The previous post in our Backline Support series explored different types of organizations that help artists make money through the distribution of their music. This week, our focus shifts to accuracy of those payments, especially for the purpose of collaboration.
One of the distribution companies discussed last time was STEM. STEM’s platform is unique and powerful because it allows users to assign ownership percentages to everyone who worked on the song, then automatically pays those artists for their share of the streaming revenue. But let’s say an artist doesn’t use STEM, or that an artist does use stem, but isn’t sure how to correctly assign those percentages. This is one place that a split sheet can help.
A split sheet is an agreement that identifies the ownership percentage each producer and songwriter has in the song. It also includes other information such as each person’s specific contribution (songwriting, melody, production and composition) and publisher information, as well as if different versions of the song were created. This information will serve as written evidence of copyright ownership and will assure any third parties such as your PRO or a potential publisher that there is no dispute about royalty distribution.
The images below represent what each piece of a split sheet might look like:
The sheet would start with a binding claus and information about the song’s production and release:
Next, the document outlines the writers and their splits:
Finally, the dates and signatures:
There are countless different formats and layouts of split sheet documents. The important part is that the split sheet needs to have all three of these pieces on it to be binding.
Now that you have a basic understanding of split sheets, here are a few important caveats:
Split sheets are not—and cannot—substitute for a copyright
Copyrights and splits are two separate documents that protect the ownership of your song
Without a split sheet, disputes can arise over the stake each collaborator has in the song.
U.S. federal copyright law states that if no prior agreement exists between contributors or collaborators, all contributors will own an equal share of the song.
Sometimes that’s true and it won’t be an issue, but if some collaborators have a larger or smaller share, it’s important to finalize this ahead of time.
How to Determine Splits
How you divide up each collaborator’s interest in a song depends on you and your co-writers. You can split the rights evenly among each co-writer or you can give each person a percentage according to their contribution.
Remember that if you include a sample of someone else’s song in your work, you must get permission from whoever owns the rights to that work. Usually you can exchange permission for a percentage of the publishing rights and/or negotiate an upfront fee.
Information for this edition of Backline Support was pulled from these sources: