What Are Split Sheets and Why Do They Matter?

by | Apr 15, 2024

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If you’d like to make a career out of making music, you need to know the basics of how artists, songwriters, and producers get paid for their contributions. A songwriter split sheet is a document that names all of the creative contributors to the song creation process (i.e.  songwriters and sometimes producers). You’ll need to understanding how split sheets work to ensure you’re fairly compensated. Furthermore, songwriter split sheets can also be an integral of helping you avoid disputes later.

How Splits Work

Let’s start with a bit of background about how recording artists get paid. There are two types of revenue streams generated by songs: one from the composition and one from the sound recording. The composition refers to the melody, music, and lyrics. The sound recording or “master” is the recorded version of the composition. Songwriter splits are among those who have a claim to earnings (or royalties) from the composition.

If you’re a producer and you partook in the songwriter process, you will likely be getting a percentage of the composition royalties. However, if you’re a producer, there are scenarios in which you can negotiate a percentage of the master royalties as well. And lastly, there are scenarios where producers accept an upfront free instead of royalty percentages. The good news is that you and your collaborators have options. However, it’s impossible to be sure you’re all on the same page without an open discussion.

PROs and Copyright

PROs, or Performing Rights Organizations, help songwriters get paid. These organizations are country specific. So, in the US we have BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. Registering your song with your chosen PRO makes it easier for people who may want to sync or license your music to know who is entitled to a payout and who isn’t. Music publishers, music labels, PROs, etc. will sometimes hold royalties during disputes until they have a clear idea of who to pay. Therefore, a split sheet can make the difference between whether you get paid or not, even for your own songs.

Note that split sheets are not the same thing as a copyright agreement. Based on US Copyright Law, the royalties from songs created without split sheets gets equally divided among all involved contributors. As such, the best way to protect yourself from having to give away an outsized amount of your royalties if you are the primary writer on a song is to have a split sheet. Therefore, once a song is complete, you and your collaborators should register a songwriter split sheet to your respective PROs and publishing companies.

What Is A Songwriter Split Sheet?

Songwriter split sheets state each contributor’s ownership percentage, aka their “split.” These percentages are meant to be determined by the amount that each person contributed to the song. Here are some key bits of information your split sheet should list:

  • Song title
  • Legal name of each contributor
  • Role of each contributor (Producer vs Lyricist)
  • Percentage owned by each contributor
  • PRO, publishing company, and / or record label of each contributor
  • Contact mailing address or email address
  • Each party’s signature

You and your collaborators should discuss splits and list the percentages on the sheet as soon as the song is finished. All of you should all receive a copy, that way when the song is registered, everyone will get PAID.

How to Decide On Percentage Splits

As with any group project, people are not always on the same page about what percentage they feel they contributed. This can make settling on a split that feels fair to everyone complicated and awkward. However, certain spilts are customary based on genre. In the indie music world, producers usually get 15-25% of the net royalties. Producers, or beat makers, hold a lot of power in Hip Hop and will sometimes request 50% of royalties. In some genres, it’s customary for all writers to split things equally regardless of how much each individual contributed to the song.

In conclusion, though you may feel awkward talking about money, know that stumbling through the process of establishing a written agreement now is better than having to get lawyers involved later. You can download a free copy of your very own split sheet via Songtrust! When you book your next session with us, be sure to have your split sheets on hand to hand out to collaborators!

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