How to decide who owns a song?
Like any good relationship, songwriting collaborations work best when there’s mutual trust and respect. When discussing songwriting splits, it comes down to what co-writers are happy with, and what they think is fair.
Tips on how to approach song splits
Agree – when possible, agree on how to approach the splits BEFORE the writing starts. Jam sessions happen, collaborations can be spontaneous, but always try to discuss splits at the start of the work.
Review – when the song is finished, ensure everyone is happy about their percentage, and the percentage that their co-writers are receiving.
Examples of common co-writing splits
Equal shares – Often, band members who write together (or co-writers) simply split their songwriting royalties equally between them.
Alternatively, writers within a band will also adjust the percentages if they feel that one person has written more than others. Have these conversations openly.
Not all band members may be writers.
Nashville Rule – this is a term used when an equal percentage of ownership is given to EVERYONE who was in the room during the writing of the song, regardless of how much each person contributed.
This is the method that APRA AMCOS uses at our SongHubs songwriting camps.
Think of it as ‘If you were in the room, you’re in the song.’
Music and lyrics – Traditionally, songs were thought of in terms of music and lyrics. 50% of ownership went to whoever wrote the music; and 50% ownership went to whoever wrote the lyrics.
The way people create music today means that this tradition doesn’t always apply. Some writers choose to expand splits to take into account other musical elements like production, riffs, harmony, groove and arrangement.
Top liners and track writers – Today, music is often written collaboratively by a combination of professional top liners (writers who specialise in words and melody) and track writers (writers who create chord structures and musical backings etc).
Often producers are cut into songs if they have made a contribution to the writing and construction. At the top level of the industry, even artists are sometimes given a percentage, simply for lending their profile and fanbase to the song.