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Top Ten Tuneup Tips

Picasso_f_improf_224x398Here’s some helpful information I share with songwriters who have sent in their songs for pitch consideration.

When reviewing a song, what I first do is read the lyric sheet, just like I am reading a story. I do this before listening to the song because I want to see if the lyrics make sense as I read through them. Sometimes the production will be really good and that can make lyrics that are not well written more palitable, kinda like Godiva chocolate icing on a Betty Crocker cake.

In my opinion, if the lyrics do not tell a compelling story, it does not matter how interesting or well done the music production is. And people in the music industry will definitely not accept a poorly written song.

Many times, the lyrics will not tell a story in a clear manner, and that will leave the listener left to figure out what the songwriter was trying to convey in their song. People are like sheep, they need to be led by the shepherd! People will tune out of your tune real fast if they don’t get it! (maybe thats why some say “people just don’t get my songs..well duh!)

And since you as the songwriter are hoping your song has what it takes to compete in the commercial arena, you should know there are certain rules that should be considered in order for a song to be viable for pitching. Certain arenas have certain rules, for example, you wouldn’t be able to win, or even play NFL Football dressed like an NHL hockey player. Kinda hard to ice skate on grass or astroturf:)

Let’s step through a typical song and see if these tips resonate with you:

1- The overall length of the song should not be more than 3:30 and preferably 3 minutes or less. (please don’t tell me that Pink Floyd had 10 minute songs that were on the radio, they were Pink Floyd and people were on drugs when those songs came out:) People these days have short attention spans, they are like a kid who just drank a 12 pack of Red Bull and ate a 2 pound bag of skittles. If you don’t keep your songs short, people will tune out long before they reach the end of your tune. I challenge songwriters to write what I call “Micro Songs.” Those are songs that are no longer than 1 minute long, have no intro, start off with the chorus, have 2 line verses, and no instrumental breaks. Try it, I dare ya! (you may want to drink a 12 pack of Red Bull and eat a 2 pound bag of skittles before undertaking such an exercise:)

2- The introduction needs to also be short. I hear way too many songs with 30 second or more intros (yes I know The Grateful Dead had songs with real long intros, but once again…people were on drugs when those songs came out:) These days, people will not sit through 30 seconds of instrumental music to wait and see what the song is all about. Online, they will more than likely move on to another song, or another artist profile. Get into Verse 1 by 10 seconds and start your story quick!

3- The opening lyric line needs to be super strong! Think about it from the listener standpoint. If you are not emotionally attached to a song (meaning your mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle and maybe first cousins and anyone who goes to the same church you do) and the song starts off with vague lyrics, are you going to want to listen further? They might give you a line or 2, but if something doesn’t reach out and grab their cerebral cortex, they are going to check out.

4- Lets talk about the chorus. You need to be into chorus 1 by 1 minute, and even sooner these days. (I know, there are some songs that don’t get into the first chorus by 1 minute, but repeat after me…people were on drugs when those songs came out:) That isn’t hard to do unless your intro is 30 seconds or more. Keep verse 1 short. 4 lyric lines and then into either a pre-chorus or right into the chorus. Make sure the chorus is different melody line wise than the verse. do not repeat the same melody line over and over again in the verse and chorus. Change it up. Songs are like chickens, they have parts! Plus, you’ll be amazed how fast people get bored and tune out of your tune. (The may not tell you, but you can tell when it happens, they look at their watch they aren’t wearing:) The last line of the chorus is where the hook should be. Thats where you take an ordinary thought and make it extraordinary. (which doesn’t make sense, but that’s the English language for ya) The very last part of the chorus lyric should either be your song title, or something that points strongly towards it. You gotta have the song title somewhere in your song if possible.

5- Verse 2 needs to continue the story from Verse 1. Expand on the thought from verse 1, or maybe tell another side of the story that you told in the first verse. Make sure to keep your lyrics either first person or 3rd person. Its not good to switch back and forth as it will confuse the listener and make you, the songwriter out to be a psycho or just real confused.

6- Get back into the chorus again and keep driving home the main thought, which is the hook. Make sure it makes sense! Change it up intensity wise, do something different musically. Keep the same melody line, or maybe give it more ummphh. Resist the urge to copy and paste chorus 1 into chorus 2 in your favorite DAW program. That there’s cheatin’!

7- Here’s where you may want to go into a bridge, which would be a new thought and hopefully different music, either break it down with the same chords, or use new chords and melody line. Try to keep the listener guessing. Think of a song not like a railroad track, but more like a roller coaster. Which one is more thrilling? Also, a bridge without any lyric is not called a bridge. Its called a musical interlude, or a solo section. Speaking of railroading, be an engine and not a caboose in your songwriting. Drive that train! Don’t be pulled along.

8- Here’s where you can get back into the chorus again and either ride that pony out like a rented mule til the end of the song, or maybe do another short verse with a final lyric thought. Come up with something that makes other songwriters say “Daggummit, I wish I’d have thought of that!

9- The end of the song is super important. Always leave the listener wanting more. You can maybe end with a chorus or 2, or maybe one final lyric line that really drives the hook home. Whatever it is, make sure it makes sense so the listener isn’t left wondering what you were trying to say. A confused listener is not the goal of any songwriter.

10- Say what you mean to say. Meaning, after writing your lyrics, take a hard, objective “Spock like” look at them to be sure the entire lyric takes the listener from Point A to B, C and so on. Before you come up with a melody line, remove filler words that really do not need to be there. These are words that you may have added to fit a particular melody line you had in mind before you wrote your lyrics. It’s not wise to write lyrics to a melody line. Write the lyrics first, then once they are clean and tight, write your melody line. It will make for a better song. Use as few words as possible to tell your story. Reduce it to the ridiculous. That’s why so many simple songs are on the radio these days:)

Here are the lyrics from what I consider to be one of the best written songs of all time: (Yes, I know the song is longer than 3:30, but that was back when people had more patience, plus, it’s Billy freekin’ Joel:)

Piano Man- by Billy Joel

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday billy_joel-california_flash(1)
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Makin’ love to his tonic and gin

He says, “Son, can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

La la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feelin’ alright

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.”
As the smile ran away from his face
“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place”

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy
And probably will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinkin’ alone

Sing us a song you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see
To forget about life for a while
And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, “Man, what are you doin’ here?”

