Split Sheets or It Didn’t Happen

Scenario: You come to rehearsal with a new guitar part and some lyrics for a song, but you don’t quite have the chorus worked out yet.

You play it for the band, the bass player adds her thing, the drummer his, and the other guitarist writes a cool little counter-melody for the intro. Then, the bass player says, “Ooh, what if we went to G here in the chorus instead of B-flat?” And you agree. Then the chorus comes to you, and you jot down the words in your notebook and start to sing them.

Then, your manager, mucking around on his iPad, says from the other side of the room, “You should say, ‘I thought I was lost forever again’ instead of ‘I thought I was lost again, forever’.” Months later, the band hits the studio to record the tune and the producer/mixer thinks the chorus should go to E-flat instead of G, and also just sing “lost forever again” four times, instead of the whole line. Now, you need to register the song with your PRO and copyright.gov; plus, your sister knows a guy who works for a cable channel that wants to license the song. So, when the percentages dropdown comes up in registration, what do you put in there?

Who owns the song?

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We can argue about the “Ringo Rule,” where bass and drum lines are not part of a copyrightable composition (they aren’t). Or, we could try to piece together all the contributions: Would the intro hit without that counter-melody, is that worth 3%? Did the manager write the chorus line? Or, did the producer co-write the chorus by changing the line and the progression? If so, how much ownership should you give up for three words, even though they were still the words you wrote, but just trimmed? 

Again, who owns the song?

I don’t know. Neither do you. So, how do you figure it out?

The answer is a Split Sheet.

This is simply a written agreement outlining the percentages of song authorship and the people they are assigned to; it is filled out by all the creatives in the room when writing/producing a song. It does not need to be reviewed by a lawyer, or notarized. It just needs the name of the song, date finished, state, contributors’ names, assigned percentages, PRO info, publisher info, any info on samples used, contact info, and be signed/dated. 

Sounds simple, so simple that almost every amateur “forgets” to do it. It’s what determines the PRO registration and makes licensing people crazy. It’s what determines who gets what (pub/sync side) if the song is licensed. It determines who can leverage the copyright for a loan. It’s what pros do. You want a career? This is your TPS Report. 

Split sheets seem to be viewed like condoms were in the eighties. “It ruins the vibe, man.” “Let’s just see where this goes, I trust you.” Bullshit. Take responsibility for you AND your partners. Much like condoms, the perfect time for them is NOT AFTER THE ACT – it’s right now, when you’re doing the deed! Also, just like condoms, it’s kinda hot that you want to protect everyone’s safety and rights with a split sheet, and it’s even hotter that you had one with you, fully expecting to get lucky tonight! 

As to the scenario above, it’s literally up to you. That’s the answer. There is no one way to do it. All the more reason for a split sheet. If you think this band should own every song equally, then list all the members with equal percentages. If you think you wrote the song and they just added to it for the recording and live playing (remember, a composition is not this current band’s recording of it), then make sure everyone knows you get full 100% writer ownership. If the producer often takes 5% because they change structure, fine. If the beats are 33%, fine.  No matter what you decide, it’s important to make sure that a) you fill out a split sheet when a song is finished being written and/or recorded, and b) everyone in the room knows that’s what’s going on, agrees, and signs for their share. 

Good news! There are tons of options for split sheets. Seriously, you can Google it and get some good samples. Below are some templates to get your started. 

Here is one to print out: https://www.scribd.com/doc/13375172/Songwriter-Split-Sheet

Songtrust also has an excellent one: https://www.songtrust.com/hubfs/Songtrust_SplitSheet.pdf

Here’s a cool new one, the best if you have iPhone/iPad: “Splits” in the App Store http://splits.createmusicgroup.com/

For cloud-based and real-time, a great resource is: songsplits.com

Here’s to gettin’ lucky tonight.


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

photo note: “Sheet Music – 2” by Kolin Toney is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 


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