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Thread: Do all band members contribute to the songwriting process? (Songwriting Credits)

  1. #1
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    Question Do all band members contribute to the songwriting process? (Songwriting Credits)

    Hey everyone. I'm a huge fan of U2, Green Day, Pearl Jam, and Aerosmith.

    In U2, Bono is the primary lyricist, and all musical composition is always credited to the entire band.

    Likewise, in Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong is the primary lyricist, and all musical composition is always credited to the entire band.

    In Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder writes most of the lyrics. However, Pearl Jam's music is often composed by various, individual members of the band.

    In Aerosmith, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry often collaborate with outsiders in order to pen the band's songs.

    Generally speaking- Do all of the band members contribute to the songwriting process?

    Is it necessary to have all of the band members get songwriting credits?

    For instance- Do the rest of the members of Aerosmith mind that Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and a bunch of outsiders are writing all of the band's songs?

    I mean- If you were the bass player of a rock band, wouldn't you want to come up with all the basslines? If you were the drummer of a rock band, wouldn't you want to come up with all the beats and fills?

  2. #2
    A♥ hoards guitars A♥ rugerpc's Avatar
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    In a word - no

    It is usually the case that only some, or even just one, band members have the spark to write new stuff. There is usually collaboration on the voicing of instrumental and vocal parts and the drum rhythms, but unless those collaborations change or add to the song significantly, it is unlikely that credit for writing the song will be extended.

    Whether or not the 'non-writers' feel left our, miffed, used or unappreciated has largely to do with the personalities of all involved. There are royalties on the line and that can make all the difference.

    When I think about this kind of thing, I think of the arrangement Rush has typically used. Neil usually writes the lyrics and Geddy and Alex flesh out the music. Everyone seems to have found a comfortable niche in the creative process.
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  3. #3
    This is a actually somewhat complex question, for a variety of reasons. I've guest lectured at the University and Law School levels on music rights, and often get asked questions like these. So I'll be general, and remember, this isn't legal advice.

    Let's start with the obvious: if the band members agree to share all songwriting credits, then they share all songwriting credits regardless of who contributes what. By the same token, if two members of a band write a song, bring it to the band, and do not have such an agreement to share credits with the rest of the band, then they own the song, lock stock and barrel (provided they keep their publishing rights) and the fact that the drummer comes up with a cool groove for it doesn't give him any rights to a songwriter credit.

    Same with the bass player who comes up with a cool bassline, etc.

    Example: The organ part in "Like a Rolling Stone." Great part, made the tune much cooler. But that's still a Bob Dylan song, he got all the performance royalties. Nice job on the organ, Al Kooper, but Bob isn't giving you songwriting money. And he doesn't have to.

    However, the copyright law allows for registration of an arrangement, if it so transforms a work that it becomes an original work in and of itself. So a fancy and original arrangement of a Bach melody might make the arranger a copyright holder under certain circumstances.

    I could go on and on with various examples, but the fact is that most songwriting credits are contractual. Sometimes producers reserve co-writing credits for themselves if they have clout and are helping bands write. Sometimes third party songwriters are brought in to help bands pen hits. Sometimes you have separate copyright holders in a band, a good example is the Beatles, where Lennon and McCartney sometimes wrote together, sometimes didn't, but always agreed to share copyrights. George and Ringo had to come up with their own material to get a credit and thus writers' share of performance royalties. Ever wonder why they let Ringo always do a song or two on a record even though he wasn't very good? It was so he could pocket a few extra bucks, probably to keep the peace in the band.

    Often a band will simply decide who contributed what to a song during a session. If they do that, and they're smart, they'll all sign a simple acknowledgment of the percentages of each person's contribution to the song. Joe: 10%, Mary, 50%, etc. Oh yeah, Mary's always getting more. She is a diva. LOL

    But let's say you have a band where one or two of the members are the acknowledged songwriters. Then it's easy.

    There are also cases of writers who are hired for a fee to co-write. This is usually a "work made for hire" under the copyright law, and in the absence of some kind of a royalty and credit agreement, the hired writer has no ownership of the copyright whatsoever. You'd be surprised at how often this takes place, especially in the film and TV scoring business, where ghostwriters who do not share in the credits or the cue sheets, have written substantial portions of a score.