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Sing us a song you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright

Songwriters: JOEL, BILLY
Piano Man lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Hope these tips help!
Keith Mohr

Paying For The Album Does Not Mean The Artist Gets To Own The Album (Why Record Contracts Are Horrible For Artists)

Money on fire


In this excerpt from Ryan Kairalla‘s new book “Break the Business: Declaring Your Independence and Achieving True Success in the Music Industry,” we get an unvarnished look at what it really means to sign a record contract.

By Ryan Kairalla, from his new book “Break the Business: Declaring Your Independence and Achieving True Success in the Music Industry.”

To understand how a record contract imposes a financial burden on the artist, you have to understand the process by which an album gets made under a recording agreement. You might feel like you know something about how the recording process works, particularly if you’ve seen movies like Ray, Rock Star, or Dreamgirls. Those movies will usually show some kind of recording session scene or montage taking place in a label’s studio. The scene is a well-worn film trope: It starts with a nameless studio technician pointing to the artist-protagonist on the other side of a glass partition, signaling to the artist that the recording has begun. The band starts to play together, and they nail the song perfectly on the first try, because they are the heroes of the story and heroes don’t need two takes. All the while, the camera pans to a couple of label executives sitting in the control room, smiling and patting each other on the back because they know that they just heard the next big hit.

BreakTheBusinessLike many things presented to us by Hollywood, these scenes are wildly inaccurate. For one thing, high-quality music recordings are never produced perfectly and simultaneously in one take. In fact, each instrument is usually recorded separately for ease of editing. Many takes for each instrument are usually required. And, after the standard band instruments are recorded, some additional instruments and other “sweeteners” will be overdubbed to create a richer sound. Then, someone has to edit and comp the whole thing. This process typically involves some poor engineer pondering his life choices while he spends eight hours repeatedly listening to the same seven seconds of playback until he can get the sound to come out just right—or until he kills himself—whichever comes first.

The trope of the smiling label executives in the company studio is also quite fictional. The vast majority of recording studios these days are not label-owned, and executives are usually nowhere to be found in most recording sessions. Instead, studios tend to be independently owned and located in crappy neighborhoods where industry suits fear to tread. In fact, most artists are usually surprised to find out how little involvement record companies tend to have with the making of the actual record. After the label approves the song choices and sets the recording budget, the record contract tasks the artist with doing everything else required to deliver a finished album to the label. Sometimes, the artist is even responsible for doing the requisite menial paperwork to make the album, such as preparing all of the tax, immigration, and union forms for all of the participants in the recording process. Given most musicians’ extensive background in tax, immigration, and labor law, this is obviously no problem for them.

But let’s put that little annoyance aside for a moment and get back to the main issue: who pays for your masterpiece to be recorded. The record contract usually provides for the handling of recording costs in one of two ways. Either the label will cover the expenses outlined in the approved recording budget, or it will pay a “recording fund” to the artist and the artist will pay the recording costs out of that fund.

So far, the funding process for an album seems quite equitable, doesn’t it? The artist supplies the labor and the label supplies the capital. Sounds fair. It seems conceivable that what would happen next is that the sales from the album would then be split in some way to compensate each side for what they contributed to the project. The artist would get a chunk for their investment of time and labor, and the label would get a chunk for their investment of money. And if enough albums are sold, then both sides profit from their investment. That’s totally how it works, right?

Not a chance. If it worked that way, I wouldn’t be writing this book. You see, the scenario I just described would be an example of a fair business deal—one in which the artist was not getting turbo-screwed by his or her label. Instead, standard record deals state that the artist does not receive any “royalties” (i.e., the artist’s cut of record sales) until the label makes back every dollar of what it spent on recording costs. This is known as “recoupment.” Once that wrinkle gets added to the mix, the business arrangement starts to look a little more one-sided. Recoupment allows the label to start feeding at the trough long before the artist does. The artist does not get so much as a nibble for their work until the label makes its recording investment back.

And if you think that is unfair, wait until you hear the best part. Record contracts also stipulate that the label recoups its recording costs solely from the artist’s royalties. Wrap your head around what this means. Before the artist gets any money from sales of the music, the label gets to recoup recording costs not from all of the money made, but just from the artist’s share of the money. And, because the artist’s share of the royalties is a pittance, the album generally has to be a smash hit in order for the artist’s royalties to get over the recoupment hurdle and finally start making their way to the artist’s pocket.

One implication of this is that it will take a much longer time for the artist to see any royalties, because the label is using a smaller pool of money to recoup its investment. Another implication is that the label’s “investment” in the artist is actually not an investment at all. Let’s call it what it really is: It is a loan, pure and simple (and a loan with horrifyingly bad terms, at that). The record company is the bank, and the artist is its debtor.

The book is available on Amazon.

About Ryan Kairalla: Ryan Kairalla is a lawyer, author, podcaster, and teacher. He advises clients in the music industry on a wide range of entertainment and business matters including recording agreements, publishing agreements, management agreements, music licensing, media appearances, live performances, entertainment litigation, copyright and trademark counseling, and corporate matters. He has represented chart-topping hitmakers and up-and-coming musicians alike.

5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright the Media Should Stop Repeating

by John Degen — @jkdegen

Article originally posted here:

Every year around Shakespeare’s birthday, which has also been declared World Book and Copyright Day, I see articles popping up here and there repeating some howling inaccuracies about the legal and economic concept of copyright. I get it — copyright is complex and, frankly, not all that gripping. Also, there’s that free culture movement that says all sorts of truthy-sounding things about how copyright might just be a bad thing. And we’re pro-freedom, right? On the other hand… Shakespeare!… plus all those still-alive authors I love to read, and who need to make a living.

How is anyone supposed to do the work of truly understanding copyright?

I offer this short list of seriously dumb copyright myths to help you through the clutter of free culture bunkum. Hope it helps:

Myth #5. Artists Feel Restricted by Copyright

Right… and cyclists feel restricted by bike paths. Drivers feel restricted by the network of roads and highways. Pilots feel restricted by lift and drag.

Truth: Professional, working artists who respect their own work also respect the work of others. Ask one — you’ll see.

Anti-copyright crusaders love to shout about remix culture and how copyright aims to stop it. Real artists understand:

a) Remix culture was not invented by the Internet. Original works of art have been referencing and remixing other original works of art since the dawn of… well, art.

b) There’s a difference between creative remixing and uncreative copying. That’s a line all professional, working artists recognize by instinct, and it’s a line professional artists are happy to have defined by law.

Myth #4. Copyright Harms the Public Domain

First of all, there is no “public domain” without copyright. By definition, the cultural public domain consists of those works of art and expression that have for one reason or another fallen out of copyright protection. You can’t really have one without the other.

