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I write the music, my friend writes the lyrics. Who should get most money out of the partnership?

Who should get the most money in a songwriting team? The composer with a catchy tune, or the lyricist with his way with words? Get the answer wrong and there will be trouble heading this way...


This is an age-old question that doesn't only apply to songwriting. In any partnership between two people, should both get equal shares, or should one be 'more equal' than the other?

You could take the view that music is clearly more commercial than mere words. After all, there is a lot of instrumental music around, including sound tracks, that makes money. But how much money does poetry make? Hardly enough to keep a mouse alive, even for a comparatively successful poet.

So therefore the composer should get the most money.

Ah, but then there is the question of the difficulty involved. Many songwriters who write both music and lyrics will tell you that the music is easy, the lyrics are a real struggle. And a rap song would be even harder because there are so many words to write.

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OK, writing great music is not easy when you're starting out. But once you have developed your skills, the music flows. But lyrics hardly ever do, except for that occasional flash of inspiration that will give you a couple of lines for free. But you have to sweat out the rest.

So the lyric writer should get the most money.

Hmm, this seems like an intractable problem. Let's look at it from another angle... Suppose you were one half of a songwriting partnership. You have a couple of successful songs that make a lot of money. But you only get 25% of it, while your partner gets 75%. How would you feel about that?

Well even if it's something that you agreed to originally, it's going to be a bitter pill to swallow. Every time a payment comes through, you get one quarter, your partner gets three-quarters.

Your irritation will soon turn to anger and resentment. Eventually you will leave the partnership because you just can't stand it any more. Never mind that now you are now not earning anything. At least it's 100% of nothing. You'll feel better about that.

No, the way to do it is always a straight 50/50 split. You should choose to work with someone who is on the same level of ability as you and develop your art together. When the rewards come, you will both be very happy with your share.

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By David Mellor Tuesday October 4, 2005