    The name composer of a TV show can take in millions of dollars in performance royalties if a show goes worldwide, and if there are ghost writers providing "works for hire," that's just too bad for them. So you can see that these issues involve substantial dollars, and worldwide radio hits can pay the songwriters very well, while the non-writing band members (at least in the US) get no performance royalties at all.

    Bottom line: this can be a fuzzy area that most often is going to be like any other business deal, and simply comes down to agreements between the parties. A band with good management has these kinds of issues worked out in a contract between the parties, such as an LLC, joint venture, partnership or corporate documents.

    In the case of major label bands, the labels usually insist on having session players, engineers, and co-writers sign releases regarding copyrights before the record goes to mixing or mastering. Remember that the recording represents a separate copyright, distinct from the song itself, so it's necessary to have everyone involved sign off their rights to the Master.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 11-23-2013 at 11:42 PM.
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  4. #4
    Yes and No,
    and No

    A melody, and or hook, and of course
    THe lyrics

    THe band needs to agree ( in writing ?) about credits

    Van Halen members all gets credit , but you'll hear Eddie say he writes most if not all of the music

    My Peeve is when someone wants to claim copyright, but contributed nothing but a beat, for example

    I come up with songs all the time, but wont give the drummer or bassist credit UNLESS they come up with a hooky chorus or something
    Same if I were to 'correct' lyrics or make them more understandable, then I wouldn't expect credit unless it was teh chorus or something
    and again ... everyone agrees. This is important as a unit

    If everyone were to create a piece together, and agrees, then they would all contribute words and music,
    and ultimately collectively claim credit

    My $0.02
    Quote Originally Posted by Jericho-79 View Post

    Generally speaking- Do all of the band members contribute to the songwriting process?

    Is it necessary to have all of the band members get songwriting credits?
    Last edited by prscat33511; 11-24-2013 at 08:06 AM.

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    I just need some clarification, guys.

    During the crafting and development of a song leading up to its final recording sessions-

    What is the difference between "arrangement" and "instrumentation"?

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Jericho-79 View Post
    I just need some clarification, guys.

    During the crafting and development of a song leading up to its final recording sessions-

    What is the difference between "arrangement" and "instrumentation"?
    An arrangement is what one does with the instrumentation.
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    Okay, guys.

    Let’s say that I’m part of a five-piece band with myself on vocals/guitar, Evan on lead guitar, Tim on bass guitar, Tom on drums, and Pat on rhythm guitar. All five of us are considered equals.

    In the band, there are TWO collaboration sessions during the songwriting process.

    Collaboration #1:
    I initiate the creative process with the record producer (sometimes I do the same with the lead guitarist and/or some of the other members of the band). The producer and I conceive the basic structure of a song (introduction, verses, pre-choruses, chorus, bridge, and ending). Also, the producer and I generate the lyrics, melody, hooks, riffs, chord progressions, as well as the song’s overall vibe.

    Collaboration #2:
    The entire band meets in order to flesh out and beef up the final product. The entire band essentially builds from what the producer and I have concocted. The entire band finalizes the arragement, and decides on the instrumentation. All band members provide their artistic input as to how the song should progress. All band members make suggestions regarding the song structure, melody, hooks, riffs, chord progressions, and (of course) harmony. Musically, each band member has free reign over his individual part- I prepare the power chords; Evan the guitar solo and any improvisions; Tim the complementary bass line; Pat the accompaniment and (maybe) additional riffs; and Tom the tempo, drum fills, and cymbol crashes. In no way do I tell Tim which bass line to play, or tell Tom which beat to play. I trust their instincts.

    I must mention that in the CD liner notes, each band member has his own “Thank You” sections. Plus, the liner notes contain a blurb that clearly states the following- “All songs arranged and performed by [insert band name]”.

    In this scenario- Who should get the songwriting credits? Just myself and the producer? Or the producer + the entire band?

