9th April 2021

Week 1 – The Song Is Written.

Week 1 – The Song Is Written

By @Pursehouse. 

After just three band practices something clicks. Maybe the stars aligned? Maybe the fates plotted? Maybe the intoxicants intoxicated? Whatever the reason, these four plucky musicians have banged their collective heads together and have seemingly created three minutes of pure audible gold. At first, they can’t quite believe it. Furtive glances dart between them all, each one of them not wanting to say what they’re all collectively thinking, out loud.

     “Shall… shall we run through it one more time from the top?” the drummer softly suggests.

     “Er, yeah. That makes sense.” comes the reply from the singer, who is trying not to get carried away, but has already made a mental start on their BRIT Award acceptance speech somewhere deep in their temporal lobe.

Three minutes later, the final crash cymbal slowly fades and their initial thoughts are justified. They’ve done it; they’ve written The Song. An unadulterated, unarguable, unmistakable banger. Their old lives finished when they walked into the rehearsal space just two short hours ago and now everything has changed. Forget college, forget university, forget temp work. The only thing that matters now is ensuring the seven billion people walking this mortal coil all hear the hundred and eighty seconds that make up The Song they’ve just created. A hit has just been birthed. Happy birth-day, this hit.

So when do they get paid?

Easy now, tiger. In this scenario I’m afraid your pockets aren’t going to be lined for simply writing the song. All that wonderful publishing income comes later down the line when you perform your songs live, get played on radio, clock up streams, bag a sync deal etc. and never you fear, we’re going to go all over that in good time so keep reading, dear friend.

 

The Importance of Songwriting Splits.

Are you one of those wonderfully passionate control freaks songwriters who believes that penning a tune should be a solo endeavour? That the art of writing down your innermost dreams, hopes, aspirations and fears shouldn’t be sullied by A.N. Other who clearly doesn’t have the breadth of lexicon to possibly convey the emotions you’re experiencing throughout this creative struggle? That (and when you say this following example to your mates at the pub, you always begin with “ego aside”) Da Vinci didn’t paint with someone else, did he? So why should you? If so, this section is not for you! Go and treat yourself to a Kitkat and a nice sit down, you’ve earned it.

(To the solo creators reading this, I’m obviously only winding you up. Some of the greatest records of all time were penned by a single mind. For example ‘Grease’, performed by Frankie Valli and written by Barry Gibb. Dear lord I love that song.)

To everyone else reading this – whether you’re part of a group, or you’re writing with one-off collaborators, agreeing the splits to a song as soon as possible is imperative. And the key word of that sentence is ‘agreeing’. You may have to negotiate, you may have to compromise, but regardless of how you get there, just make sure you get there before anything is released or registered with Sentric/the PRS/a PRO.

The theory is that a musical publishing copyright consists of two parts; the lyrics (‘authorship’) and the music (‘composition’). This little fact may help you in your reasoning, or indeed, you may choose to work out whatever method works well for you and your situation. Ultimately, all that matters is that everyone who deserves a piece of the publishing gets some, and that when all the songwriters’ shares are added up, that it’s a nice round 100%.

The vast majority of songwriting splits you’ll come across are even. Two of you wrote it? That’s a 50/50. Four of you in the band? That’d be 25% each. Are you a member of the music industry’s next So Solid Crew? Then that’s a pie that has to be divided into many slices.

That said, there are many situations where you could argue an even split wouldn’t be appropriate or fair to a particular writer who has done the majority of the legwork. Having these conversations can be tricky, but the way forward there is to state this fact from the outset. If you’re going into a co-writing session with someone where you already have the song pretty much ‘done’ in your head and you’re just looking for someone to polish it up, then state that right at the beginning. It might sound like an awkward conversation to have, but if you leave it then it’ll be assumed by all parties (songwriters and publishers) that a straight 50/50 split is agreed. It hopefully goes without saying that trying to convince someone to give up some of their percentage down the line is pretty much impossible, so get this right from the get go.

A key point to remember here – if the songwriters involved in the creation of a song are in dispute over what percentages are correct, then no one gets paid until it’s resolved. If there are several parties all claiming several different percentage splits then all the money collected for that copyright will be held by the local PROs until everyone is finally agreed on who is owed what. There are examples of this process lasting years, with no one receiving any income at all, because the thought of conceding their stance becomes too bitter a pill to swallow.

It is always best to get an agreement in writing, be it physical or electronic. Check out this wonderful resource from the Musician’s Union. A simple, one page document, where all the songwriters involved in creating a song can put down their percentage and sign their name to show they’re in agreement. In a perfect world, every single song you do would have some paperwork like this to back it up.

Alternatively, if you’re working remotely, then an email from all parties confirming their percentages (which add up to 100%), stating that they agree to their split will also suffice in this digital world we live in.

