As artists, it’s only natural that we take pride in what we create. Our artistic vision of the things that we bring to life through our music can sometimes seem like an extension of ourselves, and we are understandably connected to the songs we put out into the world. As we become better musicians, we also start to realize that there are a lot of things on the back end that maybe we haven’t thought about. We start to work on our branding, merch, color palette, and everything else that those guys at A&R told us we should do. One thing a lot of even more experienced artists forget about is the aspect of intellectual property.
Maybe between writing sessions, you’ve thought “Who exactly owns what? If I help with a few lyrics, does that mean that just those belong to me? Or is it also MY song? And what if one of us leaves the band, then what do we do?”
Hey, relax. All you have to do is start thinking about these things with your other band members. Looks like a potentially tough conversation might be in your future if you haven’t considered this. But fear not! Here are a few tips to help you understand what a split sheet is, how to use one, and some possible dangers of going without for your band.
What is a split sheet and why do I need one?
When you were in school, think back to a group project you did. Maybe you did all the work, or maybe you let the smart kid from class do the hard stuff. Either way, you probably earned the same grade, no matter how much work you put in to the project. Now think of that in terms of intellectual property. Let’s say you spent hours and hours creating a beautiful symphony of funky sounds and some rad baselines. if your drummer decided that he deserved an equal cut just because he was in the same room as you when you wrote it, you’d probably think that was pretty unfair. Enter split sheets and why we use them- for situations just like this.
A split sheet breaks down bits of the album and each song in terms of who gets paid what, determining how much work that they actually put into the music or the value that they assign to each song. This is important because like the analogy I was using for the group project, you don’t want someone to take credit for something that you did. Only instead of a grade, you have the potential for thousands, or even millions of dollars being paid to the wrong person.
“Okay, well, what if everyone in the band gets an equal cut? We’re all friends here, right?” You might be now, but that is exactly the situation that landed the hit surf pop group, The Beach Boys, into a heap of trouble.
According to The Herald Tribune, “Love blames Wilson’s father, Murry, who managed the Beach Boys in the early years, for excluding him in the songwriting credits and still rues the fact that Murry Wilson sold the publishing rights to the Beach Boys catalog in 1969 at a big discount — without the band’s knowledge. Love said because Murry had passed away, his only recourse to get songwriting credits was to sue Brian Wilson. In the end, Love won his case and he and his cousin settled on a reported payment of $5 million for Love’s share of the royalties”.When entrusting the song writing credits to their once manager, The Bech Boys put themselves in a situation where they had no visibility to who owned what.
Having a system of accountability at the time of recording is a way that they could have avoided this, no matter if he helped write the songs in the first place or not.
When using a split sheet, it’s important to remember that this is your key to success, not a way of tying yourself down to a song that you don’t like as much or because you don’t trust your bandmates. Using split sheets are a tool that every musician needs to use, whether they are a two-piece rap group, or a 12 part jazz band. This simply is a way that musicians can keep their agreements from backfiring into a “he said, she said” war. Just a no-nonsense way that we can know for sure who did what and when. That way, nobody does all the work and gets all the credit.
So… How do I actually make a split sheet and protect my work?
The good news is that it is really easy to make a split sheet even if you have never made one before.
We here at The A&R Agency created an easy-to-follow, online form that will generate a filled-out split sheet for you. The only thing you’ll need to do is print it out and get the signatures from your co-writers. You can access the Artist Split Sheet form here.
If a pre-filled form isn’t your style, there’s no shortage of split sheet templates if you search “Artist Split Sheet Template” on Google.
While sure, split sheets aren’t among the most important things on the preverbal table of what it means to be a musician in a band today, we hope that you walked away with a few ways you can protect yourself and your band from anything that could happen in the world of intellectual property.
Split sheets can be as fancy as you need for your project. Whether your split sheet is a piece of printer paper, or signed in front of an attorney, there is no question of how and when you and your bandmates collaborated on a song. Once you have that done, you’re ready to take on the musical world with your new hit song. We’ll be here, cheering you on.
Alan Sculley, Correspondent. “Mike Love on Beach Boys Legacy, Lawsuits.” Tribune, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 20 Feb. 2019, www.heraldtribune.com/news/20190221/mike-love-on-beach-boys-legacy-lawsuits.