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I write the music, my friend writes the lyrics, I do the recording. Who should get most money?

A post by David Mellor
Wednesday October 05, 2005
If you write songs with a partner and record them by yourself, who owns the copyright in the recording? Get it wrong and you'll lose money.
I write the music, my friend writes the lyrics, I do the recording. Who should get most money?

Clearly this is related to the topic discussed here. A composer and lyricist should each take a 50% share of the proceeds of their work together. Otherwise there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for the lesser partner.

But the situation changes where recording is involved. It is now common for a production team to write a song and see it through all the way to the mix. The team now owns the song, and the recording. They will hopefully licence the recording to a record label.

It is important to know that there is a copyright in an original recording that is completely separate to the copyright in the song. So if you record an old favorite such as Paul McCartney's 'Yesterday' (not that it needs another cover), then Paul McCartney owns the copyright in the song, administered by Michael Jackson when he is not busy with his other activities. But neither Paul nor Michael could lay any claim to your recording because it has a separate copyright, and that copyright is yours.

So if a songwriting partnership creates a song, then the copyright in that song should be jointly owned 50/50. But if the composer makes the recording of that song without further input from the lyricist, then unless there is a specific agreement to the contrary, then the composer owns the recording.

If the recording is released, then the composer will be entitled to a separate payment for the use of the recording. The royalties from the song would be divided 50/50.

What often tends to happen in music however is that people start working together without making agreements. But when the money starts to flow, individuals realize that it's time to lay claim to as big a share of it as possible. Sometimes this becomes their life's work, rather than getting on and creating more music.

My view would be that if the lyricist sends in his work by mail, and the composer does everything else, then the composer should definitely take 100% for the recording. But if the lyricist works in the studio even in a very minor role, perhaps not buying any of the equipment and not operating it, then the copyright in the recording should be shared 50/50.

Trying to apportion credit for each tiny little activity in the whole recording process is only going to lead to disagreements. Having a 50/50 split of everything means that both partners can contribute without the other person having to worry about their share being diminished.

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A post by David Mellor
Wednesday October 05, 2005 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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