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    In the absence of a specific contractual agreement: lyrics + melody = songwriting, everything else = arrangement.
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    In my band the bassist and I, generally write 99.9% of the songs, we're both the vocalists. We either write together, or one of us bring a part and we add or subtract together, and most final decisions on parts are made by the two of us. However we give the whole band credit as songwriters
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    Still a Junior Member Albrecht Smuten's Avatar
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    HELL NO.
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    If the liner notes read "All songs written by myself and [producer]; All songs arranged by [band]"- Would my bandmates seem like hired-gun musicians?
    Last edited by Jericho-79; 11-30-2013 at 03:03 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jericho-79 View Post
    To the general public-

    If the liner notes read "All songs written by myself and [producer]; All songs arranged by [band]", would my bandmates seem like hired-gun musicians?
    Yes. But that's why you do it. And if you don't have to pay them - that's a bonus for friendship.
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    Senior Member garrett's Avatar
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    I've been meaning to read this thread for a while. I love this kind of stuff.

    To add anecdotes to Les's great info, it's all about the agreement. Jagger/Richards is another good example of a partnership to share credit and royalties despite different levels of involvement. Some were true collaborations, while others were written solely by one or the other. Even though a song may have been written by Mick alone, Keith shares the spoils, while Charlie and the others get squat. I found this particularly interesting when I learned about it.

    Another interesting thing is that song credits can be bought and sold. Gregg Allman sold part of the rights to "Melissa" to producer Steve Alaimo because he needed money. So even though he had nothing to do with writing it, the song was credited as Allman/Alaimo. Gregg later bought the rights back and it went back to being just Allman.

    Another cool one (last one, I promise) is "Boogie With Stu" by Led Zeppelin. They borrowed from a Ritchie Valens song, and they credited his mother so she could share in the royalties. (Which ended up causing them a bit of legal trouble.)
    --Garrett--

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by garrett View Post
    Another interesting thing is that song credits can be bought and sold. Gregg Allman sold part of the rights to "Melissa" to producer Steve Alaimo because he needed money. So even though he had nothing to do with writing it, the song was credited as Allman/Alaimo. Gregg later bought the rights back and it went back to being just Allman.
    Garrett, there is a difference between publishing rights and songwriter credits and the songwriter's performance rights that go with these credits.

    Simply put, the publisher owns the copyright to a work. That copyright can be split among several companies, individuals, etc., and can be bought and sold. The copyright ownership generates certain kinds of royalties and payments, and the songwriter's rights generate different kinds of royalties and payments.

    Performance rights, where the songwriters come into play, are treated differently from publishing rights.

    Performance royalties are mostly generated from radio and TV airplay, and these are called "Small Rights," or "Petit Rights," although there are also stage show and concert live performance rights (called "Grand Rights"), and uses in film/video, etc., (called "Synchronization Rights"). Of course these names came about long ago, and now the "Small Rights" from airplay make up the huge bulk of what is paid out as performance royalties. These royalties are collected by the Performance Rights Organizations (called "PROs"), consisting in the US of BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. The money comes from a large pool paid by the broadcasters, who track the airplays of each song, and pay the money out pro rata depending on how often a song is played on TV or radio relative to how many other songs are played. This includes -ahem- commercials (yay).

    The publishers also receive a share of these "small rights" performance royalties. Writers and publishers split 50/50.

    The PROs collect money for BOTH songwriters and publishers. The PROs consider the names of the writers "set in stone". They cannot be changed unless there is an error, and this has to be proven. This is to protect the writers, regardless of who owns the publishing. In this way, for example, Lennon's estate and McCartney still get airplay royalties for their writers' shares despite the fact that Sony now owns the rights to their publishing company Northern Songs.

    The writer's share of performance royalties always is 50% of these royalties. The publisher's share is always 50%.

    These percentages can be split between co-writers, and co-publishers. Knowing the rules followed by ASCAP and BMI for many years, I found it unlikely that a PRO would allow Duane Allman to somehow buy back his writer's share that had been allocated to someone else, so I went to the BMI website and checked.

    Sure enough, the BMI website shows the performance rights to Melissa are still owned by both Steve Alaimo and Greg Allman.

