The business of songwriting: co-writes and split sheets

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The business of songwriting: split sheets and co-writesAs a songwriter, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the creativity and excitement of writing and forget about the business side of things.

A lot of times, the very subject of business, royalty splits and copyright can change the atmosphere of the room and dry up whatever creative juices were flowing.

However, it’s important to remember that it’s your copyrights that will get you a publishing deal, a licensing contract, and ultimately, an income in the future. If you don’t legally and properly claim your work, you could be missing out on thousands of dollars worth of opportunities.

Of course, this becomes a little more complicated if you work with other writers or producers to compose songs. Co-writing is pretty common these days among songwriters and the collaboration culture is growing rapidly in today’s music industry. It’s a great way to explore new styles, find inspiration, and discover melodies and grooves you never knew you had in you. However, it also means that all co-writers have a stake in the song and it’s up to you to determine just what percentage each writer owns. These splits will determine the royalties you receive in the future.

The Split Sheet

In the US, in the absence of a written agreement each co-writer automatically owns an equal share in a song. To get around this, you’ll need to create a split sheet putting each songwriter’s ownership down on paper. A split sheet is a short document that details which writer owns what percentage of a song. While it is a legal document, you probably don’t need to hire a lawyer, especially during the early stages of your career; instead, you could download this free template. You’ll need to create a split sheet for every song you write with someone else.

When to Create a Split Sheet

It’s best to create a split sheet up front, right after you’ve completed a song. You want to make it extremely clear who owns what before any income or royalties start flowing in. Often, having real money on the table can complicate things. Not to mention, the writing process will be fresh in your mind and it will be easier to determine the percentages.

If you’ve skipped split sheets on previously co-written songs, you definitely want to make sure you write one up before you enter into negotiations for any kind of license or deal. Publishing companies don’t want to get dragged into a copyright ownership dispute and may not let you sign a contract unless you have it figured out. On top of that, if ownership is not clear, PROs, publishers, or record companies may hold back any royalties your songs are generating to avoid liability.

How to Determine the Splits

There are a few ways to approach this, and it will vary depending on your particular situation. If you’re intent on avoiding confrontation, you could go the easy route and give each contributor equal ownership. For example, if you had two co-writers, it would be split 50/50 between the two of you for the writer’s portion.

Another option is to give each writer a percentage equal to their contribution. This is where things can get a little tricky. If you simply measure by the length of each contribution, the person who wrote the hook may only get 10% or 15%. However, most people consider the hook the most important part of a song and believe it deserves a much larger percentage. With that in mind, you need to evaluate each contribution by its length and value to the overall song. If you’re working with a producer, the genre will largely determine their ownership. For the most part, hip-hop and urban producers will get a higher percentage than other genres with jazz and classical producers receiving little to no ownership.

How to Write a Split Sheet

You can certainly write up your own split sheet. As long as all the information is there, it’s a perfectly legal document. Create a template in Word with labeled fields and space to fill in the song name, the contributing writers, their PRO and publishing company, their role in the song creation (producer, writer, etc.), address and contact information, the percentage of the song each writer owns, and a signature for each writer. Or download our free template. Once you have this template, you can simply make copies to fill out every time you collaborate on a new song.

Sit down with your co-writers and fill it out together. Once finished, make sure each writer has signed the sheet and are given a copy of the final split sheet.

If you’d like to learn even more great strategies, check out this free video lesson series. You’ll meet some of our students who are seeing real results and success and go through their winning strategies.

Of course, if you want to be a successful songwriter, you’ll need to go above and beyond split sheets and learn how to promote and license your music. In the New Artist Model online music business courses you’ll learn how to turn your music into a successful business. You’ll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you achieve a career in music, and you’ll be able to do it all with the resources you have available right now.

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Author bio: Dave Kusek is a digital cowboy, consultant, teacher, entrepreneur, musician, marketer, co-author of Future of Music, founder of Berklee Online, and the driving force behind New Artist Model.

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Photo credit: Kris Kesiak

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