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.
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.
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