Who gets a Writing Percentage?

If you write your own music, you may want to ask yourself:  are you giving away a writing percentage to people who didn’t write with you?

The common practice of giving people a songwriting percentage who didn’t contribute to a song is becoming even more frequent in the music business.  In today’s industry, there are producers and collaborators who require that artists and writers give them a guaranteed percentage of ownership and income share in order to work with them.  One argument is that these producers/collaborators are so big and turn out so many hits that giving away this percentage is worth the lost income for the artist/writer in exchange for the prestige and hit-making power these producers/collaborators provide.  On the flip side, many producers will give a performer a larger percentage of the music publishing than the performer may deserve due to the performer’s star quality and power to bring attention to a song.  A recent example involves Robin Thicke’s collaboration with Pharrell on “Blurred Lines.”  Depositions released from the numerous legal battles surrounding the song revealed that Pharrell had written most of the song before Thicke ever arrived at the recording studio, but Thicke was still awarded 20% of songwriting credit.

However,  not everyone employing these practices have the big names or hit-making track records to back them up.  Many indie producers and collaborators are now also requiring a portion of songwriter ownership (and master ownership) in exchange for their contribution as a producer — something typically covered only by producer royalties in the past.  But in the struggle to make a buck in an unstable industry, everyone from major labels to garage producers are trying to get a bigger share.

As an independent musician, the question remains as to whether your collaborators actually deserve a higher percentage than they contributed.  A decision of “yes” may stem from their experience, talent, connections, or hit potential of the material.   But it is important to decide whether this person will actually bring the added benefit to the song’s or album’s success needed to justify a larger percentage share.  If your collaborator is just trying to get a larger income share without bringing any additional benefits to the table, it might be wise to find another, more fair, collaborator who does provide the benefits you are seeking.

No matter what percentage you decide to share, it is always imperative to have agreements in place like a Songwriter Split Sheet, Master Ownership Agreement, and Producer Agreement to solidify percentages and help to minimize disputes later.


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Jacobson, Esq. Erin M.

Erin M. Jacobson is a practicing attorney that represents musicians, songwriters, music publishers, producers, and other music professionals. She is known throughout the music business as "The Music Industry Lawyer" and her clients range from Grammy and Emmy Award winners to independent artists and companies. She works directly with her clients at every career stage and strives to protect her clients and their creative endeavors through deal negotiations and proper intellectual property management. Erin founded Indie Artist Resource to provide protection to independent musicians with barriers to obtaining basic legal and business documents.

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