Secondly, can we please stop conflating copyright with a lack of access? Anti-copyright activists are weirdly proud of how they “liberate” books into the public domain when copyright terms end. The Little Prince fell out of copyright protection almost everywhere but France at the beginning of this year. Was it more difficult to find, obtain or read a copy of The Little Princebefore January 1st, 2015 than it is now? Are the French suffering culturally because the book — one of the most popular books in the world — is still protected where it was written, and income is still flowing to the estate of the brilliant man who wrote it?

Truth: Just because a work has its economic and moral interests protected by law, this does not mean it’s unavailable to those who wish to access or use it. Works outside the public domain are simply still economically alive, which means folks still believe they’re worth being economically alive. In other words, there’s a functioning economy for cultural works. That’s a good thing, right?

Myth #3. Copyright is an Attack on Artistic Freedom

I have been a working, professional writer for close to thirty years. I’ve felt my artistic freedom threatened by a great many things — state censorship, all manner of fundamentalisms, Internet bullying and shaming… to name but a few.

Copyright law is not on that list, and it will NEVER be on that list. The very foundation of copyright is the insistence that if I create an artistic expression, I own that artistic expression. And if I own something, you best believe I will protect it from those who want to impose their restrictions on it.

Truth: My right to own and profit from my free expression is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Enough with the Orwellian doublespeak about copyright attacking my rights. Copyright IS my right, dammit.

Myth #2. Copyright Costs Consumers

In a recent, weakly researched piece on copyright, Canada’s National Postpublished without challenge the claim that copyright term extensions for music in Canada will cost “the public billions of dollars in the long term.”

Well, duh. We call that “the economy.”

You know what else will cost the public billions of dollars in the long term?

a) all jobs

b) the continuation of human existence

c) time

Truth: Paying artists for works we want to consume is how we have a cultural economy. As long as we live in market-based economic systems, the exchange of money for works, goods and services is going to be an essential mechanism. Oh well.

Myth #1. Copyright only helps Corporations

This is the whopper of anti-copyright mythology.

Anti-copyright activists love to invoke the specter of “big content” in their relentless drive to weaken artists’ rights. They claim protections under copyright really only help the bottom lines of huge corporations who grab rights from working artists. As a working artist, I am concerned about my contract terms with large corporations, absolutely — but at least there is a contract. The existence of a contractual offer for my rights means my right of ownership is being acknowledged and respected. I sure don’t remember being offered a contract for the use of my work when it was pirated online.

Guess who profits the most from this ridiculously inaccurate and misleading line of anti-copyright reasoning — giant corporations who have built a business model on free content.

Truth: Say what you want about large media corps, publishers, music and film companies, etc. — they’ve made way, way more of a tangible contribution to the livelihoods of the working artists I know than Google ever intends to.

There you have it. I hope this quick list has helped my friends and colleagues in the media who may be hurrying to file a story on World Book and Copyright Day. Here’s a final, simple, rule of thumb for writing about copyright.

If you want to understand how a working artist feels about copyright, talk to an actual working artist.

The last time I checked, ivory-tower legal-theory departments and digital-utopian advocacy groups were not the best places to look for actual working artists.

John Degen is a novelist and poet. He is Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, an organization representing more than 2000 professional authors. He is also Chair of the International Authors Forum, which currently represents close to half a million professional authors worldwide. Reach him on Twitter @jkdegen

13 Myths About Getting a Songwriting Advance

The following post comes from Alex Heiche, CEO and founder of Sound Royalties, a company working to transform the entire way that songwriters fund their creativity.  Sound Royalties has just partnered with DMN as part of our new, educational series on songwriter financing.

Just like performing artists can chart their path without a label, songwriters also have a lot of different options outside of the traditional publishing deal.  The only problem is that many of the game-changing possibilities for songwriters are still emerging, while musicians and performing artists have enjoyed access to dozens of competing services and platforms for nearly a decade.

Now, all of that is starting to change, with the promise to transform the entire way that songwriters create music and capture its value.  Traditionally, songwriters couldn’t get any financial support outside of publishing agreements with advances, which oftentimes means sacrificing a percentage of royalties in exchange for financing, ‘plugging,’ and administering songs.  Financial groups or institutions have also been buying, selling, and exploiting larger song catalogs for decades, but none of this has trickled down towards the individual songwriter.

Those big institutions can be valuable to songwriters in the right situations, but they aren’t the only game anymore.  It’s hard to say where this all goes, though it’s safe to say that alternative funding for musical compositions will start to expand, with the exciting possibility of jumpstarting the careers of an entirely new class of hit makers, film composers, and other songwriters.  The next few years will be a pretty exciting time for songwriting and music, with lots of new creative and financial possibilities.

The fact is, most songwriters don’t even consider the possibility of getting an advance outside of a traditional publishing contract.  And, most end up toiling through their songwriting under heavy financial pressure, with a host of misconceptions about advances that prevent the writer from taking advantage of them.

That’s a big problem, but one that will hopefully change as we enter a new phase of the music business.  Unfortunately, songwriting advances are up against all sorts of self-imposed hurdles, most of which exist inside the minds of songwriters.  Here are the biggest misconceptions that I’ve found top the list, and if you’re a songwriter, you might be subscribing to one or more of these myths.

Myth #1: You need good credit to get a songwriting advance.

Not true.

Yes, a bank or traditional lending institution typically looks at personal or business credit before considering an advance.  But this approach makes little sense for songwriters.  First off, songwriters don’t always have stable incomes, based on the nature of this business.  Even major writers experience huge fluctuations and occasional dry spells.  That can impact a FICO score because of the uncertain timeframes, but it’s largely separate from the broader royalty flows generated by a song or catalog.

So given those realities, why should songwriting advances be based on personal credit?  Personal credit is actually the worst way to evaluate a writer, because it ignores the most important part: the royalty-generating potential of a song or songs.  That’s the thinking behind the creation of the concept of what we term the ‘noncredit-based advance,’ which relies on a totally different set of metrics to construct an advance.

Myth #2: You need to give up your copyrights to get a songwriting advance.

This is a critical misconception that prevents a lot of great songwriters from even approaching financial partners or entertaining advances.  Or, worse, giving away their golden goose in a bad deal.

The fact is, songwriters should always prioritize deals that involve a return from the royalties that are generated by a copyright, without foregoing control of the copyright itself.  In the advance world, you should insist on that.

Just think of the alternative: giving away control of a copyright means handing the golden goose to someone else.  It’s simple: share the eggs, not the source of those eggs.  That goose could be your income for decades to come, and open an entirely new foundation for continued creativity.

