We get lots of questions here in “town” that relate to the economics of songwriting. I’m going to try to break down some of the basics and help explain WHY things work the way they do.
Let’s start with song splits. In my world, we always split the song equally among every writer in the room with the exception of bands that sometimes take a reduced share. For instance, a new band without a deal may have three members that split one writing share. So, writing with them is economically like writing with one other person, even though there are three of them. Otherwise, let’s say there are two writers working on a song. In that scenario, the song they are writing has 4 equal shares. Writer #1 (Lucy) has a writer’s share and a publishing share. Writer #2 (Jonathan) has the same. Each of those shares represents 25% of the song.
So, if Lucy and Jonathan get a big cut together and $100,000 rolls in, Jonathan would get a check for $25,000 for his writer’s share and $25,000 for his publishing share. Lucy would get the same. That would be the case if neither of them had signed over any of their publishing to a publisher.
If neither Lucy or Jonathan has a writing deal, they would each control and own their writer’s and publisher’s share. The publishing share is the “controlling interest” of the song. That means, whoever owns that piece gets to make decisions on licensing and they can sell the song if they choose. The publishing is the piece that is usually being “sold” if someone “sells a catalog”. The publisher or publishers on a given song own and control what happens with it. The writer’s shares pay the same, but they don’t include that important administrative or controlling piece. That’s very important to note when you negotiate. Signing away your publishing is signing away the controlling interest in your portion of the song.
A common misconception is that one writer can’t sign their publishing share away without permission from the other writer. This is not true. In our scenario above, Lucy could sign a publishing deal that gives a publisher her publishing share and Jonathan could sign a single song contract that gives half of his publishing share to a different publisher. Or, Jonathan could keep his publishing share and retain his controlling interest for his share of the song. All of the writers on a song are independent when it comes to what happens with their publishing share.
So, why would anyone sign away their publishing share? In my case, I signed mine away early in my career because I got a small monthly amount to live on, I got my demos paid for, and I was mentored by a hall of fame songwriter. That was a good exchange in my opinion. Now, I have a deal that lets me retain my writer’s share and 50% of my publishing share. In exchange for the 50% of the publishing that my publisher gets, they pitch my songs, file the copyrights and paperwork, license my songs, collect my money and pay me my share. They do a lot of work for their share. If I didn’t have a publisher, I would have to pay someone to do all of those tasks and it might even cost me more than I’m giving them now.
That’s the short and sweet of song splits. As I always say, if you are offered a contract of any kind on one of your songs, get an entertainment lawyer to look it over before you sign it and make sure YOU understand what you are getting and what you are giving up!