Are you overlooking the importance of music copyright agreements?
When it comes to your music career, your success will always be attributed to who you have around you as well as those helping contribute to your works of art.
Granted, you should always give credit where credit is due. In some situations, this may be easy, but things can get especially messy when you’re part of a band or have a lot of individuals contributing to a project.
Hence The Importance Of Music Copyright Agreements
You will also want to keep in mind that when distributing your music to various platforms, knowing the breakdown of shares and who owns what is very important, especially when money is involved.
Even if the money isn’t visible at the moment, never underestimate the fact that things could ultimately change.
In a perfect world, devoid of greed and ego, no one would care who got what or how much, but let’s be honest that sounds impractical.
I can’t promise you that you’ll be able to avoid every dispute possible just because you have your ducks in a row, but the best way to keep things fair is to have an agreement in place.
Not to mention, without an agreement, there can be confusion about who has the authority to distribute or initiate and approve deals related to the work. Without establishing ownership and outlining expectations, you ultimately set yourself up for a free for all.
Agreements and an understanding of copyright ownership give you a framework to rely on when disputes arise. This also gives you leverage when you know what hits the fan.
Establishing and protecting ownership of your content now can save you time, money, and the frustration of content-related issues (e.g., lawsuits, arguments, loss of income, etc.) in the future.
Listed below are the four main types of copyright-related agreements you need to get familiar with as you continue with your music career.
Basic Split Sheet Agreement
Imagine you’re part of a duo making music. You both agree that things will be split 50/50 for simplicity since you both are working towards the same goal and contributing equally to the creation of your music.
While you have a great relationship you don’t want to rely on a verbal agreement alone and decide to outline the basic details of ownership with a basic split sheet.
Split sheets are documents that detail everyone associated with a particular creation and the percentage they own. Split sheets are one of the best ways to document ownership of your content and help avoid future disputes.
If an agreement is absent, under US Copyright Law, collaborators are entitled to an equal share of ownership and revenue by DEFAULT. So, a split sheet not only helps establish proper copyright ownership percentages but it also, determines how much of the revenue pie each collaborator earns.
Detailed Split Sheet Agreement
Let’s say your situation happens to be a bit more complicated. Instead of just you and your partner working together on a song, perhaps you are collaborating with a producer alongside some other musicians and songwriters.
While you could stick to a basic split sheet, things could get messy if clear guidelines are not established that determine who exactly owns what and what their rights are where future use is concerned.
While this is essentially the same thing as a basic split sheet, the difference here is the extra details outlining fundamental rights and restrictions associated with each collaborator.
Such as defining who has the permission to license content, how disputes should be handled, and more. I highly recommend resorting to a detailed split sheet as opposed to the basic on whenever possible.
Work for Hire Agreement
If you hire someone to help you create something or if someone hires you, outlining who owns what upon completion of that work is very important.
One way to make sure that issues don’t arise is through a Work for Hire Agreement between you and any other party involved.
In one scenario you may not want to give away any ownership to who you are working with. For example if you hire a professional piano player to help with a specific part of your song, a work for hire agreement would establish what will be exchanged for their work (usually money).
Another common scenario is a producer or engineer working for a video game company and tasked with creating music for a new game. The company will use a work for hire agreement to stipulate what will be given as compensation and the associated rights and restrictions.
A Work for hire agreement outlines the details related to ownership of the content being created, as well as payment terms, services to be completed, and more. These come with a lot of detail, similar to detailed split sheets.
Again when an agreement is absent, under US Copyright Law, collaborators are entitled to an equal share of ownership and revenue by DEFAULT. A work for hire should be used when you want to make it clear that a contributor will NOT own any part of the copyright at all and clearly outlines their contribution.
An example of this is a recording artist enlisting the help of a well-known producer to help them with their upcoming project. These deals are not always tied to a straight-up cash transaction. You may give some ownership to the producer or none at all. This can go a multitude of ways depending on who you’re working with and how creation took place.
Producer agreements are important on various levels, especially in the context of the two types of copyrights related to a song, as discussed earlier. Depending on the agreement with the producer, they could be entitled to money from the composition or the master recording.
In other scenarios, they may be restricted from these monies altogether. Regardless, a producer agreement is used to establish what the producer is and isn’t entitled too and can outline any other relevant details as required.
In reality, these agreements can range in-depth, usually dependent on what’s at stake and the players involved. When you’re just starting, certain agreements will seem trivial and like a waste of time.
While the notion of becoming an overnight success may seem like a fairytale, if it does happen and a windfall of money comes your way, you’ll be thankful for all those “trivial” agreements when everyone and their cousin has their hands out.
Wrapping It Up
Music Copyright has a lot of moving parts depending on the situation and there are a ton of misconceptions out there. It is up to you to do what you can to protect yourself.
While our list of the different types of copyright agreements is not exhaustive, these 4 agreements put you in a position to protect yourself from future disputes that may arise.
To learn how you can create all of the agreements mentioned above quite easily click here.
With that said we’d love to turn it over to you. Let us know in the comments if you have had any disputes with someone you worked with in music where you wish an agreement was drafted beforehand.
Kevin is the founder of Music With Flavor, which joined Whipped Cream Sounds in 2023. He is a seasoned musician turned industry expert. His passion for music goes beyond melodies; he delves deep into the intricate world of music marketing, striving to unearth the most effective strategies for indie musicians. However, Music With Flavor isn’t just about Kevin’s knowledge; it’s a network of industry experts handpicked to provide the most trusted advice. Kevin’s role is to pose the right questions, not just answer them, as he and his team tirelessly research trends, connect with artists, and gather valuable insights.