Updated: Feb 24, 2020
You write a song with some friends for fun one night and years later that song suddenly becomes a hit, or gets placed in a major TV show. This sounds like a dream that soon could be a nightmare. What if your friends never put your name on the split sheet, never registered the song, used the idea and wrote a new song with it without your approval or credits on it.....I can go on and on and on about possible scenarios that unfortunately have happened too many times to too many people.
How do you make sure your rights are protected and registered and how do you make sure you get paid for the work you've done?
1. Register with a PRO. (Performance Rights Organization)
In the USA we have ASCAP, BMI and SESAC but each country has it's own rights organizations. PRO's license, collect and distribute public performance royalties for songwriters and publishers. This includes when music is used on radio, film, TV, streaming and performed live. By registering your songs with your cowriters and splits you allow the PRO to collect those monies for you. In the US you have to sign up as a publisher and as a writer, if you only sign up for one, you only get 50% of your possible earnings.
Each PRO offers different benefits, to know more about those check out this article.
Something to consider, you can sign up with different PRO's based on territory, if you live in the UK but you have a lot of income from the US you can sign up with a US PRO just for the US territory. This gives you acces to a better insight in your income, and you don't have to wait that long on international payments.
2. Split-sheets and Percentages.
When you write a song with 4 writers it doesn't automatically mean you split is 25% equal. One of the writers might feel they did more (or less), the producer might want to take a split. There are many variations of splits, and the best way is to solidify the exact numbers right after the write, when everyone is still excited about the song. Once things start happening with a song, some people might start questioning the amount of work one of the writers did, this is just human nature, so lock it in right after the session.
Here are some fantastic apps and companies to make this process easier for you.
Jammber - From hip-hop to country and rock, the Jammber Splits™ app was designed with the top songwriters and producers in the world to easily capture your "splits" or song shares in real-time. Add collaborators from your contacts or automatically in the room using Jammber Nearby™. Everything you need to track your songs and collaborations to share with your labels, managers, publishers or teams in the palm of your hand.
Songsplits - No paperwork. No chasing people around to get information. No missed licensing opportunities and no hold up on getting paid.
Splits - Seamlessly create split sheets in seconds to claim and protect your publishing ownership.
Nobody likes to do their administration, yet it's a necessity for every songwriter. You can choose to let it pile up and till you are at the end of a year / the end of a pub deal when you suddenly need to send 100+ split sheets, co-writer names and their affiliated PRO's and publisher names, you are going to hate your life for a while.
So, get those details squared away at the beginning / end of sessions. I made a habit of writing the cowriter names / their publishers + date of creation on top of each lyric sheet while I'm in the cowrite.
yeah.....boring, I know, I can't give you any inspiring words on this one ;)
4. Know your rights.
Ok, so lets say, you didn't do step 1, 2, or 3 and you are now in a situation where you hear your song on the radio or under a commercial and you frantically check your records and realize there is nothing registered or listed. What do you do??
Go find evidence, a recording from the day of creation, an email with the song demo. Once you gather enough evidence, GO GET YOURSELF A LAWYER!!
I'm not a legal expert and I'm not claiming to have any legal background, so therefor I'm going to send you to this blogpost with some great tips!
5. Give a little, take a little
I've been in writes where the artist did not add a single word to the song, yet they still got 50% and I've been in writes with artists who underline all the words they feel they added to the song and come up with some crazy percentage splits, I've been in writes where the manager sits in and gets 25% for just sitting in the room.
Hey, this is the music industry, life isn't always fair and world peace is far far away at this point in time, so the way I look at things is with a giant grain of salt. Sometimes you gotta give a little just to be able to be in the room, sometimes you get a little more than you deserve just by being in the room, It's ok, you don't want to be the guy or gal who is going to split hairs every single cowrite, that just makes people not want to write with you.
Don't get me wrong, getting your business together is really really (have I said really already) really important. But......you can be flexible with the percentages, when you are growing your business and your database of cowriters, don't be the one who holds up sessions picking over details. Go with the flow (but don't let anyone take advantage of you either!)
So, go make friends, be merry, write great songs, and be informed and ready to make some hits!!!