As a songwriter, you should know how to show off your work while also understanding how to make sure you’re getting paid for your work. While lyric and split sheets may not be used by every songwriter, they are two documents that are important to understand as your career grows.
Lyric sheets can be your ticket to landing a big time songwriting gig or the trick to landing a sync placement. Split sheets are imperative if you’re working with multiple people on a song. In some cases, these can 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
A lyric sheet is primarily used if you’re a songwriter looking to pitch a song so that an artist will pick it up to record (and hopefully release) it. These are vital if you’re working as a full time songwriter hoping to get your works to major artists and/or if you aren’t a performer yourself. This document must be concise and to the point, similar to a resume. You’ll be sending these throughout the music industry at alI levels, so make sure it’s grammatically correct and your contact information is easily accessible and up-to-date.
Lyric sheets may also come in handy when pitching music to be in an ad or television placement, if you’re working with a music supervisor, or if you’re looking to get a record or publishing deal. Even if you’re just composing and writing your own music for streaming or independent physical releases, it’s good to know about this aspect of the industry and how to pitch songs (in case anyone ever pitches to you).
Your Lyric Sheet is Your Calling Card, So Format It The Right Way
Music industry professionals want to see lyric sheets from experienced and beginning songwriters alike. Your lyric sheet is your musical resume and your industry calling card. How it looks and how its formatted are the first thing that industry professionals will use to evaluate of you and your songs.
A lyric sheet captures all the relevant information about you and your song’s lyrics. Don’t worry about actual music notation as that will be heard in your demo. Experts differ on certain formatting choices, but aside from your lyrics everyone agrees it must include these key parts:
- Your name and your co-writers, as well as contact information (if any)
- Your publishing information (if any), including the name of your performing rights organization (PRO)
- D.O.C - Date of Creation
This information is as important as the lyrics. It provides the necessary information about the songwriter(s) and the song to record labels, music publishers, music supervisors, and anyone else interested in using your song.
Producers and vocalists may also be working with your lyric sheet, so make sure that every line is written out in its entirety. If the chorus is repeated twice, type it out twice - that makes it much easier for vocalists and others 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 (it’s called a lyric sheet, not lyric sheets, after all). If you’re including multiple lyrics or your lyrics don’t fit on one page, make sure to indicate this by adding page numbers.
Song Title, Page 1 (and so on)
Formatting your lyric sheet shows off your songwriting and your awareness of industry standards. Remember - think of your lyric sheet as a combination of a resume and portfolio that represents you and your talents to the music industry. Take the time to learn about how to set up your sheet with the right fonts, centering, margins and spacing that industry pros are looking for.
Use our lyric sheet template to create a succinct lyric sheet when you're submitting your song to labels, music supervisors, and for sync placements.
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 types of paperwork and contracts that you’ll be seeing and asked to sign. Do not sign a contract you do not understand in its entirety. Your share of your copyrights and the agreements you sign for them will determine your future income. The music industry is filled with stories of brilliant writers who lost out on millions because they didn’t pay close enough attention to their contracts. And one of those important agreements is a split sheet.
If, like many people, you write with a co-writer or co-producer, you each have a stake in the song’s success and it’s important to determine what percentage each of you owns -- both for the master recording and the composition. 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 will help determine and solidify the percentage of composition royalties each songwriter will receive in the future.
A split sheet is essentially an agreement that identifies the ownership percentage each producer and/or songwriter has in the song. It also includes other information such as each person’s specific contribution (lyrics, hook, melody, beats, etc.) and publisher information, as well as if different versions of the song were created. This information will serve 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 that you’re on the same page with your co-writer(s), because if there’s a split discrepancy (ie, the percentage equals more than 100%), your royalties will be withheld until it’s resolved. For example, if you co-write a song and claim 70%while your co-writer claims 40% of the song, both publishers and songwriters will claim these percentages at various PROs, CMOs, and MROs which will cause conflicts between different publishers. These conflicts will essentially lock up your royalties until the publishers and songwriters come to an agreement.
In the US, once you’ve finished writing a song, or a portion of it, becomes automatically copyrighted to you and your co-writers. No additional paperwork is needed. However, it’s always good practice to register your works with the US Copyright Office.
It’s also important to have a split sheet for every song you write or co-write, but remember that a split sheet is not a copyright nor a substitute for a copyright. They are two separate items that together will protect the ownership of your songs. Without a split sheet, disputes can arise over the stake each collaborator has in the song.
U.S. federal copyright law states that if no prior agreement exists between contributors or collaborators, all contributors will own an equal share of the song. Sometimes that’s true and it won’t be an issue, but if some collaborators have a larger or smaller share, it’s important to finalize this ahead of time.
How to Determine The Splits
At the end of the day, how you divide up each collaborator’s interest in a song 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 jazz and classical producers who receive smaller or, in some cases, no ownership. However, deals between songwriters and producers vary widely, and 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 if you include a sample of someone else’s song in your work, you must get permission from whoever owns the rights to that work. Usually you can exchange permission for a percentage of the publishing rights and/or negotiate an upfront fee, however these types of deals can vary widely—so be sure to clear any samples before using them.
Understanding the split sheets and lyric sheets will greatly benefit you the next time you write or perform on 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.