The best songwriting teams are legendary. Lennon and McCartney, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, Stock, Aitken and Waterman…Ok, some songwriting collaborations are famous for different reasons, but the point is collaborating on songwriting works. If you get a good team or a great partner to write your songs with you’ve struck gold. But what does this mean for the deal you make with a publisher and how does it affect your earnings?
This used to be straightforward. If two people wrote a song together (one wrote the music and one the lyrics) each would get 50%. If one person wrote the music and two people wrote the lyrics. The melody writer would still get 50% and the two lyricists would get 25% each. You get the picture. This has run into muddy waters since tracks have been used as the basis for a song and the melody and lyrics are laid on top of it. There are no actual fixed rates or rules as to how a track is treated and it’s often negotiated on a case by case basis. So how much the creator of the track gets is not certain. This gets even muddier when samples of songs are used on tracks. If a song is sampled and used in your song, the owner of the sample obviously wants their share too. Does this share come out of the track’s share or out of everyone’s share? The creator of the track is going to say everyone’s and this is where tension could arise. Again, this often gets resolved on an individual basis and it’s by no means straightforward or predictable.
If you have a writing partner there are some important things to remember about deals and contracts. An advance is paid per song, not per writer, so any advance your song gets now has to be split between the two of you. Also, you need to make sure you have separate accounts for your earnings. If a publisher tries to get you to sign one contract for the both of you, you could run into problems when it comes to dividing up your income. Make sure your accounts and your contracts are totally separate so there’s no confusion. You may be a writing team, but you each have the right to work on other projects as well, and you need to keep the money you are earning as an individual sperate from each other and not treated as one pile. So, separate contracts are great, right? Well, yes, they are preferable, but there are things to consider with this option too. Two separate contracts effectively makes you two sperate employees. So, when it comes to the time for renewing your contract you aren’t viewed as a team, but as two separate creatives. There is the chance that one of you gets your contract renewed and one of you doesn’t.
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