Whether you’re hosting a jam session in your basement or helping a pop star write their next hit single, collaborating with other musicians can be an incredibly productive way to create new material and reach new audiences. It can also lead to awkward conversations about how rights and royalties are split once a recording is wrapped.
To illustrate how music publishing splits work in the real world, we asked some Ghanaian musicians how they’ve dealt with this divisive topic. Before we share their insightful stories, let’s define some key terms.
Who Is Considered a Co-writer?
A co-writer is a producer, band member, vocalist, instrumentalist, or songwriter who helps shape a song’s recording and/or composition. To keep things clear and concise, we are going to focus on the composition throughout this article.
What Are Split Sheets?
A split sheet is a signed agreement stating how much each songwriter owns of a copyrighted work. These percentages are often based on each writer’s contribution. For example, the person who penned a song’s lyrics may receive a larger share than the person responsible for part of a bridge.
How Do Artists Decide Whether or Not to Use Split Sheets?
Songtrust will always encourage the use of split sheets, but they are not common in some corners of the music industry. As we discovered while interviewing several Ghanaian creators, deciding whether to settle ownership shares with publishing splits is often influenced by past experiences.
Producer/engineer Kofi 'IamBeatMenace' Boachie-Ansah stumbled upon split sheets early on in his career, while he was studying songwriting and the music business. In order to protect his rights, he discusses publishing splits whenever he contributes to any kind of intellectual property.
A couple of Ghanaian producers (Boachie-Ansah and Kuvie) introduced singer/producer Ria Boss to split sheets in 2017. She did not use them in some early co-writing sessions because “the line between friend and colleague was sometimes blurred.” Boss now sets the terms for her sessions before getting started because it creates a clearer understanding of who’s doing what, and how they’ll be credited or compensated.
Singer/vocal coach Quayba discovered the value of split sheets after dealing with verbal agreements that were loosely based on “the amount of content each [musician] contributed” and lacked the legal standing of formalized paperwork.
What Happened in Situations Where Split Sheets Were Not Used?
Since split sheets are not always common in some communities, many creators have learned about them the hard way — by running into roadblocks that reduced their royalty payouts and made them reconsider the relative importance of publishing splits in music.
For instance, Boss was credited as a featured artist in one co-songwriting case, and paid a proportional fee for her work. Since she didn’t sign a songwriter split agreement, Boss receives a share of any revenue generated by the original recording, but none of the publishing rights.
Boachie-Ansah insists on signing ownership share agreements with his collaborators before a composition is released, even if there is already a verbal agreement in place. In fact, he’s such a fan of split sheets, Boachie-Ansah often gives other creators music biz books as gifts.
Quayba and her co-songwriters have all made good faith contributions, but she has not received any royalties for her work. She attributes this to “a bad sharing culture, especially when [a] song becomes a hit and people want to get all the praise for it…. We have a lot of songwriting disputes; people tend to not understand the process in general.”
How Often Are Ownership Shares Discussed in the Ghanaian Music Scene?
Maybe it’s because it seems like such an odd question — how often do creators actually talk about ownership? — but the topic is surprisingly taboo in some communities.
According to Boss, Ghanaian creators do not usually discuss ownership shares. “A lot of collaborations happen through friendly familiarity [instead],” he says, “and for the promise of exposure.”
This is “slowly changing,” however. Creators not only understand the need to be fairly compensated, but the continued growth of Ghana’s music industry has put more money on the table, making these conversations all the more vital.
Boachie-Ansah discusses ownership splits all the time, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation might be. He has “walked away from countless projects that failed to address this issue from the start.”
Meanwhile, Quayba says, “The tension created by the discussion of ownership shares may affect the creative flow. Furthermore, creators are possessive and protective of their work — as a result, there is reluctance to share credits.”
Co-writing is still a “fairly new concept” as well. This lack of awareness leads creators like Quayba to not receive the royalties they are due. It also reinforces the importance of music publishing splits and their role in protecting a person’s hard-earned publishing rights.
One common refrain from these Ghanaian writers is how difficult it is to discuss ownership shares during or after a session. In many cases, it’s a point of contention that’s either ignored or avoided entirely.
To recap, Boss learned about music publishing splits after the “line between friends” and collaborators became blurred with members of her community. While she was credited on a work and paid an upfront fee and recording royalties, she didn’t receive any publishing royalties. Because of this, she now brings up music publishing splits before she starts writing or recording with other creators.
Boachie-Ansah discovered split sheets while doing independent, proactive research on protecting his publishing rights. He now puts music publishing splits on paper no matter what the work is, and aims to educate as many fellow creators as possible so they do the same.
Quayba has always relied on “good faith” relationships, mostly because of the unconstrained culture that is built into the Ghanaian music industry. After doing her own research, she came across split sheets. And while sees the value in them, she also understands why others shy away from this sensitive conversation.
Regardless of how your own creative process works, it’s important to remember that discussing ownership shares while a song is being written — or at the very least, before a recording is released — can help avoid uncomfortable situations like conflicting song registrations with your co-writers.