Myth #3: Banks are good financial partners for songwriters.

Before you walk into your branch, know this: in almost all situations, bank regulations and due diligence require them to look at and take into account your credit history.  Basically, the bank can’t care if you’re buying a car, opening a burrito truck, or financing a college education: it’s all about the guidelines and regulations.  Which means banks aren’t accustomed to all the details that songwriters constantly deal with, like significant delays in royalty payments, royalties from multiple sources and licenses, and all the nuances of different publishing licenses, PROs, and splits.  And banks can’t assist in collecting or discovering unknown sources of revenue, which almost always exist.

This is one of the reasons why we’re seeing a totally new class of advance specialists emerging.  Songwriters need to focus on writing, not trying to educate a lender on their business.  It’s a waste of time, and can slow the development of a songwriting career.  This isn’t just someone offering you money, you should approach your financial partner as a teammate in your success.  That’s what produces great compositions, and great works of art.

Myth #4: Songwriter advances require 100% recoupment before you can start earning money.

If you aren’t sure what ‘100% recoupment’ means, please read this section carefully.  Essentially, ‘100% recoupment’ means that you, as the songwriter, must pay back all of the money advanced to you before you earn a dime.  That structure sounds great for whomever is offering the advance, but it can be crippling for the songwriter.  Instead of reaping the gains on a big song, a 100% recoupment structure forces a prolonged dry spell with no earnings, a situation that makes it extremely difficult to focus on the next song.  That slows your ability to create a strong catalog, which is ultimately your source of recurring income over time as a songwriter.

Instead, I strongly urge songwriters to structure agreements that do not include 100% recoupment, but instead, immediately provide an ‘overflow’ or a percentage of song royalties generated by the writer.  That way, income is generated for both sides, and critical financing for the next hit single immediately flows back to the songwriter.  That’s a recipe for a great partnership, and a method for building a strong, evergreen catalog.

Myth #5: It’s tough to get a smaller advance (for example, $5,000).

Not true.

In fact, a smaller advance amount can be easier to secure, and allow you to prove yourself to a financial partner, while giving you critical room to develop new material.  Basically, your advance amount should be appropriate to your expected royalty streams and your current level.  You can always get more money later, after you’ve reached a higher level of income and royalty generation.

Myth #6: You need a publisher to get any sort of advance on your writing.

Absolutely not true, and I hope this article makes that obvious.  That’s not to say that publishing deals can’t be incredibly beneficial for a writer, but the advance that is usually the focus of the publishing deal, shouldn’t be.  They’re just not the only game anymore.  My company, for one, is pushing to give songwriters a lot more options, including long-term catalog ownership (plug: try us out!).

Myth #7: You’re screwed if your song isn’t a hit.

A hit song can change a songwriter’s career arc, and if you’re really lucky, generate income for an entire lifetime.  But even though every hit is a success, every success doesn’t require a hit.  A songwriter can write a valuable film score, for example, or compose a catchy introduction to a hit television series.  Strangely, an intro song to a heavily-watched show can be instantly recognizable, but not a top 40 ‘hit’ in the classic sense.  Add in syndication, and the revenue impact could be similar, if not far better, than a traditional top 40 song.

Other ‘non-hits’ include sonic ‘branding’ used by a major corporation or product, famous lyrics, or even soundtracks to documentaries and non-traditional films.  NFL Films, for example, feature a memorable, signature soundtrack style, yet even the biggest gridiron fans can’t name one of those heavily played tracks.

Myth #8: If you’re presently stuck in an existing advance, you can’t fix it, end it, or start another one.

Sometimes that can be true, but oftentimes it’s not.  The reason is that one advance firm may see your situation (and royalty potential) in a totally different way than another.  So if you’re stuck, trapped, or ‘tapped out’ in an existing advance deal, you lose nothing by examining other alternatives.  The worst that can happen is that you’re unable to shift towards a newer deal, though oftentimes you can restructure your existing advances to get income flowing again.

Even if you can’t make a move immediately, you’ll at least develop a strategy for resolving issues with your present advances.

Myth #9: It’s too complicated to structure an advance with co-writers or other partners.

Not true.  Copyright law and payment systems accommodate partial song ownership, and payouts are split accordingly across every license type.  Some of the biggest songs in the world have multiple writers, and each writer receives their split according to percentage ownership.

Advances on performance royalties, for example, are structured at their source, the PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC).  Your co-writers aren’t part of — or even privy to — the fact that you’re taking an advance on your songwriter share.

Myth #10: Advances offered to songwriters are predatory and always put you underwater.

Sadly, some songwriter advances are predatory and designed to put you underwater.  Frankly, that makes it harder for the companies offering fair, solid advance structures to develop relationships with songwriters, though over time, I think the bad actors will get weeded out.

(Actually, if you’re wondering if a contract makes sense for you, I can easily give it a once over and flag anything that looks out of place.  Drop me an email at

Myth #11: A songwriting advance will affect your PRO earnings.

PROs have their own way of splitting performance royalty payments, which include direct payments to the writer (regardless of who the publisher or financial partner is).  That structure was put in place to protect songwriters, and the remaining amount would simply be split according to the advance deal you have in place.

So, the basic structure of the PRO payment is not altered.  And with a solid financial advance in place, it will probably increase the overall payouts.

Myth #12: You’re collecting all the money you should be from your existing songs.

Songwriter royalties are incredibly complex, and you may not be capturing all of your income.  We can see examples of this everywhere.  Recent lawsuits involving Spotify and other streaming services revealed that not only were songwriters not being paid their mechanical royalties, but many had no idea what those were.  Stories of unclaimed SoundExchange accounts or unmonetized YouTube catalogs are commonplace, and further  underscore the problem.

Ideally, a great financial partner can help to address issues like these: after all, anyone offering an advance is now aligned with your interests.  The more money they can capture from different licenses and territories, the more money flows back for everyone.  Win-win.

Myth #13: It’s impossible to start a new, separate songwriting deal if you have an existing advance.

Not true.

A traditional publishing deal oftentimes involves a block of songs, ownership of copyright, and exclusivity.  Deals where you don’t require a publishing advance put you in the driver’s seat.  You can structure your advance relationship as you want, involving the copyrights you want, for the periods you want.  As long as both sides agree, then it works!

Thanks for reading, and I hope that helped clear up some of the misconceptions about songwriting advances.  One other thing I should mention is that your deals should always remains confidential, that’s something you should insist upon.  And if you have any questions, maybe I can answer them.  Give me a shout at, or connect with us out at

Happy songwriting, and may you get the financial support you need!

