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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When should band members share songwriting credit?

By Ted Slowik
When a solo artist writes a song, it's a fairly straightforward process. That person composes music and writes lyrics and is credited as the writer. Maybe he or she collaborates with other writers on some songs and shares the credit accordingly.

A band that writes its own tunes, however, can become complicated. When should band members share writing credit? At what point do another member’s contributions become significant enough to warrant credit? Do drummers ever get writing credit?

First, collaboration among band members who are songwriters usually starts out as a healthy, productive process that is good for the overall quality of the music. Every writer should have an editor, and when that editor is a trusted friend, all the better.

There are many different models for band songwriters. There are bands where one person is the principal songwriter and receives sole credit for most of the compositions. Think Pete Townshend of The Who or John Fogarty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Then there are groups where a songwriting duo always receives credit, regardless of the actual division of labor: Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards.

Drummers occasionally are credited. For years during its original lineup, the credit for every R.E.M. song was Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe.

More commonly, though, songwriting credits for bands vary and attempt to acknowledge the actual creators of the material. There may be contributors who aren’t members of the band, or even musicians, who receive credit. (Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, once co-wrote a song with The Eagles.)
To maintain a healthy, collaborative climate, it’s a good idea for bandmates to at least have a conversation about songwriting credits. Publishing royalties are sometimes the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and you never know when that one song may strike a chord, pun intended. It’s best to have reached agreement on sharing credit beforehand.

Typically, before band members become songwriting partners, members will bring to the table completed songs for the group’s consideration. If the group ends up playing the song the way the writer intended, it’s a solo credit. Things like solos, backing vocals, breaks and other embellishments that don’t drastically alter the structure of the song don’t rise to the level of songwriting co-credit in my book.

Here’s where it gets tricky. What of those contributions that DO significantly change a tune? Those must be acknowledged and the credit should be shared, methinks. I’m talking things like substantial contributions (more than a couple words) to lyrics, or a musical bridge, or chord changes that really improve a song. The lead writer has to realize when contributions have made the difference between a good song and a great song and give props.