We know – the legal aspect of co-writing can be particularly awkward. No one wants to accuse anyone of running away with a song, but it does happen, so you need to make sure you’re on the same page as your co-writers. If you don’t define the terms of the collaboration right from the get-go, there’s no saying what could happen if your song gets cut by an artist or starts generating royalties down the line.
Professional songwriters sign something called a split sheet for every co-write they complete. A split sheet is a contract that includes information about the co-written song, how the percentages are split, and other essentials. No matter how much you trust your co-writers, it’s much easier to protect your rights and resolve disputes that may come up in the future when you have a signed agreement you can point to.
There are many split sheet templates available online that you can print out, or you can use a website like songsplits.com if you do a lot of online collaborating and like keeping everything in the cloud. No matter which way you go, make sure the following items are always included in your split sheets.
1. Song details
Include the title of the song and the day(s) it was written. If you recorded the song, you can include those dates as well.
2. Percentage splits
Specify what percentage each songwriter gets for copyright ownership and royalties. Percentages are often split up evenly among co-writers, but not always. For instance, a hip-hop or dance producer may want 50% of the song because the underlying track is so crucial to its success. That means any other songwriters would be left to divvy up the remaining 50%. Ask around and try to get a sense of what industry standards are for your genre to ensure that you’re getting your fair share.
3. Songwriter details
Write down the names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, performing rights organizations, and publishing companies for each songwriter. Some people like to collect birthdays and Social Security numbers as well. You may also want to define each songwriter’s role (rhythm, lyrics, melody, etc.) if it affects how you split your percentages.
Make sure you and your co-writers agree on where and how the song can be used. Some examples:
- Who’s allowed to perform the song?
- Can the song be licensed by any company or music library?
- Do all songwriters need to be in agreement on where the song can be placed or cut (e.g., for a particular TV commercial or artist)?
- Do all songwriters need to agree on future alterations or versions of the song?
Most importantly, get the signatures of each songwriter along with the date, and ensure that everyone involved has a copy of the split sheet.
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