The Publishing Tip that Will Save Your Career

CASSETTE redcurtain

We were discussing publishing in my Songwriting workshop last week and as a class, we hit on a publishing epiphany. One that could have maybe even saved my old band, Cassette, from disintegration – or at the very least, it could have saved a lot of headache and endless in-fighting.

Even though this tip is aimed predominantly at bands, it is also aimed at co-writers and anyone who ever plans to write songs with other people.

 

I say this without any hint of melodrama : this is the most important songwriting tip in publishing that you will ever hear. So lean your ears in close….

 

Songwriters’ publishing splits is one of the most uncomfortable things to ever have to discuss. Particularly because it so far from the “artistic” side of songwriting (and we muso’s are often not built for business), and also because it is simultaneously so close to the “artistic” side, it is a strange topic that often doesn’t compute.

 

Essentially, when we are discussing publishing splits, we are in a negotiation with the people we have written the song with about how much of the songwriting pie each person gets. It can be very confusing : the singer brought in the main chords and the melody of the song, the guitar player changed some of the structure to make the song strong, the bass player came up with a powerful hook that made the song rock, and the drummer came up with the main lyric in the chorus.

 

So far, it all sounds very creative and organic and healthy. But now, the band needs to divide the pie into four parts that reflects everyone’s contribution. Is it 25/25/25/25? Or is it 50/20/20/10? Or how about 60/20/10/10?

 

It can be very tricky. Partly because tied into this “business negotiation” is every members’ own feeling of self-worth. This is only half the problem.

Cassette having a reasonable discussion about publishing splits…

The biggest problem comes only a month later when the song is recorded and on the album, and now everyone can hear that this song could be a hit.  Now everyone’s memory of what exactly went down in that rehearsal room a month ago during the creation of that song (among 20 other songs that you wrote together) becomes a little fuzzy. Who did write that chorus lyric? How much of the song did the singer bring in to the rehearsal room?

 

This can be the cause of a lot of tension in any co-writing situation, that can sometimes never be resolved. It’s easy to say that this will “never happen to me” but here is the unfortunate truth : when there’s money and success involved, things often change.

 

So are you ready for the most important songwriting tip in publishing that you will ever hear? Here it comes.

 

Even though it is awkward, even though it is uncomfortable, even though it is unnatural and strange and just doesn’t feel right …. Get in to the habit NOW, of discussing publishing splits on the day that the song is written with all the other writers. Don’t wait for the song to be played live, don’t wait for the song to be recorded and certainly don’t wait until the song is released.

 

Don’t even wait 24 hours! At the end of the day when a song has been sufficiently knocked in to shape, sit down with all the writers for 5 minutes before you go home (or to a show). Just say “hey guys, I know it’s uncomfortable but can we just talk about what went down today? “

 

Have a civil conversation and negotiation on the day when everything is still fresh so that it doesn’t become an issue later on! Write down a basic agreement. Get it done! Because, remember, even though you are in a band, you are also in a business! And this is how businesses operate.

 

Problem solved.

 

Until next week, Happy Songwriting! Please leave a comment down below if you have any questions or anything to contribute!

 

PS. The Cassette documentary is currently being shown at the Bioscope Theatre in Johannesburg on 23 November, 2012. The trailor is available for viewing at www.playcassette.com

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10 Responses to “The Publishing Tip that Will Save Your Career”

  1. Tristan says:

    Great idea! thanks

  2. Mikhail (KaI) says:

    Yes, it kinda is an awkward thing to do in a band… But thing is it’s better to start learning the habit early on than argue over shares when your work eventually starts paying off… People in bands might start fighting when the singer who wrote the lyrics and vocal melody say well this is what I did and this is the share I want from the songwriting pie or you have vocalists who are the rhythm guitarist or even the only guitarist in a band and sometimes they write a complete song and take it to the band hear what they think and then the bassist and drummer will add their bits… So it kinda does get complicated and awkward because as a band you’d like to think you’re a whole and everything should be split evenly. That would be fine if we lived in the ideal world but unfortunately we don’t we live in a world that revolves around business… It varies from band to band. Some bands would be fine that the people who did this and that get more of the pie than the other band mates because well it’s fair and they are decent musicians and understand it all. But that said it sometimes also goes in the other directions and members who get less feel like they are being done in and with that since with everything that involves money things get complicated and people get greedy. Since members get more from what they do now band members would want a bigger say a larger part in the songwriting process and what eventually happens is that people end up splitting because it isn’t about making music anymore it’s about getting more money from what you do in a band… So in my personal opinion it really is a tricky thing to discuss in a band our a group environment where everyone would like to think that everyone gets an equal share…. Oh Jon have you mentioned anything to everyone about SAMRO and the importance of being registered to the organisation, what it is and what it does for out local artists?

    • Jon Savage says:

      Thanks for the comments Mikhail.
      Im still getting on to Samro and ASCAP and all the others. Lots still to tackle with this blog :)

  3. Eduard Lewis says:

    Hi, I like your article and will def take some tips.
    I believe a band must split the rights of the song EVENLY.By doing this there is no superior member in this circle. Isn’t it a band after all. First we must define the meaning of a band.
    Successful bands doing this is U2 and Coldplay. Bono and Chris is doing most of the writing but they don’t distance themselves from the band by claiming a bigger part of the pie.
    What do you do on the road? Do you claim a bigger beer than the rest of the band because your the songwriter. SHARE!! or be like the president.

    If you are a solo artist. Cool, negotiate with your producer and pay the session musos their due and take 95% of the rights.
    NOT with a band

    This is my heart

    • Jon Savage says:

      Thanks for the comment Eduard!
      I agree it can be simpler, but I also don’t think it is quite as cut and dry as that. What happens when someone remixes the song and it becomes a hit? Or there is another collaborator on a song? I think there’s a lot to think about! Appreciate the feedback!

  4. Raiven says:

    Great tip – I’ve been sessioning bands for 8 years and hadn’t come across the notion of discussing splits until the last 2! Publishing will ultimately contribute towards a great deal of your career income if you’re a full-time musician, so the more comfortable you become when dealing with business talk the more time you get jamming conscious free.

    As for the split itself – I think each band and each song need to be merited individually, and it’s easier if everyone’s roles are defined beforehand so that certain contributions are expected from the different parties (artist, band, session muso, recording engineer, producer etc.), These make examples like ‘the bass player wrote the chorus hook’ pop out when they do arise.

    It’s really not a scary thing to talk about when you’re honest and timeous about it, ja.

  5. Nate says:

    I remember Ringo talking about how he felt left out of the wealth of the The Beatles success. It could even have played a part in his insecurity’s. You don’t want that to afffect your band mojo!

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