While lyric and split sheets may not be used by every songwriter, they are important to understand as your career grows. On the one hand, lyric sheets can be your ticket to landing a big-time songwriting gig or sync placement. And on the other, split sheets help keep things candid and clear when you’re working with multiple people on a song. They may also be the key to ensuring your royalties are paid out in full and in a timely manner.
Let’s dive deeper into both.
When To Use a Lyric Sheet
Lyric sheets are primarily used to pitch songs to various members of the music industry. Similar to a resume, these documents should be clear, concise, and grammatically correct, with contact information that is current and easily accessible.
If you’re a full-time songwriter looking to get your work recorded and released by major artists, lyric sheets will play a vital role in landing potential clients. This is especially true if you’re not a performer yourself.
Lyric sheets also come in handy if you’re working with a music supervisor and seeking ad or television syncs for your songs, as lyrical themes may be crucial in determining a song’s fit. Regardless of where your work might end up, or what side of the songwriting game you’re on, you should know how to create and use lyric sheets in case you need them down the road.
Formatting a Lyric Sheet
Music industry professionals want to see lyric sheets at every stage of a songwriter’s career. They are your calling card — the first impression other parties will use to evaluate you and your songs.
Don’t worry about sharing a song’s musical notation; that will be heard in your demo. Instead, a lyric sheet captures all of the relevant information about you and your song’s lyrics. Experts differ on some formatting preferences, but everyone agrees these key parts must be included:
- Your name and the name of any co-writers, as well as everyone’s contact info
- Your publishing information (if applicable), including the name of your Performing Rights Organization (PRO)
- An accurate D.O.C (Date of Creation)
These points are as important as the lyrics themselves — a necessary source of information about the songwriter(s) for record labels, music publishers, music supervisors, and anyone else interested in using your song.
Producers and vocalists may also use your lyric sheet, so make sure every line is written out in its entirety. If a chorus is repeated twice, type it out twice; this makes it much easier for vocalists and other musicians to follow the flow of the song.
Some professionals suggest indenting the chorus to make it stand out, while others suggest using italics. Make sure the entire song fits easily on a single typed page either way. And if you’re including multiple lyrics, or your lyrics don’t fit on one page, make sure to indicate this by incorporating page numbers.
A well-made lyric sheet shows off your songwriting and respect for industry standards. It acts as both a resume and portfolio, representing you and your talents to the music industry. Take the time to learn about how to format it with the fonts, centering, margins, and spacing that industry pros are looking for.
Or you could always use our template to create a lyric sheet when you submit your song to labels, music supervisors, distribution partners, and publishers for potential sync placements and monetization opportunities.
Split Sheets and Royalties
While the business side of the music industry may not be as much fun as the creative side, it’s important to understand the paperwork and contracts you’ll be seeing for the foreseeable future. Do not sign a contract if you do not understand it in its entirety. Your share of copyrights and the agreements you sign for them will help determine your future income, after all.
One important agreement that’ll keep coming up throughout your career is a split sheet. If you work alongside another writer and/or producer, you each have a stake in the song’s success and should determine what percentage each of you owns.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus solely on the composition side, but note that a split sheet can also be used for the master recording. These split sheets help determine and solidify the percentage of composition royalties each songwriter will receive in the future.
A split sheet is an agreement that identifies the ownership percentage each producer and/or songwriter has in the song. It also includes other key details like each person’s contribution (lyrics, hook, melody, beats, etc.) and publisher information, as well as whether different versions of the song were created.
This information serves as written evidence of copyright ownership and will assure any third parties — such as your PRO or a potential publisher — that there is no dispute about royalty distribution.
Make sure you remain on the same page 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%, there will be potential conflicts at different pay sources and publishers. This will essentially lock up your royalties until everyone reaches an agreement.
Once you’ve finished writing a song — or a portion of it — in the U.S., it automatically becomes copyrighted by you and your co-writers. No additional paperwork is needed. However, it’s always good practice to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.
It’s also important to have a split sheet for every song you write or co-write. 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. Without a split sheet, disputes can arise over the stake each collaborator has in a song.
Federal copyright law states that if no prior agreement exists between contributors or collaborators, all contributors will own an equal share of the song. That’s sometimes true and won’t be an issue, but if some collaborators have a larger or smaller share, it’s important to finalize this ahead of time.
Please note that industry standards and copyright laws will also vary in other countries and territories when it comes to songwriter and producer splits.
How to Determine The Splits
At the end of the day, how you divide a song up depends on you and your co-writers. You can split the rights evenly among each co-writer or you can give each person a percentage according to their contribution.
Genre also plays a part in determining splits. Hip-hop, rap, and dance producers typically get a higher percentage of songwriting royalties than rock or jazz classical producers who receive smaller or, in some cases, no ownership.
However, deals between songwriters and producers vary widely; sometimes they don’t even involve giving up song ownership. It’s essential to discuss deals with your producer(s) as early as possible during the creation of your song to avoid any conflicts.
It’s also important to remember that any samples of someone else’s song must be cleared with all relevant parties first. This includes both the master and publishing owner. You can usually exchange permission for a percentage of the publishing rights and/or negotiate an upfront fee, but nothing is guaranteed; these deals vary widely depending on who’s involved.
Understanding split and lyric sheets will greatly benefit you the next time you write or perform a song with veterans in the music industry. Be sure to do your research and reach out to us if you have any questions.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out our split sheet template to make sure any splits on songs you've co-written are correctly determined, or use our lyric sheet template to ensure you’re including all the correct information.
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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.