There’s nothing quite like being in a music studio when a great song comes together. Whether it be from hours of aimlessly staring at the ceiling for inspiration or from getting it right on the first try, creating something from thin air is an almost addictive experience.
When you’re in sync with another creative it’s so easy to lose track of time, and unfortunately, forget that at the end of the day, this is all still a business.
Talking about money and percentages on split sheets is something most established artists will want to quickly turn over to their managers to handle.
However, most independent artists often don’t have the same team to (hopefully) look out for their best interest when it comes to songwriter agreements.
I’ve spent the past four years songwriting, in that time I’ve come to realize that most of us didn’t sit up at night reading old case files and studying ASCAP guidelines. No, we too busy making music we cared about.
It’s for that reason I wanted to take some time and address the 5 keys tips for a musician contract that every independent artist must know if they’re representing themselves.
1. Beware of “Work For Hire”
When you are first starting out and have a thin resume, most managers will ask you to sign a “Work for Hire” agreement. This musician agreement basically states, “Hey, thank you for your help! Here’s $200, now beat it!”
I made the mistake early on of not understanding my rights to my intellectual property and signed one of these. I was just hoping to get an album credit and had no idea that I was entitled to royalties.
That song went on to do millions of streams and I was only paid once. Simply put, you deserve to get paid for your work just like everyone else on the record. Own it!
For more information on Work For Hire and what it entails, check out Copyright’s in-depth guide.
2. Changes In Composition
So the song is done, it sounds great and everyone is happy. You keep on living your life and a couple of months later you hear it’s going to be released.
You tell your friends and eagerly await the mixed and mastered version of your greatest work yet. You press play, and suddenly you’re filled with anger (or sadness).
This isn’t the same song you made, the melodies are different, the lyrics are all over the place, what the heck happened?
What happened was in your musician contract they included a provision that allowed them to chop up your work as they saw fit.
Unless otherwise stated, publishers can change the title, lyrics or music at any time. Make sure it’s amended so that such changes can only be made with your consent.
When you sign a “Work For Hire” you essentially give up all legal rights to your song. So, as we talked about at the beginning, stay away!
When you sign that document, publishers are no longer required to list you on the song’s credits. That is key for many reasons, one of them being, you want to get recognized for your work!
Be safe and include your credit in any songwriter agreement you sign. Besides, fun fact, if you do not sign off on a record, and have evidence you wrote it, publishers may have a hard time releasing the song anyway.
4. Song Royalties
If you are just starting out, you’ll hear the term “Split Sheet” a lot. Split sheets are the bread and butter of the music business and control the percentage of a song you legally own.
All songs are divided into a total of 100 points (50 for the production, and the other 50 for the writing). Those points are then negotiated and divided amongst the musicians, artists, and whomever they see fit.
It is imperative to make sure that what you are signing is what was agreed to. You are also entitled to receive song royalty statements at least once every six months after your songs have been released.
Still not sure what a split sheet entails? Check out Vydia’s article, Everything You Need To Know About Split Sheets.
5. Know Your Worth
It’s very easy to get swept away in the euphoria that comes from a big artist wanting to use your song. It’s validating and a reminder that your hard work is being recognized.
As exciting as this may be, this is where the tricky part comes in. Always remember that your talent is what got you here, and it deserves the same amount of respect owed to any other creative.
Get excited, jump up and down, call your mom, whatever! Just remember to come back level-headed and go through that agreement with a fine-toothed comb.
For easy ways to create your songwriter agreement and keep your work protected, download Quiktract to create legally binding contracts in less than 60 seconds.