Whether you’re a label, manager, publisher, or distributor, industry leaders should always encourage their artists to have honest and open conversations about split sheets. After all, not having them in place means not being able to confirm a creator’s ownership percentage or collect any related publishing royalties.
“A split sheet is a basic tool,” entertainment lawyer Kendall Minter explained at a recent conference in Jamaica. “If you go buy your house, are you going to walk away from your closing without a deed and title? Hell no! Copyright split sheets are your deeds and titles to your intellectual property and publishing.”
While that may be true, split sheets aren’t the easiest thing to explain when an artist is looking for guidance around their long-term goals. Here are some common questions about split sheets for publishers, labels, managers, and distributors.
What Are Some Common Business Scenarios Where Your Artist Would Need a Split Sheet?
There are a few different scenarios where your artists might need to use a split sheet, beginning with a band’s division of labor. While some groups split their songwriting duties and ownership shares equally, others may let one member lead the way and collect a larger percentage of publishing royalties.
Another common scenario managers face is when their clients write music with a wide range of other creators. Using split sheets helps protect these creators from ownership disputes with outside parties further down the road.
Setting up writing sessions on behalf of your artists is a similar situation — one that would benefit from a broad split sheet breakdown and plainly stated publishing shares. Using samples in a song is slightly more complicated since you need to get them approved first. Whether it’s a one-second loop or an entire chorus, samples are typically cleared in exchange for an upfront fee or a percentage of the publishing rights. Documenting the latter on a split sheet can help avoid any miscommunication or copyright conflicts.
What Are Some Common Errors Managers and Labels Might Encounter if Their Artists Don’t Use a Split Sheet?
Failing to use a split sheet and clearly state everyone’s share could lead to quite a few conflicts. One common problem would be when a creator has a prior agreement in place with specific terms about ownership. A split sheet either upholds that contract or provides all the relevant details for a new agreement.
Switching publishers can also be a source of conflict since it requires a Letter of Relinquishment (LOR) to administer rights and royalties on an artist’s behalf. Other potential issues are unlicensed samples (when you use a sample without getting it cleared first), complex fractional splits (when a song involves many co-writers), and last-minute split changes that were never formally discussed or confirmed.
Communication is key no matter what your artist’s situation is; keep an open dialogue going and put every decision on paper as much as possible. For more information on split sheets and a quicker path toward earning and retaining publishing royalties on behalf of your clients, please check out our free split sheet template and crash course on why splits are so important in the music industry.