My friend John Ripley, drummer for the band Generation Letter, recently emailed me some questions about how to figure out song writing credits. This is an area that can be sticky business because of miscommunication, no communication, ignorance, and indwelling sin.
After writing songs for 30+ years, I’ve seen songwriting from all sides. I’ve written by myself, written songs that others have edited, and edited songs written by others. I’ve also served as a songwriter and a publisher. To my shame, I used to be much more concerned about who got the credit on a song. I remember working on a project for GLAD years ago and writing up the song credits. I gave myself all the music credits and only shared the lyric credits. When one of the band members asked me about it, I felt justified in what I had done. I’d see it much differently now. At least I hope I would…
If you’re a song writer that has never had a song published, the decision about who gets the credit may not concern you. Then again, it might. It’s curious how our perspective might change when we realize that being listed as a song writer can result in financial benefits, however meager they are at first.
I thought John asked some good questions. Here they are along with my answers. Hope they’re helpful.
1. What is the overall “right way” of doing things when it come to songwriting credits?
There’s no “right way” of figuring out songwriting credits. The three best things to remember are: talk about it beforehand, be humble, and be generous. But don’t include someone as a writer when everyone knows that they really contributed nothing to the final song. Your conscience won’t leave you alone.
2. What amount of credit is given to the person with the original idea or concept?
It depends on what the writers have agreed to. If the person who came up with the idea did nothing to actually write the song, they generally don’t get a writing credit. But if it happens frequently that one person has a song idea, then it might be wise to consider giving them a percentage of the songwriting credits. If I never would have written a song without someone giving me an idea and talking it through with me, I generally like to give them some credit for that.
3. Is there a difference for a “band” versus individuals songwriters?
When a “band” writes a song the royalties are usually split between everyone, go into a band “kitty”, or a combination of both.
4. How would you treat members of the band that are no longer involved but were a part of a song in its original developmental stage?
If someone helped write a song, but is not in the band any more, they should be included as a co-writer. If there’s a question, go ahead and be generous.
5. What else are we not thinking about that we need to know going forward in the area of songwriting credits and or publishing rights?
See my answer to #1. Be more concerned about writing a great song, regardless of who gets the credit. Write for the glory of Jesus Christ, not your own. Write to serve, not to impress. Remember that every word we write, every lyric we craft, every tune we compose, every chord progression we come up with, has been made possible by the giver of all good gifts, who deserves all the credit and all the glory. Of course, if the song is bad, then we get the credit.
Any more thoughts?