Splitting credits between a song’s co-writers can be tricky. Do you distribute them equally among band members, even if the lead singer wrote its lyrics and the hook everyone’s gonna hum for the foreseeable future? Or do you consider each member’s contribution with a critical eye and come to a consensus everyone can agree on?
To complicate matters a bit more, what do you do if one of your primary collaborators is a producer? Don’t worry, though; the process for determining and documenting a producer royalty split is essentially the same as with any other co-writer. Their ownership comes down to an open and honest conversation between you and any of the other creators who helped along the way.
Here are some common questions and concerns to consider when deciding how to split royalties with a producer.
What is a Split in Music?
One way to formalize a producer’s ownership percentage is by filling out a split sheet. This signed agreement codifies the contribution of everyone who worked on a song, whether it was lyrics, a central hook, beat or melody, or something else entirely. Much like with any other collaboration, a producer split sheet is an essential part of avoiding disputes and mismatched claims that can prevent you from registering songs and receiving publishing royalties.
Are Producers Considered Songwriters?
Yes, absolutely. The boundaries between songwriters and producers have become so blurred over the past few decades that we encourage producers to consider themselves songwriters no matter how behind the scenes they appear to be.
One important detail to remember is that, at least in the U.S., a song’s publishing ownership is determined by whoever wrote its lyrics and melody. Case in point: While producer George Martin is often credited with making a major contribution to the Beatles catalog, he does not receive any publishing royalties. They are usually split between the band’s two blockbuster songwriters, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.
On the other hand, many of today’s leading genres (including hip-hop, EDM, and pop music) are driven by their dynamic productions, not a simple band setup. Because of this, an increasing number of producers are recognizing their vital role in creating music, identifying as songwriters, and ensuring they receive any royalties they’re entitled to.
How Are Producer Shares Determined? Do They Get the Same Split on Every Song?
A producer's ownership shares are determined by their overall contribution and how it relates to the rest of a song. If your song is already written and you simply need help with recording and engineering it, your producer may not take a cut of the publishing but just an up-front fee. On the other hand, if you approach a producer with a rough demo and you flesh it out to its full potential together, then the producer will typically ask for songwriting credits unless you negotiated a different deal beforehand.
Whatever the case may be, determining the authorship of a song is not as easy as handing out equal ownership shares to everyone involved. Not when one writer dominated a session or certain elements of a song (a programmed sound or rhythm for a producer; a lyric or melody for a songwriter) weighed more heavily on the final product’s feel than others.
Another consideration that often comes up is a song’s genre. Hip-hop, rap, and dance producers often get a higher percentage than rock or jazz producers due to the inherent viral and commercial value of their hooks, beats, and melodies.
That’s not always the case, though. An influential, genre-jumping producer like Rick Rubin may ask for a bigger share of a band’s publishing rights and royalties due to his track record with everyone from Slayer to System of a Down to Johnny Cash. It all depends on the person that’s involved in your production and the candid discussions that need to occur as early on in the songwriting and recording process as possible.
What if You or a Producer You Work With Uses a Sample in a Song?
Since producers often use samples in their work — everything from a basic, four-bar loop to a complex, multi-tracked beat — they need to be cleared before a recording is wrapped and outlined on a split sheet so there is no confusion over publishing rights and ownership shares with other creators.
If you include a sample of someone else’s song in your own work, those splits are negotiated with the writers/publishers of the song that is being sampled. They can either approve your use in exchange for a portion of your publishing royalties and/or an upfront fee, or deny it entirely. The same goes for a beat that was bought or leased from an outside producer. Some are purchased outright for an upfront fee and include no ownership shares, and others ask for a small publishing rights percentage.
What Are Common Split Sheet Scenarios With Producers?
Split agreements between recording artists, songwriters, and producers vary wildly. In some cases, a producer may receive only a flat upfront fee (often referred to as a “work-for-hire” agreement). In others, they can receive a fee, songwriting credits on some or all of the songs, and/or a percentage of the recording’s royalties.
Generally negotiated upfront — rather than in the studio as songs are written — a producer’s side royalty, or “points on the recording,” are calculated as a small proportion of net revenue. This is dependent on their arrangement with the label and artist.
Since producers are the invisible hand guiding many songs, understanding the nuances of that relationship can help foster a healthy working relationship from the very beginning. Especially if you openly discuss producer royalty splits that are fair and follow common industry standards.
If you need help figuring out split sheets and reaching an equitable deal that’ll please every party that’s involved in a song, check out our producer royalty checklist and crash course on songwriter splits & royalties to calculate and chronicle any work you’ve co-written correctly.