Whether you write original material alongside other musicians, producers, or a tricky combination of the two, one critical discussion that impacts the careers of most creators is a songwriting split agreement. No matter how experienced you are, it’s a complex process that generates a great deal of confusion and common questions.
For instance, what role does a publishing split sheet play in facilitating and finalizing a songwriting split agreement? Who determines who gets what percentage of ownership? And finally, does one split sheet cover a creator’s recording and publishing rights?
Knowing the answers to questions like this is a key part of cultivating a successful collaboration, and ultimately, a successful career. Let’s delve into the details, shall we?
What Is a Split Sheet?
A split sheet is a written agreement that identifies the percentage of ownership each collaborator on a song will receive. It becomes a legally binding document as soon as it is signed, serves as written evidence of each person’s individual ownership and affiliations, and assures any third parties that there will be no disputes about royalty distribution.
Why Do I Need to Use Split Sheets?
As a songwriter, collaborator, co-writer, or producer, you need a split sheet as proof of ownership for every song you create. Without it, your performing rights organization (PRO), publisher or publishing administrator cannot confirm your ownership percentage in the event of a conflict and may not be able to collect your composition or publishing royalties. The same goes for distributors and labels that deal with recording-generated royalties. A split agreement eliminates ambiguity, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and preventing future registration and royalty collection issues.
Here’s a quick recap of what you need to keep in mind:
Split sheets should be used any time you collaborate on a song with other creators
You should fill out and sign a split sheet once everyone agrees a song is finished
A signed split sheet is a legally binding agreement that will help resolve any possible split errors when registering
Not using a split sheet can cause unnecessary conflicts that put your royalties on pause and lead to uncomfortable conversations about who did what on a song
Speaking of uncomfortable conversations, make sure you’re reporting the same ownership shares as your co-writer(s). If there’s a split discrepancy (e.g., the percentage equals more than 100%), your royalties will be withheld until it’s resolved. For example, if you claim 70% of a song and your co-writer claims 40%, various pay sources and publishers will put your royalties on hold until an agreement is reached.
Just remember that a split sheet is not a copyright or a substitute for one. They are two separate items that protect the ownership of your songs. And as we mentioned earlier, you can use a split sheet for both the recording and publishing sides of a song, so it’s important to note which paperwork applies to which half.
How Do I Determine Splits?
Dividing splits on a song is completely up to you and your co-writers. You can split the rights evenly, or each person can be assigned a percentage equivalent to their overall contribution.
A song’s genre may also play a part in determining splits. It’s not uncommon for hip-hop and dance producers to ask for a higher percentage of songwriting royalties due to the pivotal role their hooks and melodies play in a song’s overall success. Major producers like Brian Eno, Rick Rubin or Nile Rodgers may also ask for a bigger cut due to their experience with a wide range of artists and chart-topping records.
Deals between songwriters and producers can also vary widely; sometimes they involve a flat upfront fee rather than songwriting credits or points on a recording. With so many competing factors and potential scenarios at play, it’s essential to discuss deals with your producer(s) as early as possible during the creation of your song to avoid any miscommunication or conflicts.
It’s also important to remember that samples of someone else’s song must be cleared with all relevant parties first. This includes both the publishing and original recording owner. You can usually exchange permission for a percentage of the publishing rights and/or negotiate an upfront fee, but nothing is guaranteed. It all depends on who’s involved and how they’d like to be compensated and credited.
What Is Included in a Split Sheet?
A split sheet should always include the details you need to document song ownership and a contractual agreement between its contributors. These details include a composition’s title, any songs that were sampled, and the legal name, collection society, and publisher or publishing administrator of each creator. Any other additional information, and the format of your split sheet, may vary depending on the template you use.
If you’re looking for more guidance or information, Songtrust offers a free split sheet template, as well as a crash course on songwriter splits and royalties that includes more real-world examples from creators like yourself.