To end, I thought it might be a good idea to break down some real life examples for you, just to give you an idea of how other people are doing it… 

Are you an MC and you provided all the vocals whilst a producer supplied you with all the music? Then that’s a straight 50/50 split. Easy:

  • Producer = 50%
  • MC = 50%

How about the above, where there’s the lead MC, but also a featured MC? Well that could be an equal three way split (33.33%), or alternatively, as a music publishing copyright consists of authorship (lyrics) and composition (music) then the producer may retain the entire composition half for themselves whilst the authorship is split between the two MCs:

  • Producer = 50%
  • Lead MC = 25%
  • Featured MC = 25%

When it comes to a four piece band there could be two ways of looking at it. A simple four way split:

  • Singer = 25%
  • Guitarist = 25%
  • Bass Player = 25%
  • Drummer = 25%

Or, if the singer wrote all the lyrics they may retain the entire authorship share for themselves and the composition share is then split evenly between the band if it was a group collaboration:

  • Singer = 62.5%
  • Guitarist = 12.5%
  • Bass Player = 12.5%
  • Drummer = 12.5%

There are obviously countless ways to split 100% so I’ll stop here, but hopefully that gives you a bit of an idea on how to move forward in whatever situation you’re in.

Download a free songwriting split sheet here (credited to @HelenDeakin).

 

A Beginners Guide To Co-Writing.

Let us begin, quite simply, with this declaration; co-writing is a good thing. However good you think you are at something, I assure you that there is someone out there who can make you even better. Note the wording of that last sentence; I didn’t say they were better, I said they can make you better. I, Simon Pursehouse, am not a songwriter, but as a publisher one of the things I endeavour to do is to help the songwriters I work closely with to finely tune their creations to give them that extra zhuzh. This might be a suggestion of a slight lyric change here, a shortening of a pre-chorus there, an extra instrumental element throughout etc., but ultimately I hope to nudge them in the direction of making their music better. And that better might be ‘better for sync’ or ‘better for radio’ or, basically ‘better better’. To be clear; by the time a song is sent to me for feedback, it’s essentially been written and therefore I am not eligible/worthy/owed/deserving of any songwriting percentage, I am simply giving the example to hopefully prove that two heads are better than one.

For what is Elton John without Bernie Taupin? What is Mick Jagger without Keith Richards? What is Benny Anderson without Bjorn Ulvaeus? 

For a lot of songwriters, the initial idea of co-writing might give them the proverbial ick and understandably so. After all, songwriting is an inherently personal thing and it can be hard enough for the person holding the pen to portray the message they’re trying to convey, nevermind expecting someone else in the room to be on the same page as them. That said, the vast majority of songwriters I’ve worked with quickly realise the positives in co-writing after they’ve sat in a few sessions and this constantly shines through in regards to the quality of their work as a result.

In this post, we’ll look at three areas of co-writing; co-writing for yourself, co-writing with another artist for their project and co-writing for collaborations.

 

Co-writing for yourself.

In terms of getting into the world of co-writing, this is the ‘easiest’ path as ultimately you’re asking for help within your own songwriting rather than offering it to someone else. To begin with, make a playlist of tracks by emerging artists that you love. Consider what your weaknesses are as a songwriter and look for songs which counteract those. Have you always struggled with lyrics? Then add songs that contain prose which drops your jaw. Great at verses, but bang average at choruses? Then include ditties that somehow magically turn four simple lines into life-affirming mantras. 

Note the ‘tracks by emerging artists’ part of that last paragraph. I’ve no doubt you’d love Mark Ronson to come whack some horns on your next single, or ask Fraser T Smith to sprinkle his goldust onto your next mixtape, but whilst you, yourself are growing, you have to accept that anyone with a track record of proven songwriting clout and credentials will be off limits for now.

On the songs you’ve playlisted, if you’re using Spotify you can then right click on a track and select the option ‘Show Credits’. If the artist has been fastidious with their metadata, this will then show you who wrote that song and therefore you’ll immediately know if that songwriter is someone who already co-writes or not. If you discover that they’re the sole songwriter on all of their material, then be aware that they might not be up for working with others, even if it’s for someone else’s project. Although it’s not unheard of to find those who’ll only songwrite by themselves for their own material, but will happily co-write for others.

Now it’s time to be as flattering as possible. Hopefully the artists you’ve shortlisted are approachable and not at a daft superstardom level of fame, so go and find them on whatever social media platform you prefer and slide into those DMs. Tell them how much of a fan you are of their music, highlight specific tracks you love and what it is about them you’re so fond of (“I never knew a middle eight could be so poignant”, “that intro has more hooks than a fishersman’s car boot”, “when that sitar beat dropped I practically spat out my kombucha” etc.). It’s no surprise to anyone reading this that people love being told they’re good at stuff, because deep down, we’re all essentially outrageously vain shaved chimps.

