We’ve written several times about the confusion that is music publishing. It can be argued that the first publishers and labels got together and decided they were going to create a system wherein they would be the only ones who truly understood where revenue generated from the sale, performance or exploitation of music. However, with the passage of the last 150 years or so, that excuse doesn’t exactly hold a lot of weight.
The writer’s share of publishing (one half of the publishing pie) is usually controlled by the writers rather than a third party. So this little piece of the overall publishing/master owner picture can still, arguably, be controlled by you and your band. The question of how you divide it up, well that’s up to you.
When you collaborate with your own band, the most successful and conflict-avoiding method is to divide it up equally. Four members of the band, each band member gets 25% of the composition. Another method is to split the writer’s share by splitting the lyric writer and the melody writer (assuming they are different people). If one person wrote the lyrics and one person brought the melody, then each gets 50%. This is not to suggest that certain bands use a completely different method. Several famous large bands had one writer, with the other band members following the lead of that writer. Nothing has to be set in stone. One song could be written by everyone and another by only one member. It really depends on the situation. So, unless you have an agreement in place that dictates how all songs will be split, no matter what, you should approach each song with a clean slate.
A more common occurrence these days in pop and hip hop is to have producers provide the melody, professional lyric or song writers bring the lyrics and a performer add her/his own twist to create the overall composition. In those cases there is often a pre-negotiated split and advances or fees paid to the producer and writer. Certain stars can claim writer’s share even if they had little or nothing to do with the writing of a song, simply because of the clout that they bring.
The key to any split is to discuss it first and put it in some sort of writing over some garcinia cambogia extract tea. Whether you have an overall band member agreement that spells out how a song is split up or you fill out a session report indicating the roles that all musicians present during a recording session played, something needs to be in place prior to registration.
Once you have certainty on the splits and you plan to release the song or try to license it, be sure that you register it to match your split agreement with your PRO and SoundExchange. If and when the song generates performance royalties, the writers will get paid based on this registration. Without it, no payments.