    There are also three co-publishers on the work, two of which are EMI and Warner/Chappell. The third is "Elijah Blue Music," a publisher appearing on several more Greg Allman songs.

    So if Allman had sold/bought any of the rights to Melissa, it would be his share of publishing and not the songwriting, since Alaimo doesn't seem to have a publishing interest in the song at this point.

    I guarantee you that BMI pays a performance royalty to Alaimo every time Melissa is played on radio or TV, since they are required to do so by law.

    Clearly Greg Allman didn't transfer or buy back his songwriting credits; the publishing rights may be a different matter, and there simply may have been an understanding between Allman and Alaimo regarding the credits on various pressings of the song. But these would not affect the royalty payments. And for a songwriter, that's often where the money is.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 12-13-2013 at 08:52 PM.
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    Senior Member garrett's Avatar
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    Thanks, Les. Really interesting stuff. I wasn't aware of that line.

    I guess it's no wonder musicians get the short end of stick so often. Takes a lot of know-how to navigate the business and legal stuff.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by garrett View Post
    Thanks, Les. Really interesting stuff. I wasn't aware of that line.

    I guess it's no wonder musicians get the short end of stick so often. Takes a lot of know-how to navigate the business and legal stuff.
    Musicians get the short end of the stick for reasons having nothing to do with the labels any more.

    In my opinion, where musicians get the short end of the stick has moved from labels to the general public. The labels are almost the good guys lately and I'll explain that later.

    The public screws artists. Artists make nothing on illegal downloads. Nothing. Because music should be free, right?

    The demise of musicians' union strength also has screwed smaller performing artists big time. When I was in college in the 70s - 40 years ago - my band played bar and university frat and club gigs for $500 a night. In those days, a new Mustang was $3000, so in today's money that gig would pay a lot more. The union made sure the prices stayed decent.

    Today, the union has no power, and bands are playing for free beer, or splitting a little gate money, or paying to play. This isn't being screwed by labels, it's being screwed by everyone else.

    When I got into the ad biz 24 years ago, budgets were usually 2-3 times what they are now. These days, music should be free, right? This isn't the labels' doing. This is the attitude of the public, the ad agencies, the TV producers, the film industry, you name it. Very few people/agencies/producers think music has value, and very few are willing to pay fairly for it.

    I'm lucky to have clients who kind of understand, for the most part, but it's like pulling teeth to be fairly compensated for my work.

    On to the current conditions with labels:

    First (this has been the case for years), the major labels no longer require artists to transfer all of their publishing rights to the label. In many cases, all publishing remains with the artist, and in other cases, there are label/artist co-publishing deals. This is partly due to the fact that advances are much, much lower than they used to be, and to prevent costly litigation.

    It's also the case that independent publishers are more involved in artist development than before, and the labels really have very little justification for demanding publishing when they aren't developing artists, are not funding projects in the same way, and are shelving so many projects.

    If an artist is getting a million dollar advance to share publishing, well, ok maybe the label should get some of the publishing. But when the artist is today getting a few months' rent as an advance, the labels aren't even bothering to ask for publishing.

    In any case, despite the bitching and moaning of many artists over the years, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have always paid the writers their share of performance royalties, so they haven't been left out. The problem has been that many artists aren't writers! So they wouldn't get writers' share OR publishers share, nor would they get mechanical royalties, since they are covering someone else's tune.

    In the US, vocalists and sidemen do not get performance royalties except for digital broadcasts. This is not the case in Europe. But just try to collect your royalties outside the US; you have to go through gyrations.

    I frequently guest lecture on music rights at U of Michigan's music school, as well as at music events, and even at a law school. I believe very strongly in educating young musicians, as well as the public, about this stuff. In fact, several years ago ASCAP asked me to testify before a Senate committee in my state, to present legislators with facts about music rights. I do this as a volunteer. People simply need to know this.

    Music is an art, yes, but if you want to get paid for it, it becomes a business. And a musician who doesn't understand his or her music rights is operating blind.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 12-14-2013 at 10:51 PM.
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