95% of the time even splits is what I recommend co-writers do when sharing songwriting percentage of ownership.
How do songwriting credits and splits work?
Well, first, and most obvious, the writer, or writers write the song. Next comes the hot question of how to split up ownership. Some writers use a “who did what” method. Some writers use a 50% music and 50% topline method where 50% of the song ownership goes to the writer who contributed to the music part of the work. (So either the chords or the track, or both.) And the other 50% is going to whoever did the topline – which means the lyrics and melody. This is common in the LA scene.
Some writers, myself included, always DO EVEN SPLITS.
This is more of the Nashville way to do it. Many people argue against this because you can “say a word, get a third”. Most often though, this is not the case.
Even splits are the best way to go, because of two big reasons:
1. It protects relationships.
No one is fighting over who did what and arguing that their contribution was more valuable than the other person’s. I have been in the car with another co writer who, when our song came on the radio, he said “man, I remember when I came up with that lyric. So amazing…” This kind of thing is the reason I don’t write with people who say things like that. Songwriting shouldn’t be about you trying to puff up your ego.
2. It promotes the feeling that the “best idea wins”.
You aren’t fighting for your idea in the room for fear of missing out on valuable ownership of a song, which can mean very real dollars down the road. I always advocate in the room that the best idea wins, regardless of whose it is. And no, that doesn’t mean “my ideas are best”.
There will be some days you come into the writing room with tons of great ideas – and there will be days that you’ve got nothing. The hope and the goal is that you create and foster long term writing relationships with other writers, so it all balances out over time, and it protects the relationship so that when a song comes out and your co-writer is making 90 grand on a song and you’re making 10 grand, you won’t have to argue or fight a legal battle.
Yes, this does happen all the time, and it is the part of the music biz that makes me sick.
It’s the reason why having a good team – a publisher, a manager, an entertainment attorneys – can be helpful to have on your side.
But my even bigger suggestion is, just have the conversation on the front end if possible. A pre-write conversation might go something like this:
“Hey John, I know we’ve got our writing session coming up tomorrow and I was wondering if you want to write for anything in particular?
No? Cool… I’ve got some pitch ideas.
So, since we’ve never written together, I wanted to have a quick chat about splits. Would you be ok with doing even splits on whatever we end up getting?
Awesome, looking forward to it.”
In the case that they say no, you can choose if it’s someone you really want to work with or not. In the beginning, you should probably just say yes way more than you say no, because you want to open yourself to every opportunity to write possible, regardless of a financial outcome.
But once you have some success, then you can start to be more choosy with who you write with.
I do want to say, that there are some unique situations where it makes sense to allocate a non-even percentage to a certain writer on a song, but the key is, just make sure it’s all communicated as early in the process as possible. Then that way no one is blindsided by getting a smaller percentage than they were expecting.
It’s not hard, just have a simple conversation. It could save a relationship in the long run.
And in case you didn’t know, relationships are what the music business is all about.