The average number of songwriters per song is rising every decade. Alien Superstar , the third track on Beyoncé's 2002 album Renaissance , credited 24 songwriters. The average number is somewhere between 5 and 6.
All this to say, songwriting splits are common.
So if you're a songwriter or producer working with other recording artists it's essential that you understand song splits. What they are; how they work; why they're important; and what goes into creating them.
Even if you're in a band, splits are crucial if you want to avoid disagreements further down the line.
This article is going to cover everything you need to know about this aspect of the music business, so grab your favorite beverage and put on your admin hat.
Note: none of the following constitutes legal advice. If in doubt, speak to a real proper entertainment lawyer - not your mom's friend who does real estate law.
Sound Recordings Vs Compositions
Before we get our feet wet on the topic of song split sheets, it's important to understand the two copyrights involved when you record a song.
This is the underlying music and lyrics in a song. Sometimes referred to as 'the publishing', it essentially covers the notes and words you play and sing. If you're signed to a publishing company they'll own the composition copyright.
In the tens bajillion covers of 'Harvest Moon' on Spotify, there's only one composition copyright - and it belongs to Hipgnosis. Blurgh.
The Sound Recording
There's also a copyright in the finished audio product - the recording (often called the master). Each of those Harvest Moon covers has its own master copyright. Generally masters are owned by the record label, but in the case of independent artists releasing their own music it'll be owned by the artist themselves.
For the purposes of this article we'll be focusing on the copyright in the composition, but know that the basics behind it can also work for a split agreement in the master.
What Is A Song Split?
A song split is way of defining who was involved in the writing process of a song, and importantly, defines the ownership percentages for all the writers involved.
A huge reason songwriting splits can cause such acrimony is because a lot of the time no one wants to broach the subject while basking in the glow of a creative process. So everyone assumes it'll be worked out fairly 'at some point'.
Then, when the drummer's mother-in-law decides she wants a songwriting credit because she was in the room bringing you tea and biscuits when you recorded that global hit, the sh*t hits the fan.
And don't simply rely on a verbal agreement as a way of defining songwriting shares.
Get everything down in a written agreement - a split sheet - and have everyone sign it.
How Does A Song Split Work?
When a songwriter works with other co-writers in a writing session, they'll document the songwriting credits on a split sheet.
Among other things, the split sheet will contain the split percentages for each writer, the publishers they are signed to (if any), and critically, the IPI number (sometimes referred to as the CAE number) and Performing Rights Organization for all parties involved.
Each party (or their publishing company) will register the song with their respective Performing Rights Organization (PRO) including the details of all the songwriters involved and the split percentages.
When the song is broadcast, played, or performed in any way in a public space it will generate performance royalties. The local PRO will collect these royalties and distribute them to the writers via their own PRO, according to the ownership percentages on the song split sheet.
Why Is A Split Sheet Important?
We'll get into the nitty gritty of what goes into a split sheet in a bit, but the information on it is meaningful in several ways.
As we saw above, the song split sheet ensures all the songwriters get paid correctly. It can take a while, but this royalty stream will continue beyond the life of the songwriters.
Now you can begin to see why bands and artists get into fisticuffs over songwriting credits.
In addition, the split sheet will make certain that everyone is credited correctly for the song. It might not sound like a big deal, but if Drake were to cover a song you'd helped write the music for, it'd be rough not to see your name on the credits.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a split sheet gives you a certain amount of protection from some other third party crawling out of the woodwork at a later date and claiming to be a co-writer.
When Should I Create A Song Split Sheet?
Ideally, you should get song split information down in writing early during the writing process, or soon after the song is finished.
There's a lot of administrative legwork involved in tracking down all the details you need from the other writers but it's definitely worth the effort.
Songwriters can be sensitive types, and often the subject of ownership and royalty splits is an icky one to bring up, especially early on in a writing session. But if you plan on having any kind of career in the music industry it's a conversation you absolutely must have.
So put on your big boy pants and create an agreement that all parties are happy with. They'll thank you for it later.
What Should I Put On Song Split Sheets?
