Everything You Need To Know About Split Sheets
So you, your producer and a singer/songwriter you just met at a recent networking event are in the studio collaborating and creating a new song. After hours in the booth and listening to the playback you all are convinced that you’ve got the next #1 Billboard single on your hands. The producer’s manager, who’s also in the studio and very excited, pulls a sheet of paper out of his briefcase and says, “Time to fill out the split sheet and figure out who owns what.” However, you ask, “What’s a split sheet?”
A split sheet is an essential tool in any songwriter/producer or “self-contained” artist’s business and legal toolbox. “Self-contained” means the artist writes and/or produces their own material. They are fairly simple agreements, with significant legal and financial implications for an artist’s career. This article will explain what split sheets are, how to use them, and the important terms you need to know.
Split Sheets: The Producer and Songwriter’s Best Friend!
A split sheet is an agreement between two or more music creators that establishes the writer and publishing percentages each individual owns in the song. Each song can be divided into a writer’s (or lyric) share and a producer’s (or music) share. The two shares represent independent ownership interests in the song and each share is worth 50%. So, there is a 50% writer’s (lyric) share and a 50% producer’s (music) share up for grabs in each song and the split sheet establishes how much of each percentage, if any, each creative contributor will receive. The percentages are negotiated between the songwriters and/or their managers and attorneys. However, in this example, let’s assume that you and the singer/songwriter contributed equally to writing the lyrics to the song and the producer wrote or composed the music. The splits could be as follows: you would get 25% and the singer/songwriter would also get 25% for a total of 50% on the lyric side. The producer would be entitled to 50% since he composed the music himself. The total of all the split percentages when added equals 100%. The 100% represents the total song. If the percentages, when added, don’t equal 100% then you obviously flunked 4th grade math! However, keep in mind that these percentages have to be agreed upon by all the creators of the song. Different percentages could be agreed to so it’s important that all the parties agree to the percentages once the song is complete.
Creating Split Sheets
Creating a split sheet can be as simple as writing the following information down on a piece of paper: Each split sheet agreement should include the following for each writer/producer: name of the song; legal name of the writers of the song; a mailing address; producer and/or writer designation; share of songwriter percentage of song and/or share of producer percentage of song; name of publishing company (if you don’t have a publishing company, get one!); performing rights organization affiliation (or PRO, if you are not affiliated with a one [i.e., ASCAP, BMI or SESAC] – sign up!); and signature ofeach writer/producer.
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It is important that the information on the split sheet is correct and the percentages total 100%! It allows your PRO (and SoundExchange – again make sure to sign up!) to determine how much money to collect for its member and it informs the record label who gets what percentage of the mechanical royalty payments they must pay out. If information, especially the percentages, is incorrect, PROs and record labels will simply withhold making any payment to all the writers and instead will hold said payments in an interest bearing account until the percentages are resolved. The only ones hurting are you and your pockets!
What Split Sheets Are Not
While the split sheet establishes the appropriate percentages that each songwriter or producer owns of a specific song, it does not explicitly determine the copyright ownership of the song (a separate, but important distinction). Copyright in a song initially vests in the author or authors of the work. Under US Copyright law, two or more individuals who work on a song with the intent to combine their contributions into an inseparable or interdependent work [a song] are considered joint authors and the song is a joint work. This means that joint copyright owners have an equal right to register the copyrighted work as well as to sue to enforce the copyright. Unless the joint owners make a written agreement to the contrary, each copyright owner has the right to license or “place” the copyrighted song to a third-party, as long as the copyright owner pays the other joint owners their equal share of the proceeds, based on the percentages in the split sheet. This is an important point to keep in mind when drafting and using split sheets.
Ideally, you should have a split sheet filled out for every song that you co-create with any other songwriter, producer, or composer-musician before you leave the recording studio! But too often, the conversation about split percentages usually doesn’t take place until after a song gets hot and there is big money involved from either a licensing opportunity or placement with a big-name artist. That’s when everyone who happened to be in the studio the night that particular song was created starts talking about getting their “fair share.” A split sheet allows the parties to adjust the percentages based on contribution to the song, or other factors BEFORE the record or song is a hit and starts earning money! So, avoid the drama and get your split sheets together!