"CO-WRITING, WHO owns WHAT?

I have recently gone through a situation where a writer I have worked with wanted me to take down "HER" songs off of my web site. Now, we wrote these songs together, and while I won't go into particulars, let's just say that a co-write of any type is an equal partnership. There are NO MINE, YOURS... they are "OURS."

A lot of confusion can be on this subject. There are times that one co-writer or another may be very fast, very accurate and write the majority of a song. I have been in situations where I have written every line, every note,  and they have done very little and I have been in situations where I get barely a line in. This is all part of it and it all tends to equal out. We all have good days and bad days and sometimes you do a lot, sometimes you do little.

Co-writing is very inexact and never quite the 50/50 proposition. As a matter of fact, up until the 60's, very writers wrote everything. There was usually someone who did music (composer) and someone who did lyrics (Lyricist). In the case of something like Broadway or musical plays, there were a third, called a "Librettist" who did the script or story of the musical play. So there is a lot to go around.

In the modern age of writing where co-writing is the "Nashville handshake" people bring in various experiences, strengths and weaknesses. Newer writers usually will bring in the idea, and more experienced writers will take the lead in development of the idea. At some points it can be more 50/50, but in my experience it is good to let people who are "on fire" run with an idea and stay out of the way. There are ways that it always comes around,. and more songs are "Re-written" than written, with some of the most important efforts being done afterward, as one writer or another exposes a song to critiques, publishers, artists, etc. Everyone plays a part.

Often, with artists, they might offer experiences or senarios, and not so much actual lines or melodies. But without that artist's involvement bringing a song to life, nothing might have gotten done. It is why some people cut Elvis into publishing and writing on songs. Elvis wrote nothing, but his involvement with a song guarenteed that song was going to get attention.
Granted, the perfect co-write would be a 50/50 proposition with all parties included, but this is not a perfect world. So you have to take it on a case by case basis.

Ownership.

Now, this brings me to the point here. Ownership of a song.  While there may be some people who want to adjust percentages in songs,  (even the Beatles sometimes had different percentages in songs) for the most part, it is an EQUALLY SPLIT proposition. If there are two writers, 1/2 each in the writing and publishing, three writers 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, more writers one quarter. etc. as it goes. There are equal parts of PUBLISHING, which is assigned. If the writers have their own publishing they are entitled to their fair share, or can assign it to others. It is not unusual now to have four or more writers on a song as well as four or more publishers. With music done "by committee" and every one with their hands out, it is not surpising to have more people involved. What is amusing to me is how there is less and less money being paid out on songs now (FREEE MUSIC)  and songs make less overall, even while sometimes getting more exposure (Going viral on the net.) People are fighting for percentages when there is nothing to divide percentages out of.

So songs are routinely split up. If writer "A" writers with Writer "B" and Writer "B" writes for a reputable publishing company, chances are "Writer "A's" publishing would be assigned to Writer B's company. Just gives more incentive for publishers to work the song. If Writer "A" needs to get in a door, he or she needs to allow someone else to help them get there.

Everyone shares equally and should talk these issues out at the proper time.

Having said all that, like any business venture, it is about compromise. One writer can't just say "Hey, you can't do such and such with "MY SONG!" That doesn't work. Aside from being very ego filled, it is very rude. Most professional writers would say "Hey, take YOUR song and SHOVE IT! "I've got hundreds more.." the lesser known writer would be advised to calm down and take a deep breath.
Now they can ask nicely if they have interest in the song for someone interested in recording it as a major artist. Or if one of the writers wants it to be on their personal project and doesn't want a lot of competition until they "get their shot"  Everyone can ask to be kept aware of any activity on a song. But "demanding" that someone NOT use a song for promotion of themselves or their talents is not just ridiculous, it is stupid. Everyone should be promoting the song. That is the point of co-writing, to have more people help in the promotion of a song. In the case of an experienced writer with connections, it could prematurely end a career before it gets started.

So, be RESPECTFUL in your dealings with co-writers. This is a PARTNERSHIP. Need to remember that.

MAB

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