Music Song Splits: How They Work for Artists

Song Splits: Step by Step Guide on How They Work

Song splits and how they work with contracts and agreements

If you’re an artist who’s very serious about your craft and being successful then you’ve probably heard of music song splits.  If you’re an established artist (whether independent or major) and actually released a song then I’m sure you’ve dealt with song splits on some level before. If you’re new to the business side of music then you should learn all you can about song splits. Music song splits is the determination of percentage of royalties paid to songwriters for each song he or she creates. To calculate and determine your share of song splits as a songwriter you have to understand the following:

  • What music song splits are
  • How songwriter splits are calculated
  • Who’s considered a songwriter
  • Who has what part of ownership of the song that splits that are being divided for

Exactly how do music song splits work

Now that its clear what music song splits are it’s important to understand how they work. Song splits are viewed as an agreement between all parties involved with the song on all levels. This means it includes all the songwriters and music publishers. Some may assume determining song splits aren’t important until they are widely successful and became a household name. This is a complete myth. Song splits are vital and important from day 1. As a matter of fact before your song is even published and released you should already have the splits determined. The way to determine song splits is with a songwriter split sheet. If you’re the artist who also writes your own song then you are one of the writers on the split sheet. 9 times out of 10 you’ll be the one to bring the split sheet to the table. If you’re working with another songwriter or producer then they are listed as the songwriters as well. This means they have to fill out their portion of the split sheet and they are entitled to credits of the song. Some may ask “why are producers considered one of the songwriters?” “They didn’t write any lyrics.” This is very true. Most of the time the producer doesn’t write none of the lyrics. They simply make the beat. However, the creation of the beat is considered an entity of the song. The beat covers the melody and harmony of the song. This falls under writing the music. Therefore if the producer created the beat for your song, he or she is now one of the writers. If you and the producer worked on the beat together or if they created the beat based off your music direction then you both are listed as the producer. Below is standard example of how the splits would work with you and a producer:

Scenario 1:

Songwriter/Artist  > wrote all the lyrics to song = 50% ownership of song

Producer > Created beat for song = 50% ownership of song

*Song must equal 100%

Scenario 2:

Songwriter/Artist > wrote all the lyrics to song = 50% ownership of song

Producer > Created beat for song  based on songwriter musical direction (melody, chords, instrument choice) = 25% ownership of song

-Songwriter now splits producer share due to co-producing beat and directing producer = 25%

*Songwriter now receives a total of 75% (50% due to lyrics,  25% due to co-producing beat)

*Song must equal 100%

*If you’re an artist but hired a songwriter (meaning you didn’t write the song yourself) they ownership of song doesn’t apply to you. Ownership of song applies to songwriter.

Simple example of how song splits work with 1 or more songwriters

Now that you see how song splits work regarding how many parties are involved you need to understand where music publishers come into play. Another important than to keep in mind when writing songs with others is the more writers you have, the more the song splits have to be divided. This includes even if a person only adds a line or 2 to your song. They are still considered a writer and are entitled to some ownership of your song. The percentage depends on how much he or she contributed. This is why establishing how song splits are going to be divided in the 1st place is very important to do before the production of the song even takes place.

Music publishers and song split sheets

If you’re an artist/songwriter or songwriter with songs yet no music publisher then by default you are your own music publisher. Until you officially sign with a music publisher you represent yourself. Some artists and songwriters prefer to stay that way. Some want to go with a music publisher. Another thing to keep in mind signing up with ASCAP or BMI doesn’t mean you have a music publisher. However, if you do have a music publisher he or she now has a role in your split sheet. Normally when you sign with a music publisher as a songwriter that publisher now owns half of your song publishing and its rights. This of course can vary depending on the type of publishing agreement you sign. Usually for standard publishing agreements the publisher gets 50% of ownership of your song. This means if you’re an artist/ songwriter or just a songwriter and you’ve written a song with a music producer and you have 50% ownership. Now that you’re signed with a music publisher that publisher has half of your ownership percentage. This results in you now having 25% ownership of the song due to half of 50% being 25%. Of course if you’re not signed to a music publisher then you keep all of your publishing (the percentage you have but keep in mind you still have to split ownership with other writers if they helped you write the song).

Music song splits and royalties

Exactly how do music song splits affect music royalties? After all receiving proper payment for your music is the main purpose of specifying song splits. Music royalties are payments made by one party to owner of music based on usage of music. There are different types of music royalties. All music royalties don’t pay the same rate. To determine the total amount of royalties you’re entitled to as one of the songwriters it has to be determined the percentage of the song you own. The songwriter split sheets determines the percentage of the song you own. So now that you have the splits established between you and other writers, you and the music publisher (if there is one), now you can have your song copy written and published, which then allows you to receive proper royalties for your music. This is why it’s so important to figure everything out and fill out a split sheet before the song is ever copy written, published or released. Another thing to keep in mind.

What should go on your song split sheet?

When filling out a music split sheet there should be several blocks of information for you to fill out your half and other writers fill out theirs. There are some mandatory fields that should be on the split sheet. These fields are:

  • Your first and last name
  • Date
  • Song title
  • Recording artist
  • Recording label (if applicable)
  • Your home address
  • Your phone number
  • Your publishing company name and ownership of song percentage amount (if applicable)
  • Percentage of ownership you have for song
  • PRO (Performing Rights Organization) – state which PRO you are signed with

All of the fields list above (except for “Song title”) should be filled out by each contributed writer on the split sheet. If you have a lot of writers and run out of space/fields use 2 split sheets. In regards to stating your registered PRO, this means as a songwriter, artist, producer (any type of creator of music) you have to be registered with a PRO. As I’ve touched on in the past PRO’s are Performing Rights Organizations that track your public performance and broadcast royalties. These companies are either ASCAP or BMI. Keep in mind they are not music publishers. If you sign up with one of these PRO’s but don’t have a music publisher then you are your own publisher. However, you can be registered with them yet still be signed to a music publisher. You have to state your PRO on the split sheet so when you register that song with your affiliated PRO and they distribute your royalties your then able to calculate the proper splits evenly. This also gives you proof if you ever have to prove your ownership in the future. Another factor to keep in mind is the producer or fellow writer you may work with may have a different PRO than you. This is fine. You both just have to state in on the split sheet. Also when you add the song to your PRO registration you have to state it as well.

Legendary songwriter and singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds is a great example of an artist who sings, writes and produces their own music. Making him receive if not all majority of ownership of his songs.

All of these factors when handling the business side of your music will help you understand how songwriting royalties are split, how song ownership works and why music publishing and registration is so important. The best way to keep the peace when dealing with song splits is to completely fill the sheet out before the song is completed. Have everything established before you even work on recording the song. Make sure every composer of the song are on the same page and complete their part of the split sheet. Then you can copyright the song, register it with your PRO, make sure it’s published, then focus on gaining royalties from all available avenues. Below is a link to download an example of a song split sheet. This split sheet can be printed out and actually used.

Song split sheet pdf example

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