Ages Past to AULD LANG SYNE (though ALS obviously isn't in the hymnal) at New Years Eve Mass, but it's also a good way to use texts set to unfamiliar tunes or to introduce a new tune. If you want to sing "Love Divine All Loves Excelling" and your assembly doesn't know HYFRYDOL (shame on you, LOL), you can set it to ODE TO JOY and they'll lift the roof.

 

This also allows lyricists to work separately from composers, and in one example gave us an excellent new text like Jeffrey Rowthorn's "Creating God", which then was followed with a gorgeous hymntune "PRESENCE", written by David Haas specifically FOR "Creating God", where the music helped convey the sense of the swirling cosmos that was absent from the generic hymntunes that Rowthorn's text was being used with (ST COLUMBA, for example).

 

Daf

I played in an 8 piece horn band. We would often get bored. So...three words:

"Tower of Polka." - Calumet

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The reality -- there is NO clear line of what delineates song-writing from arranging. In large part, it's a matter of taste.

 

As a general rule, song-writing and arranging are completely separate entities. There have been a million covers of thousands of songs, and the original song-writing credit stays with the original song-writers, no matter how much better some subsequent arrangement happens to be.

 

If Sting had written Every Breath, released it (without the guitar riff), it had been a flop, and then some other band had covered it and added said guitar part - they have *ZERO* legal rights to claim they wrote any part of the song.

 

In the end, what I believe is the most important aspect of this is NOT "where do you draw the line?" - but in a collaborative situation, deciding how things are going to work *BEFORE* you get started.

 

If a band decides that everyone will get song-writing credit, fine. But, as Griff notes, this CAN (and often does), lead to major squabbles down the line. Bands break up routinely, and as a rule, breakups are wrought with hurt feelings, anger, resentment and all kinds of nastiness that was NOT present when everyone was throwing out ideas during practice.

 

I recently joined a song-writing circle, and one of the first things we did was to state that if someone brings a song idea to the circle, that song is 100% theirs unless THEY decide they wish to share credit with a collaborator. Everyone was okay with that basic format -- and it's 100 times easier to get concensus on how to deal with the issue BEFORE you actually have a finished product.

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Originally posted by Sandy Hemenway:

If Sting had written Every Breath, released it (without the guitar riff), it had been a flop, and then some other band had covered it and added said guitar part - they have *ZERO* legal rights to claim they wrote any part of the song.

Comical, really, that this is exactly the point I was driving at in the Procol Harum debate thread...

 

Any song that carries a "signature" instrumental line can be performed without it. Therefore, the actual "songwriting" credit goes to whoever built the structure over which that instrumental line was performed.

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