Infringement Or Fair Use: Knowing The Difference

Infringement Or Fair Use: Knowing The Difference- Guest post by Jessica Kane

 is complicated, particularly in the music industry. With the recent rash of lawsuits which has been cropping up of late, we’re taking a minute to breakdown the differencebetween fair use and infringement, with the hope of avoiding the later.


Copyright law in the United States can be complicated, especially in the music industry. Before using anyone else’s work in your project or creation, it’s important to be aware of copyright and fair use laws to avoid being fined or taken to court.


As soon as anyone creates an original work, it’s protected under copyright. This includes art, music, writing, film, or any other medium. After a number of years, the work enters the public domain, where it can be used by anyone. Until then, the creator owns all the rights.

Copyright laws were created to protect people’s creative works, and if someone copies, uses, or profits from someone else’s work without permission, they have committed copyright infringement. In some cases, however, people can use copyrighted works under the fair use doctrine.

Fair Use

Fair use allows for the unlicensed use of any work protected by copyright in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act explains the four factors that should be considered when classifying the use of a work as fair use.

The first factor to consider is the purpose for using the copyrighted work. Nonprofit, noncommercial, and educational uses are much more likely to be permitted than commercial uses where the user is profiting from the copyrighted material. However, not all educational and non-profit uses will be automatically accepted as fair use.

Secondly, consider the copyrighted work itself. Using creative works like novels, films, and especially songs will usually not be allowed under fair use. Works like these are completely unique to the creator, whereas factual material like news articles are not as original and may have more leeway to be used under the fair use doctrine.

1When considering fair use, courts also look at the amount of material taken from the copyrighted work. Usually, a large portion taken means a lesser chance that fair use will be granted. The quality of the borrowed portion matters as well; even if the piece taken is small, if it’s a distinguishable part of the work, it will probably not be considered fair use.

The fourth factor when determining fair use is the effect the use has on the copyrighted work’s value. If the use decreases the value or tarnishes the reputation of the original work, it won’t be protected under fair use.

Copyright Laws for Music

All musical works are automatically protected under copyright as soon as they are created. Creators can choose register their songs with the Copyright Office, which will be helpful if they need to take someone to court for copyright infringement.

The fair use doctrine applies to copyright in music, but most musicians hope to profit off of their work, so they usually can’t claim fair use. If you sample someone else’s material in your music without profiting, it may be protected under fair use.

If you want to profit from your song that sample a piece of someone else’s work, you must get permission from the original artist. If you sample their work without permission, you could face a fine of $250 or greater. In some cases, people have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for copyright infringement.

Famous Music Copyright Infringement Cases

11Throughout the years, there have been dozens of famous copyright lawsuits. One of the most famous cases involved Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” which sampled from Queen’s and David Bowie’s song Under Pressure” without permission. The case settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money, and Queen and David Bowie received songwriting credit and royalties afterward.

In 1984, Ray Parker, Jr. used the bass line and guitar riff from Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Girl” in the“Ghostbusters” theme song. This case was also settled out of court, likely for a very large amount of money, and the settlement terms were confidential.

Jessica Kane is a music connoisseur and an avid record collector. She currently writes for SoundStage Direct, her go-to place for all turntables and vinyl equipment, including VPI Classic.

Review Agreement

Please see the info below with our preview/review agreement. Please copy the song info questions inside the ++++++++++++++++++++++++++ section and paste it into an email, then fill out your information and email it back to us at

This agreement documents your interest in having NSP preview your song and protects both parties during the preview process.

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Songwriter grants NSP authorization to preview/Review their song(s) for possible consideration for song pitching. the preview will be private, and accomplished through songwriter sending NSP an audio and/or lyric file via private transmission.

By filling out the information below and emailing it to NSP songwriter holds NSP and any affiliating companies owned by keith mohr harmless and blameless for any and all copyright issues that may possibly arise from the song being previewed.

Songwriter testifies that their song is original and has no copyright issues with lyrics, music, arrangement, production.

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Show—Don’t Tell: 3 Steps to Writing Better Lyrics

Here’s an excellent article by Nashville songwriter, Jason Blume. We found it here:

Our goal, when we share a song, is to evoke emotion in our listeners—to have them not only know what the singer is feeling, but to empathize—to feel the emotion. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by bringing your audience inside the world of your song—showing them a scene unfolding—instead of simply telling them how the singer feels.

Writing lyrics that “show—don’t tell” is one of the basics of songwriting, and is one of the first things taught in almost every songwriting class. But for many songwriters, it’s easier to write lyrics that state how the singer feels. For example: “My heart is filled with happiness”; or, “I’m lonely and my heart is broken.” But while these statements clearly express what the singer is feeling, these types of statements don’t typically evoke emotion in the listener.

By incorporating three elements—action, imagery, and detail—into your verse lyrics, you can write lyrics that tell a story. Note that this tool is primarily intended for verse lyrics. In songs containing choruses, the chorus lyrics tend to be more general. Their function is to be a summation of the concept and to hammer home the title. Telling the story is the domain of the verses.

A: Action

You might recall from elementary school that verbs are figures of speech that convey action or doing. By incorporating action words you ensure that you are avoiding simply stating feelings.

An easy way to include action is to identify the emotion you are hoping to evoke then ask yourself, “What would a person do if he or she were feeling this?”

Instead of saying, “I’m missing you and my heart is broken,” you might write lines that show what missing someone and being heartbroken looks like.

For example:

  • I hug the pillow where you used to lay your head
  • I clutch a tear-stained picture of you
  • I drove to the club where we used to hang, but I couldn’t walk through that door
  • I wipe the tears that keep running down my face

Note the action words—the verbs in the examples above: “hug,” “clutch,” “drove,” “walk,” and “wipe.”

Similarly, instead of saying, “I’m in love,” show what a person in love does by writing lyrics such as:

  • I wrote your name and mine inside a heart
  • I keep singing your name like a favorite song
  • I read your text that said “I love you” at least a hundred times

The action words—the verbs in this example are: “wrote,” “singing,” and “read.”

Note that the first lyric examples never actually stated, “I miss you,” or “My heart is broken.” Nor did the second examples say, “I’m in love,” or “I’m happy.” They didn’t need to—because by “seeing” what the person in the song is doing the listeners are able to surmise how he or she feels.

To master the tool of incorporating action it can help to imagine you’re writing the script for a video, and the actors’ actions will be based solely on the words of your lyric. If you write, “my heart is breaking,” you have not told the actress what she is supposed to do to show this.

