Who Writes The Songs? Why Some Bands Are Singing The Blues

It’s a sad reality that far too many bands are remiss when it comes to housekeeping, and one of the things that has come back to haunt more than a few groups and former mates is an unfortunate propensity for untidiness when it comes to song material written by members.

I like to see bands set themselves up for success, and in this regard I’ve always been a big proponent of prioritizing having a band partnership agreement in place. It should be one of the first orders of business for any group that is serious about getting out there and making waves. One of the most important reasons for this is this matter of songs. A written band agreement will go a long ways toward addressing this issue by covering the subject of writing credits, ownership, division of any publishing revenue and the administration of such publishing.

As I see it, there are basically two approaches to dealing with song credits and ownership in a band: One sees the actual writers retaining all writing credits and copyrights; the other distributes those credits and/or ownership equally amongst the band members. At first glance the former seems pretty straight forward and the logical way to go–i.e., the people who write the songs deserve those credits and ownership. A second look at this may give one cause to reconsider.

Take the situation where a band member comes up with a song idea and presents it to the group. They like it and have a hand in developing it to completion for performing and recording purposes. Did the other members just help arrange it, or was their contribution also compositional? And who gets to determine this? Or, what if the person who started the band has a real thing about pushing his own songs on the group but is reluctant to share in any of the credits and ownership?

These are examples of circumstances where song creation and usage can easily become fodder for dispute, tension and dissension within a group, which is the reason why some bands opt for each member having an equal share of ownership of all songs. That way, everyone gets a piece of at least the publishing side of song income. Some bands go further and give everyone equal writing credits, too, regardless of any individual member’s contribution, although it is perfectly understandable why the one(s) with most of the creative juices in the group might have a problem with that.

I’m not advocating this kind of egalitarian approach, simply pointing it out as an option to consider. If you do go in this direction, you will need to set up a publishing company for the band material unless the band decides to find an existing publishing firm to handle its song-related business affairs. Your band agreement should stipulate whether or not the band partners agree to create such an entity, the administration rights and duties that such a company would have, and the criteria that would have to be met for a song to fall under its control.

If you opt for the first approach, then it is important that the person who brings a song idea to the group have the other members sign off on their sole rights to the composition, in the way that a music producer working with an artist on an album project might be asked to do.

Speaking of being remiss, it’s been way too long since I last wrote about something specifically pertinent to bands. I promise to mend my ways, so keep an eye out for more musings about bands on this site in the coming months.


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