Collaborating with fellow music creators is one of the most exciting parts of making music. Vibing out with musicians, lyricists, composers, and vocals that you like and respect is the bedrock of community within the music industry. But when the fun comes to an end, it is also important to be on your game when it comes to the business. Collaborations open the doors to creative genius, but also opens the door to business mayhem if collaborations are not properly managed and administered.
No one wants to be in a legal battle with a collaborator after a song becomes a hit because the collaborators are in disagreement about the ownership percentages in the music, the distribution of royalties, and the ways in which the music should be exploited. This is where proper rights administration comes into play.
In the music industry, we use a variety of contractually binding documents and agreements to communicate our understanding of what we believe should be, as agreed upon with other parties. These agreements can become the basis for how that music is exploited and how parties, including beneficiaries and beneficiaries of beneficiaries (e.g. your grandchildren), are compensated for over 100 years (until the work falls into public domain). So, learn about them now and make sure to use them when appropriate.
A Split Sheet captures all of the publishing information regarding the co-writers of a song. This information is used primarily to keep track of ownership percentages in a song. It is the source of truth when registering songs to music rights organizations. It is an agreement between the co-writers on the split of publishing income.
When you work with a collaborator, by default, everyone owns the work 100%. This is the default way in which U.S. copyright law recognizes co-authors. But what if you wrote all of the verses, someone else wrote the chorus, and three others composed the music? Do you all intend to own the work 100% each and have complete control over its use without asking your fellow collaborators for their permission or acknowledgement of how it is used? If not, you’re going to want to create and sign a split sheet with all of your co-authors immediately after a song is complete.
A split sheet should include:
TuneRegistry users can export split sheets directly from their Catalog. In TuneRegistry, music creators can manage collaborators in the Contacts module and pull those collaborators into new songs to build out a complete picture of the ownership splits and rights information necessary to register the song with music rights organizations.
You might also want to create a collaboration agreement, which further stipulates who has administration rights and obligate one another to account to fellow collaborators when one collaborator, or their publisher, issues a license and collects royalties for the entire work.
A Collaboration Agreement goes beyond the split sheet and can add much more nuance to a collaborative work, such as agreeing on which writer(s) have administration rights (all jointly or a primary writer). It stipulates how each writer should be accounted to in the event one writer (or their publisher) licenses the work; or it restricts some writers from licensing the work at all.
What if you’re a Vegan and would prefer that your music is not licensed to commercials for animal products, but your collaborator who only wrote a bridge decides to license the song for use in a national commercial for a burger chain? Would you be OK with that? If not, it is important that these things are discussed and agreed upon in advance in a collaboration agreement. In this scenario, the work could be restricted from being licensed to promote animal products or it could be limited to only be licensed by the Vegan collaborator or his/her publisher.
Collaboration agreements may also include terms regarding the master; such as points (in the case of a release with no label involvement). It may also discuss how to account to co-writers when a work is licensed for a fraction of the mechanical statutory rate, such as when a label pays out 3/4th of the mechanical rate on so-called "controlled compositions.”
Completed collaboration agreements should be shared amongst all collaborators and kept in a safe place. TuneRegistry enables music creators to store important documents and agreements in the Documents module so that your music rights catalog and the related documents are stored in one safe place, accessible 24/7 from any Internet-enabled computer.
In conclusion, in the absence of a split sheet and collaboration agreement, collaborators in a work will automatically fall under the rules of joint authorship in terms of copyright. This means all co-authors will have an undivided ownership (100% each) in the work in the absence of an agreement that splits the ownership otherwise. All co-authors can exploit the work to the full extent of the rights granted in a copyright without getting the permission of collaborators, including the right to make copies, to distribute the work, to license it for derivative use, to perform and display the work publicly. No one can issue exclusive licenses without the permission of co-authors, but each co-author can license non-exclusively as long as they account to their co-authors.