A listener cannot “see” what it looks like when a heart breaks. But if you write, “She fell to her knees as he packed his bag, and tears ran down her face”—this is something a listener can visualize. The actress knows that she is supposed to fall to her knees and cry.

I: Imagery

Imagery refers to things that be can seen. Words that convey images are nouns. Note that some nouns—such as “heartache,” “sadness,” “happiness,” and “joy”—do not represent things that are tangible. They are descriptions of emotional states. Effective use of imagery entails including words that describe things that can be seen or touched.

While you cannot see “heartbroken,” you can see the images and actions that convey that a person is heartbroken. For instance:

  • He falls to his knees and lays flowers on her grave
  • She sits in his chair and wipes her tears with a tissue
  • He kisses her photo

The images in the examples above include: “knees,” flowers,” and “grave”; “tears” and “tissue”; “photo” and “lips.”

The inclusion of these images help to show that the character in the song is heartbroken. The listeners are better able to empathize with the character’s emotional state because the lyric allows them to envision the character and the items around them, as well as the action taking place.

By including tangible items in your lyrics—things such as: furniture, clothing, a car, a house, a specific place, food, and other concrete nouns, you enable your audience to enter your song.


Detail is the third component that will help you to show what is occurring—instead of telling how the singer or character in the song feels. By including adjectives and adverbs—or adjectival and adverbial phrases—you further describe the scene, allowing your listener to visualize it more clearly. The inclusion of detail also contributes to making your lyric unique and distinctive.

By adding detail to the examples above we can further engage listeners.

  • He falls to his knees and lays flowers on her grave – or – He falls to his knees on the coldmuddy ground and lays white lilies from her garden on her grave
  • She sits in his chair and wipes her tears with a tissue – or – She sits in his old rocking chair and wipes bitter tears with a wet, crumpled Kleenex
  • He kisses her photo – or – He kisses the photo he took of her laughing that weekend they went camping at Reelfoot Lake

Instead of using words like “pretty” or “beautiful,” provide a description. What interests you more?

She could turn every head when she walked in the room
She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen
More beautiful than any words could ever say Like she’d stepped right out of my wildest dream


She had a jet-black ponytail
That curled around a butterfly tattoo
Black stilletto heels, white string bikini top And eyes that could make a sky turn blue

Incorporating Brand Names

Incorporating brand names (i.e., Ray-Ban, Levis, Calvin Klein) and the names of businesses (i.e., McDonald’s, Walmart, Dairy Queen) can be an excellent way to infuse details into your lyrics. For example, countless songs have mentioned brands of cars such as Chevy, Ford, Mercury, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz——but is it legal? No—but you won’t be sued as long as you present the product or business in a positive light. Your song essentially becomes a free commercial.

Additional Hot Tips: Establish a Time and Location

Specifying a time when the action is taking place can help you to tell a story—instead of telling how the singer feels. A line of lyric such as, “It was 3 AM on a rainy winter night” almost demands that you continue the story—to describe what happened next.

A time doesn’t have to be exact. It could be:

  • The hottest day of summer
  • The September sun was right above my head
  • It was the middle of the longest night of my life

Placing the character in a specific location is an additional tool that can help you to tell a story. Knowing where the action is taking place can also make it easier to include detail. Is the character in his or her bed? On a roller coaster? In a supermarket? At a nightclub? In an airport? At a restaurant? In a cabin in the woods?


  • I was sitting in my truck
    Underneath a streetlight
    Outside the house that used to be ours
  • The sun peeked above the ocean
    As I woke up on a beach in Waikiki

To view some lyrics that include exceptional use of details check out:

  • I Drive Your Truck (recorded by Lee Brice; written by Jimmy Yeary, Connie Harrington, and Jessi Alexander)
  • Last Friday Night (recorded by Katy Perry; written by Max Martin/Dr. Luke/Bonnie McKee/Katy Perry)
  • Terms of My Surrender (recorded and written by John Hiatt)
  • Irreplaceable (recorded by Beyoncé; written by Amund Bjoerklund/Mikkel Eriksen/Tor Hermansen/Beyoncé Knowles/ Espen Lind/Shaffer Smith)
  • Night Changes (recorded by One Direction; written by Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, along with Jamie Scott, Julian Bunetta and John Ryan)

There are no rules in songwriting, and I’m not implying that you should never tell how you feel in a lyric. Countless songs have become hits without the benefit of this tool. But it’s an important tool to have in your proverbial toolbox.

Detailed stories filled with “pictures” are the cornerstone of the lyrics of Nashville’s current hits—but as you can see from the lyrics referenced above, this tool can help set your songs apart in every genre. Infusing your lyrics with A: action, I: imagery, and D: detail can be the ticket to deliver your lyrics to your listeners’ hearts—and your career to the next level.

Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past eighteen months he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart.

Jason’s songs have been included in films and TV shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,” Disney’s “Kim Possible” “Dangerous Minds,” “Kickin’ it Old Skool,” “The Guiding Light,” “The Miss America Pageant,” and many more. Jason is in his nineteenth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s Music World magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica.

After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit

Navigating the Rocky Seas of Royalties, Splits, PRO’s, and Publishing Deals

Here’s an excellent article from Jeremy Dean. It was originally posted here:


The navigational tools of the music business can sometimes be confusing or misrepresented. To newcomers seeking a way to make their climb, it is a very frustrating circus of events to hurdle. Some of the most common misunderstandings on the business side of independent songwriting are the management of rights, registration and residuals of the business value of those works; most notably, royalties.

It is imperative that songwriters (who do not have publishers to handle the paperwork) address questions on this topic before allowing a work to be used commercially. Otherwise, it can become an even bigger, more expensive, headache to sort out after-the-fact. While there are proprietary structures as to how each major royalty-managing operation functions as a whole, having a basic understanding will help you navigate this difficult side of the business.


What are royalties? As naïve as it sounds, some of us started writing “for the love of it,” and in the beginning we didn’t really anticipate anyone else wanting to utilize our art for their own success. So, we poured our hearts and minds into musical poetry with no real intention of understanding the value of our own experience and creativity. But now someone wants to record our song?

I often find it interesting amongst newcomers that their perception of royalties is based mostly on their understanding of the major performance rights organizations, which we will discuss shortly. But let us make a quick distinction:

“Mechanical Royalties” refers to licensing that is paid for the rights to use your work. Obtaining this compulsory license is required for anyone to use your work commercially. Without your expressed permission through this licensing, works recorded without your knowledge or consent are illegal. Unauthorized use may be subject to legal action, to collect due royalties and civil penalties for your protected works.

