Figuring Out Song Splits With Producers

Determining how to split credits with other songwriters can be tricky. Do you distribute them equally among every member of a band, even if the lead singer wrote a key riff and everyone else merely added a part here and there? 

How about when a rapper contributes a killer verse to an otherwise completed pop song? Do they deserve a hefty slice of the songwriting pie if the single becomes a smash hit? 

Then there’s another key player in the creative process: the producer(s). Like many other aspects of the music industry, their percentage comes down to a conversation between you, your writing partners, and anyone who helped along the way. 

One essential step to streamlining this process is by filling out a split sheet, an agreement that assigns an ownership percentage to each person who worked on a song. For songwriters, publishers, and producers, it clarifies what each person's specific contribution to the song was, whether it’s lyrics, the hook, a melody, the beat, or something else entirely. 

A split sheet is essential in preventing split disputes and mismatched claims, which can prevent you from registering songs with your administrator or publisher until it’s resolved. If you and collaborators don’t agree on splits, and enter conflicting claims with a PRO or another collection source, no composition royalties will be paid out until all parties agree on the correct splits. 

Are Producers Songwriters?

In short — yes. Absolutely. The boundaries between the roles of a songwriter and a producer have become blurred over the past few decades. In fact, so many of today’s producers are key players in creating the music they collaborate on that we encourage them to consider themselves songwriters no matter what. 

One important detail to remember is that — at least according to the U.S. government — a song’s 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. Those are usually split between the band’s two songwriting superstars, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. 

On the other hand, many of today’s leading genres (including hip-hop, EDM, and pop music) are production-led. Because of this, an increasing number of producers are recognizing their role in creating music, identifying as songwriters, and ensuring they receive the royalties they’re entitled to. 

Do Your Research On Producer Shares

One negotiation tactic many agreements take is determining a deal with a producer before working on your song. If your song is already finished and you simply need help with recording and engineering it, your producer likely will not take a cut. But if you go to a producer with a rough outline and you both work on a song creatively, then the producer will typically get songwriting credits unless you’ve already negotiated a different deal. 

Another factor to consider with splits is a song’s genre. Hip-hop, rap, and dance producers typically get a higher percentage than rock or jazz producers, for instance. 

Whatever the agreement may be, it's important to clearly state as many songwriting details as possible in a split sheet. 

Know That Not Every Song Has The Same Splits

As you determine authorship of a song, you’ll learn it's not always as easy as handing out equal credit to everyone involved. Not every contributor makes an equal contribution, and everything added to the song (a programmed sound or rhythm for a producer; a lyric or melody for a songwriter) is not always equally significant. 

Further complicating matters are factors outside of the production and songwriting process altogether. Getting a high-profile artist to contribute to a song may necessitate giving up some ownership even if the artist had no involvement in the writing process, simply due to how valuable they are. This tactic isn't a new development; Elvis Presley was known for receiving 50% of songwriting credits simply for singing on songs he never wrote.

What If I Use a Sample in My Song?

Split sheets also help clarify songwriting credits when a sample or interpolation is used in your song. The agreement usually states that the song was created from scratch — no samples were used — or if a sample was cleared with the writers/publishers of another song, said writers/publishers will receive publishing credits on the new one. 

If you include a sample of someone else's song, those splits are negotiated between the writers of the new version and the writers/publishers of the song that is being sampled, and must be approved by the writers/publishers of the song that is being sampled. They can also deny you the right to sample the song if they choose. The split percentage can vary greatly, so be sure to reach out to them before you get to work, not after. Note that if you are using a sample, you also need permission from the master owner of the original recording to legally release music containing a sample, which may entail granting a portion of master royalties and/or an upfront fee for the use.

Three Common Split Scenarios  

  1. Flat Fee: A pre-negotiated fee, or hourly rate paid to your producer for working on your song.
  2. Songwriting Credits: A portion of the songwriting credits go to the producer who worked on your song.
  3. Points on the Master: A percentage of the master royalties are paid out to the producer.

The agreements between recording artists, songwriters, and producers vary wildly. In some cases, a producer will receive only a flat upfront fee. In others, they’ll receive a fee, songwriting credits on some or all of the songs, and a master royalty. 

Generally negotiated upfront (not in the studio as songs are being written), a producer’s master side royalty, or “points on the master,” are calculated like the artist’s royalty — as a small proportion of net revenue, dependent on their arrangement with the label and artist.

At the end of the day, remember that anyone who receives songwriting credit on a song will receive royalties in perpetuity every time the song is sold, streamed, or played. Song splits can only add up to 100%, so keep that in mind when deciding how to split up the songwriting shares.

Be sure to have an open conversation and discuss these details before working together. Understanding not only what's fair, but what some common industry standards are will ensure that you strike an equitable deal with your producer(s).

If you need help getting started, use our split sheet template to make sure any songs you've co-written are correctly calculated and recorded.

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