Join Richard Stim for an in-depth discussion in this video Who owns your band's songs?, part of Music Law: Managing a Band's Business.
- U.S. copyright law awards two music related copyrights. One to the writers of the songs, the songwriting copyright, and the others to the owners of the recordings, the sound recording copyright. As a result of this, the songwriting members of the band can earn a great deal more than other members. In my course Copyrighting a Song, I provide an explanation of how songwriter contributions are evaluated within a band. And you can review that course for more detail on this topic.
For now, I'll summarize some of those issues. Historically, songwriting revenue is paid to the people who wrote the words, melody, and chord structure. A more modern approach is to include contributions from memorable drums, bass, keyboards, and other parts as well. Regardless of these approaches, there is no mandatory standard as how to divide it up. It's whatever creative solution the co-writers agree upon. If your band wants to avoid songwriting disputes down the road, here are some suggestions.
After a song is recorded, the band should decide who gets credit for writing the song and each member's percentage contribution. After you have decided on the songwriters and their contributions, you'll need to decide how to divide the income from the song. Non-writer members can still receive song income if the writers agree on such a division. And many do. Here are four possible ways that bands can divide up songwriting income. The songwriters take all.
Under this system, the writers get the songwriting credit and the income. This system is typically preferred by a band that is built around a songwriter who is usually the band leader. Or by a band in which two members write most or all of the songs. The band splits songwriting money equally. Under this system, all of the song income is divided equally among all band members. This system is popular for a jam band in which songs evolve at performances or at practice. Or for a techno or dance band, in which the members build songs around grooves.
This system is also popular with bands that believe in band democracy and consider songwriting as just another band task for which all money should be divided equally. The band splits publishing income equally. Songwriters split songwriter income proportionately. Under this system, the band including songwriters split songwriting revenue in half. One half goes to the songwriters and the other half goes to a music publisher owned by the band.
The music publisher shares the publishing share with all of the band members. Many rock and pop groups use this system. It is a compromised approach in which all band members receive some song income. Yet the songwriters still receive the bulk of the money. One-credit for performing on a song, two-credits for writing and performing on a song. This is a unique system and it may give your band ideas for creating other methods of dividing song income.
Take a band's song, how many people played on it, how many people wrote it, add up these totals. For example, if there were four players and two of them writers, that's six. That becomes the denominator, the bottom number of a fraction. A band member who is a writer and performer of the song gets two credits, for 2/6 of the song income. A band member who only performs gets one credit, for 1/6 of the song income. All of the song income is pooled regardless of its source, and the money is divided according to these fractions.
It starts with what it means to be the manager of a band, and what types of business structures are available for bands. Once you've decided on a business structure, you can create a band partnership agreement that covers voting rights, postbreakup scenarios, new members, and terms for resolving disputes. Richard also exposes potential sources of disputes, like ownership of the band name, songs, equipment, and recordings. He includes advice on negotiating solid band contracts and managing financial basics: taxes, income, cash flow, and bookkeeping. Finally, he'll address how to protect your work, including your copyrights, band name, and songs, and explains how to find a lawyer—and save money on attorney fees.
DISCLAIMER: This course is taught by an attorney (or other instructor) and addresses US law concepts that may not apply in all countries. Neither LinkedIn (including Lynda.com) nor the instructor represents you and they are not giving legal advice. The information conveyed through this course is akin to a college or law school course; it is not intended to give legal advice, but instead to communicate information to help viewers understand the basics of the topic presented. The views (and legal interpretations) presented in this course do not necessarily represent the views of LinkedIn or Lynda.com.
- Putting together a band partnership agreement
- Working out ownership disputes
- Limiting band liability
- Protecting your copyrights and band name
- Hiring a lawyer