The very first step in collecting royalties in songwriting is directly related to the licensing for use of that song. As an independent publisher, having gone through the acceptance process, my catalog licensing is managed through the premier rights organization, Harry Fox Agency (HFA). When one of my songs is solicited for recording, my association with HFA allows me to direct the solicitor to their website, where they can pay for the mechanical rights to record my songs. The solicitor licenses the number of product units they will be selling and will return to the site to pay the additional mechanical licensing royalties for any additional product sales later on. My association with HFA also gives me legal backing in the event audits or collections are necessary against solicitors or people who use my works without my knowledge.

“Performance Royalties” refers to royalties collected by your Performance Rights Organization (PRO). In the United States, these organizations would be ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. You can find an abundant amount of information on these organizations online to familiarize yourself. Their responsibility is to collect for the performances of your songs on radio, television, live and digital venues. They do not handle the management of the song rights themselves, which is why you need the mechanical license in place for works made available for recordings.

United Kingdom – PRS –
Australia – APRA –

As an independent songwriter, there are networking and learning opportunities your PRO can direct you to, even if your songs are not yet in a position to collect performance royalties. It is my advice that you go through the application process of obtaining a PRO as soon as possible and continually look for ways to interact with PRO programs or advice platforms offered. Specifically, they offer songwriting workshops that will contribute to your growth in the crafting of songs while you learn to navigate the business.

For more information on royalties, please visit:


I am not going to dive too deep into the science of this topic; however, I will direct you for more information below. This is VERY important to discuss with ALL music and lyric cowriters you work with UP FRONT.

Going into a co-write session is one of the most enjoyable things I do… most of the time. I love the psychology, chemistry, and social diversity approaches that can often thrive in complex writing scenarios. Co-writes can simply be fun, they can create novel approaches to songwriting, or feed a mutual sense of humor. They may also reveal interesting angles and new approaches to some idea you have tunnel-vision on. True, sometimes co-write sessions can become frustrating. Whichever the case, the business of co-write sessions is IMPERATIVE to address, so that misunderstandings in this are minimal and promising creative opportunities are constantly promoted.

When you sit down for the first time with a co-writer, it is important to discuss royalty splits regarding the lyric and music creation and how the royalty percentages will be owned. As my general practice, I co-write with other writers establishing an even split agreement up front. This means that all potential royalties earned by each song later on will be split evenly every time, regardless of who is going to address the music and who might have more lyrical contribution on a particular work. This allows for a more song-focused approach for us, without the added pressure of arguing over whose line gets used each time to increase their percentage.

When I write with new songwriters, I do not go into the co-write expecting to make a bigger percentage. I do anticipate, however, ending up with a higher count of lyrics or directing the creation of the musical composition. I still do the 50/50 split because I am taking a risk to establish a working relationship that could reap future rewards and opportunities. Secondly, in order that the new songwriter will not be fighting the added pressure of feeling defeated before they have even gotten a good foot in the door, an equal split is important.

Published writers often utilize varying percentages based on their relationship with their publisher, and the splits in their established agreements. Published writers also are not generally permitted to co-write with independent songwriters, as a matter of contract, since the publishers are in business and seek to make the most of their investments by utilizing their writers within their own network of established professionals. That said, it is very important to address royalty splits before entering into a new co-write, so that pitfalls do not arise in the most awkwardly frustrating moments of potential success.

A final note on this topic is the discussion of creating a demo. Once a song has been co-written by two independent songwriters, the most common question I get asked is, “Who pays for the demo?” A demo is a recording of the song that will be used to “pitch” for commercial label, artist, or other industry opportunity consideration. Demo production is a discussion for another time. But, on the business side of things, it is important to establish the boundaries of the working relationship.

Based on my working relationships with established songwriters, I have found the best advice being, “Make it your baby.” When I co-write a song, I do not obligate myself to help pay for a mutual demo production. I also do not solicit that obligation from the co-writer(s). After a song is written, each writer can do with the production of that song (on their own) whatever they feel best, in order to promote it through their own networks of success. I have demos of various genres for some of the same songs, and that is perfectly fine. It is my belief that this broadens the opportunities of commercial consideration for that song within the music business, since you never know what can happen. It also does not obligate my independent songwriter dollar to push songs to the top of my list that might otherwise be lower on my to-do list.

This consideration is important to discuss up front, as I have been in situations where songwriters thought a co-write would also be a way to tap into my production skills at no cost, or that I would help them finance a recording project if I helped them write the songs for the project. Meanwhile, in those cases, I have had a growing list of other production priorities. So, for me, it’s more efficient to let the co-writer know up front that anything that happens with the song will be split fairly, and that they are welcome to produce it however they see fit in the end, at their own expense. “Make it your baby.”

For more information on royalty splits, please visit:


I have touched on Mechanical Royalties, Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) and their importance, but I want to mention the involvement of publishing companies in the songwriting business for a minute. As an independent songwriter, early on, it was my goal to produce a catalog of quality songs and obtain a publisher who would then promote them to the necessary people who could connect the dots. And, while that is certainly still a conversation I enjoy from time to time, I have been in Music City since 1997 and have heard the pros and cons and watched other songwriters in my networks get trapped in shady “publishing deals,” gift-wrapping their creative achievements for a funeral.

An effective publisher will manage your catalog and royalties, handle the necessary paperwork, promote you through their channels, direct production of your songs and develop your network. But, within that relationship it’s still up to you and what you can do crafting your art that will determine what happens.

Not all publishing deals are legitimate… Let’s get that established first. A publisher who cannot do more for you than you can do for yourself is just expensive baggage and is not a credible source of realistic achievement. They seem to pop up everywhere. They solicit songs, they make promises, they feed dreams, they keep you on a chain, and they look good doing it. But if wasting time is what you are into, you can do that yourself as well.

The viable publishers in Music City are active, have a current list of successes, and will make more money on your songs than you will (most likely) when it’s all said and done. Just like most artist deals today, publishing deals are a loan. They will recoup their money before you get paid royalties. It’s important to keep that in mind, because I find today that many of the successful independent artists, songwriters, and producers are all pushing harder, reaching higher, and working more effectively on their own. Often, they choose to do this outside those structured arrangements, even if the scale of their monetary success is a fraction of what the “big boys” make.

This industry is incredibly difficult today, even for the most established publishers. So, you are going to have to be active (the squeaky wheel sometimes) to make things happen. Until you can PROVE that you need an established publisher, you are your own publisher. It benefits you most to learn the process. There are several great books, with sample contracts available, that can get you started in handling this for yourself. It will not be what you know, but who you know, that eventually gets you and your creative works established. Networking is still a primary push on the business side of this while you learn.

