What Are Songwriting Splits and Why You Need to Agree on Them Now

Last Updated on April 16th, 2019 at 10:41 am

Songwriting Splits

Music mogul Simon Cowell recently parted methods with Little Mix, the girl group he championed and signed after they won the X Factor in 2011.

The reported reason? He had a falling out with their reps Modest Management amid a row over a songwriting credit on their single “Woman Like Me.”

Some might think it’s a drastic move over a relatively inconsequential problem, however, such fallouts are becoming more common than ever before – particularly considering the exponential development in the number of credited songwriters on today’s big hits.

The idea that results in songwriting crediting headaches like these are called songwriting splits.

And every musician and songwriter distributing their music need to know what they’re and why they matter. It’ll assist you to keep away from lots of grief down the road.

However, songwriting splits aren’t always easy. So to help you get clear on splits right here’s everything you should know.

The basics: who owns what?

Before you begin, it’s necessary to know the two different copyright types for a record:

  • The master right is the ownership of the sound recording, most commonly owned by the label
  • The composition right  is the possession of the underlying track, sometimes referred to as the publishing right

This composition right is split between their respective publishers and the songwriters. The percentage each one gets – the split – should be agreed between all parties before the record is launched.

What’s a fair split?

I usually get asked by artists and budding songwriters what sort of share they need to ask for once they work with other writers.

Generally, the question evolves from their feeling that they did more than the other writer(s). My first response is always: “Do you need to work with them again? If so, split equally.”

The common answer is to argue that they came up with both the lyrics and melody so need to get more, however, my point is that it’s tough to quantify the value of somebody’s contribution.

It might be something easy like changing the format of the track – like taking out the pre-chorus or including an earworm hook – that’s the difference between a hit and just an average song.

Partnership splits

Maybe the most famous instance of sharing songwriting duties is the Lennon-McCartney partnership.

In retrospect, we now understand that certain Beatles songs were written by Paul and others by John, but they were all credited 50/50 between the two. It may be argued that together they were more than the sum of their parts.

Maybe the truth that they had to get the approval of each other affected the quality enough to make the tracks more succinct and pleasing to both Lennon’s tougher, more political taste and Paul’s love of beautiful, sweeter melodies?

Splits that keep the band together

Another danger with dividing the songwriting splits according to who came up with what lines is that people tend to fight for their concepts in order to get a bigger share, not for the better of the track.

Some credit U2’s longevity to splitting every track equally – even giving their longtime manager Paul McGuinness an equal share, as if he was a part of the band.

Everybody in Coldplay additionally gets a share of each track, no matter if Chris Martin came into the studio with a finished composition or not.

Meanwhile, there’s a long line of band break-ups spurred by begrudging band members who feel their contribution wasn’t acknowledged enough when a person took 100% of the songwriting credits, earning considerably more than the rest of the band.

Songwriting by committee

In Nashville, the rule tends to be that you split it equally between, however, many people are in the room during the writing session.

However, in the last decade, because of technology enabling us to work remotely, sending files back and forth, this rule no longer applies. Now it isn’t uncommon for a DJ/producer to send out an instrumental to 10 or more “topline” writers, then cherry picks sections from several of them, with a refrain from one, a verse from another, a bridge from a 3rd and so on.

In EDM and hip-hop, specifically, contributions that used to be seen simply as arrangement (and so not eligible for a share of the publishing) are now usually claimed to be songwriting contributions – including drum programming.

Add sampling and inclusion of hooks from other tracks, and it’s not stunning that the average variety of credited songwriters in the US market’s Top 10 streaming hits of 2018, was as high as 9.1 per track.

The finishing touch

And, lastly, there’s the notorious artist motto “change a word, get a 3rd”, when an artist who receives a completed song wants a share of the songwriting in order to reduce it.

UK songwriter Dyo says she often leaves a verse lyric unwritten for the artist to contribute to, so that the artist feels a part of the writing process.

In these cases, it’s all up for negotiation. As with all negotiations, those that are willing to walk away keep most of the energy.

You must figure out how likely you’re to get the track covered by someone else. If the artist is big enough, it might be worth giving up a bigger share. After all, having 15% of a Drake track might be worth more than having 50% of the same song launched by an unknown artist.

Negotiate your songwriting splits early

The largest obstacle to getting the songwriting splits sorted is the reluctance we songwriters must discuss them. I know, because I avoided it for most of my songwriting career. I describe it as akin to giving somebody a prenup on a first date – in other words, a real vibe killer.

However, no matter how awkward, how many writers and how uneven the songwriting splits, you could discuss songwriting splits early if you want to get paid correctly – or even at all.

If the split agreement and registration of the track with your Performing Rights Organisation (ASCAP/BMI/SOCAN/PRS and so on) are incomplete or under dispute, nobody will get paid.

That is extra common than you think. A few years ago, the CEO of UK performing rights association PRS relayed that one of Beyoncé’s albums was still below dispute 18 months after launch. No doubt, Beyoncé still had the cash to pay her bills, however, the identical may not have been true for some of the co-writers.

To ensure you get paid when your track is streamed, broadcast on the TV or radio, or performed at a concert, you should ensure that your PRO has a “clean” registration of it before it’s launched.

That means they’ve info of who wrote it, what their IPI/CAE (songwriter ID) numbers are, who their publisher is (if any), and that everybody’s share of the track adds up to 100% – not 101% or more.

Face the music

Nobody becomes a music creator in order to do admin, however, if you want to make music for a living you should handle all your rights, so you get paid and credited accurately.

Bite the bullet and discuss the way you and your co-writers should split the songwriting credits sooner rather than later, to prevent tears and arguments down the line – or, as in Little Mix’s case, even falling out with your label.

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