After you’ve buttered them up with more Lurpack than a Pursehouse family Christmas dinner table, then it’s time to ask them if they’d be up for co-writing with you. Don’t bombard them with too much information at the outset; let them reply with their initial thoughts and if they seem keen then send them highlights of your work, with a description on the kind of material you’d like to make with them.

Do not be disheartened if people say no. This is bound to happen and bound to happen often. Unless, of course, you’re Max Martin and for some inexplicable reason you find yourself reading this blog post. If that’s the case then hi, Max. Most people will probably say yes to writing with you, Max. Can we publish you please, Max? We’re dead good at it.

Keep doing this and eventually you’ll find someone willing to work with you. Huzzah! Later on in this post are some bits and bobs on what to expect when you begin your cowriting adventures.

 

Co-writing with another artist for their project.

The process here is similar to the above, but you have to expect to have a much smaller hit rate of people saying yes, unless that is you happen to have notably more songwriting clout behind you than the person you are approaching. You wouldn’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs now, would you? (Side note; that’s not an expression to use during an office listening session full of twenty somethings who have never heard that phrase before, as it results in some outrageously suspicious looks – trust me). 

There is an element of catch 22 here as ultimately you’re more likely to get people to agree to co-write with you for their project, if you’ve already co-written with others for their respective projects previously and the results are there for all to see. So if you can’t get one without the other, then where do you start? Well, if you can co-write for your own material first then that’s a solid foundation, but if you’re not a performer yourself and consider your skillset to be that of purely a songwriter then you’ll have to accept that it’s going to take a lot of approaching until an artist may agree to work with you. If you literally have no experience to show potential collaborators your songwriting abilities, then it’ll be wise to invest in some high quality demo recordings of what you consider to be your best creations to date. This will require some capital as you’ll no doubt need to hire musicians, vocalists, a studio etc. but ultimately, if you have no experience behind you then the only way to wow someone will be with a really, really, really good song. 

Before approaching anyone, having a really solid songwriting bio is essential. Be aware that your songwriting bio is going to be different from anything you might have online as a performer/artist, as it needs to include specific examples of your co-writing achievements to date. If you haven’t got any of those, then really lean into your achievements as an artist yourself. Consider the situation reversed, what would appeal to you? This bio from songwriter Joe Hammill is a great example as it talks about his achievements both writing for others and within his own band, Cattle & Cane.

 

Co-writing for collaborations.

This is a healthy mix of the above as essentially you’re saying “let’s do something together” rather than “let’s do something for me/you” and the key here is finding the yin to your yang. You may be an MC looking for a beatmaker, a topliner looking for a producer or just a wonderfully talented human looking for another wonderfully talented human. In any case, a strong combination of flattery coupled with a strong bio of your achievements should work wonders here. Be aware that there are various things to consider which are specific to different genres in the world of collaborations; the ‘norm’ for electronic music is different to that of hip hop for example, so doing some further research into those areas is certainly recommended.

Things to consider

  • Be prepared for awkward experiences
    • Creative people are majestically quirky, but you know that, because that’s you, isn’t it? There’s something about predominantly thinking with the left hand side of your brain which clearly results in a touch of glorious eccentricity. And make no mistake, this said eccentricity is something to be treasured, revered and cherished because ultimately it’s the sauce that makes the dish palatable. So be aware that there will be personality clashes, there will be people you don’t click with, there will be people who work in a way that doesn’t tessellate with your own process and there will be people who, basically, you don’t like. That said, don’t be put off, don’t panic and don’t be perturbed, because when it does go well and when you do click with someone then the result will be a song that is greater than the sum of its parts and that, dear reader, is something to strive for.
  • Always agree song splits as soon as possible
    • Absolutely imperative. Read back to the first half of this post.
  • Keep a track of your cuts
    • Hopefully, after you’ve taken the plunge into the world of co-writing you’ll enjoy it so much that you won’t be able to stop. You’ll be stopping strangers on the street asking them to hum a melody into the voice notes section of your phone, shouting “I’ll give you 33.3% for that, yeah?!” as you walk off in the opposite direction afterwards. Some basic administration is key here as you need to ensure you’re on top of all your songwriting royalties. Keep a spreadsheet of all your cuts, including the agreed splits and links to listen (SongSpace is a great tool to manage unreleased material), have a Spotify playlist of all your released cuts to date (a link to which should be included on your songwriter bio) and, of course, register all of your co-writes on your Sentric Music account.

Listen to our Sentric Co-Writers Spotify playlist here.

NEXT: Week 2 – The Song Is Performed At A Local Pub.