We would all like a perfect scenario. One where we come to town, we are partnered with people who can make us top-notch, we are sent to a publisher that breathes life and gives wings to our songs, and we sit around collecting money with more time to write. That sort of thinking is why people leave almost as fast as they come to this town. What YOU do in creating, protecting, and promoting your art is going to be the basis on which everything else comes into being.

Jeremy Dean

Don’t Get Screwed Over: 3 Situations Where A Handshake Deal Is Not Enough

While getting agreements in writing is almost always a good idea when it comes to the music business, there are certain situations where doing so is critical to making sure one’s creative work is protected down the road.

Guest Post by Erin M. Jacobson – Music and Entertainment Attorney, Los Angeles, CA

Musicians often ask me when they need to “get it in writing” as opposed to just having a verbal agreement or handshake deal. The real answer to that question is that you should always get agreements in writing, but there are three frequently occurring scenarios where it’s essential. Doing so will provide you with much needed protection later on when money or fame create unanticipated problems. Here’s how to handle each situation.

  1. Co-writing songs

When co-writing songs with others, it’s imperative to have a songwriter split agreement. This is a short agreement listing the writers of the song and in what percentages they are sharing ownership and royalties. There are longer versions of this agreement that lay out more terms, but a songwriter split agreement is the minimum that you should have in place.

This agreement is important because it offers some proof if someone who’s not a writer tries to claim he or she is owed a credit or portion of ownership or royalties on a song. Here’s a story of an actual situation that happened to a band several years ago.

A new band wrote some songs for their first album while in the studio. As is fairly common, the band had some friends and band members’ girlfriends in the studio with them. One of the songs the band wrote that day in the studio ended up being a huge hit for them that produced a large amount of royalties. The band never completed a songwriter split agreement.

A short time after the song became a hit and the money started rolling in, a girlfriend – now ex-girlfriend – of one of the band members contacted the band and said that the band had promised her 10 percent ownership of the song for contributing a certain line. The band said that they never promised her anything, but she threated to take them to court. The ex-girlfriend had no proof she actually contributed to the song, but the band had no proof that she was lying.

In order to avoid an expensive lawsuit, the band had to give her the 10 percent she wanted. While a written agreement doesn’t prevent someone from making a claim, if the band had completed a songwriter split agreement at the time the song was written, they would have had some sort of proof that the ex-girlfriend was not one of the writers of the song or owed any ownership interest in it. They could have potentially avoided giving up 10 percent ownership and income to someone who didn’t earn it.

  1. Working with a producer

Musicians often come to me with problems they’re having with a producer. Often, the producer isn’t turning over the masters because there was a misunderstanding between the parties, or sometimes a producer’s claiming more ownership or income share than he or she should.

The source of these problems is usually that the band didn’t get the terms of the agreement with the producer in writing. As a result, the parties had different understandings of what they each thought the agreement entailed, important terms hadn’t been discussed and left to work out at some later date, or someone changed his or her mind because he or she didn’t have anything in writing to dispute the new terms.

Producer agreements are really important because the creator of the music is bringing in a third party who contributes (some more significantly than others) to the masters and sometimes to the compositions. Producers sometimes have claims to master ownership or require a songwriting credit when they haven’t written part of the song. Producer fees and royalty structures can vary based on genre, stature of the producer, and whether there’s a record deal involved. So, again, having the payment clearly defined is essential.

A band came to me recently after working with several producers on their album, with no written contracts. After spending a lot of money on recording, the band had allowed the main producer on the album to dictate terms of compensation with all the other producers. When the album was finished, the band was left with only 10 percent ownership of all compositions and masters on the album when they were the main songwriters and only performers.

I asked the band why they didn’t seek my counsel or other assistance earlier instead of waiting until this point, and their answer was that they had hoped things would improve on their own. Had the band sought advice on this situation earlier and gotten producer agreements in place with fair terms, this situation could have been avoided.

  1. Forming a band

Band agreements are also really important because every band is different. In some bands, everyone writes and all members share equally in royalties, and in other bands, only the main members share credit and royalties while other members are treated more like employees. Bands also have unique issues regarding the band name and who can use or perform under that name if the band breaks up or a member leaves.

The time to create a band agreement is right in the beginning stages of the band when all members are still on good terms with each other. The conversation about the issues covered in a band agreement may seem uncomfortable at first, but ultimately clarifies expectations and protects everyone in the band. If certain band members are unreasonable or cannot agree during this initial conversation, that’s a red flag you’ll be glad you discovered sooner rather than later.

Although being in a band is a creative and fun experience, what many musicians forget is that it is also a business, and needs to be run as such in order to stay organized and find success.

Here’s a story about why having a band agreement is important: I received a call from a musician whose band was in the process of breaking up. The band had been together for several years, and this musician wanted to know if he could continue earning income from the band’s songs and whether he could use the band name in the future.

I learned the band didn’t have an agreement and hadn’t discussed ownership of compositions, masters, artwork, the band name, or how any of these things would be treated if the band broke up. The relationships between the members had turned contentious, and there was no way any of them were in an emotional state to agree on anything.

Because the members weren’t talking, it would have taken a lot of investigation or possibly litigation to figure out how the material should be split and who could use the name going forward. It was very probable this musician would no longer be able to profit from the hard work he had contributed to this band over the last several years.

Had the band created a band agreement in the beginning, they could have discussed these issues and decided how all of their material would be treated in the event of a breakup. While the agreement wouldn’t have prevented a breakup, it would have clearly explained how the material was to be treated and how the members could proceed when the event occurred instead of potentially stripping the members of the proceeds of their contributions.

How and where do you get it in writing?

The best option is to hire an experienced music attorney to draft these agreements with language and terms specific to the situation at hand.

If you cannot hire an attorney due to the cost or other reasons, you can download high-quality contract templates drafted by a music attorney at Indie Artist Resource. Each template covers the most common issues faced in those situations by musicians and comes with instructions to facilitate easy completion of the agreement.

If a formal contract is still not possible, having some evidence in writing is beneficial. You can follow a verbal conversation with an email saying, “To recap the terms of what we discussed…” and then briefly summarize the terms so there is a written record of it. While it is not the same as or as strong as having an actual signed contract, it does help to leave some trail of proof if things go wrong down the line. This is a good idea especially for situations where contracts aren’t always used, like casual agreements with venue talent buyers or promoters.

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Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

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