Split sheets don't need to be verbose, complicated documents. Below is the basic information you'll need for a split sheet.
This, quite clearly is a must, and probably the easiest part.
List all the writers who made a contribution to the song. This should include their legal names not any artist names they go by, although writer pseudonyms are allowable here provided they are registered with the writer's PRO.
You'll also need contact information for each of the writers. At the minimum get an email and phone number for each writer. Unlike a physical address, these are unlikely to change over time.
List any publishing company information for each of the writers, if applicable. If you or another co-writer don't have a publishing company you can leave this part blank.
Performing Rights Organization
No matter where you're based in the world, if you write music you should be a member of a PRO. Every country has its own organization; in the United States you get a choice between BMI, ASCAP or SESAC.
Whichever one you're a member of, make sure it goes down on the split sheet.
Interested Parties Information Number
When you join a PRO you'll get an IPI number - a nine digit number unique to you. Some PROs refer to it as a CAE number, but it's the same thing.
If you're not sure what you IPI number is, you can find it on any correspondence from your PRO (including royalty statements), or by searching for your name on your PRO website.
The icky part. We'll go into more detail below about how to determine split percentages, but however you decide to split up the song, be sure to note this down and make sure the total percentages add up to 100%. Nothing more, nothing less.
Even if you're collaborating with songwriters on a different part of the planet you can easily use a digital document signing service to get their John Hancock on the agreement.
Not essential, but worth having for posterity.
Template Split Sheets
There are a number of split sheet templates available online from places like CDBaby and Songtrust, and a couple of apps for doing the job. I prefer having a physical copy in my hand that everyone can sign, but if you're interested in the digital route check out Session Studio and SongSplits.com .
How Do I Determine The Songwriting Ownership Percentage?
Possibly the most tumultuous part of creating a song split is figuring out how the ownership is divided.
As mentioned above, all the splits have to total 100%. How this is carved up is down to the parties involved.
Not every contributor makes an equal contribution to the song in terms of number of notes or lyrics written, but I would argue that everyone's input on the song is equally significant. The difference between a hit track and one that's just OK can be the smallest change to a melody, or the simplest two-note hook. And you just don't know what part of the creative process is going to be the one that makes the song shine.
So one option, and the one that many agree is most fair, is to split equally between all the songwriters. It's equable, it's fair, and it will encourage people to collaborate with you in the future.
If you're working with producers, things may look a little different. Perhaps they have helped craft the song since you brought it to them in it's rough but finished form. In this example, you may want to give them a smaller percentage while still acknowledging their contribution.
I'm In A Band - What Should My Split Be?
This is a discussion you need to have with your band. Some bands have one or two writers who take all the credit (and the money). The Beatles are one such example, and we all know how that ended up.
The simplest, and some would argue fairest way is to split the songwriting credits evenly among the whole band. Coldplay uses this method, and U2 go one step further and include their manager on songwriting splits.
I'm A Producer - Do I Need A Songwriting Split Sheet?
A producers role in the music industry is evolving as more and more independent artists release their own material.
If an artist brings the bare bones of a song to you and you both work on it, then you should definitely ask for a share.
The same goes if the artist you work with doesn't have the budget for your normal fee. You could negotiate for a share of ownership in exchange for a lower fee.
Either way, make sure you both agree on this upfront, and get it written down.
I'm A Remixer - Should I Get A Song Split?
Generally, remixes are considered derivative work and so don't participate in splits. Most often a remix is a work for hire situation; the remixer does his or her magic, gets paid, and that's the end of it.
I'm Sampling Someone Else's Song - Do I Need To Include This On The Split Sheet?
Absolutely! And make sure you get permission from the original songs authors before you even record the track. That'll save a lot of headaches further down the line.
No one gets into the music business because they love admin. It's not sexy, and it's unlikely to bring you the adoration of screaming fans (but perhaps I'm wrong).
But if you want to have longevity in the music industry you need to manage your rights properly and make sure you get paid what's owed to you.
So get in the habit of negotiating percentages with your co-writers as the song is being written.
Go forth, and writeth the music!