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If you read this fine magazine, you have read about split sheets. As a songwriter/producer and someone who does music licensing for a living, I just can’t impress upon you enough how important this tool is for your future, for your future money, specifically. It is the document that publishers and licensors use to pay you. Cash, man. In fact, for some co-writers, we have started calling it a “cash sheet.” It’s amazing how the tone changes in the studio or writing room when you ask everyone if they’ve filled out their “cash sheet” and signed it.
For those of you who are new, let’s refresh. Basically, a split sheet is a written agreement between the songwriters and/or producers of a song outlining the percentage of ownership and authorship in the song. On the songwriting side, this also includes outlining publisher and PRO collection percentages. On the producer side, it includes the same information and whether or not samples are used, and what percentage of the song that entails. In all cases, a split sheet should also outline the date the song was finished being written and/or recorded and who owns the master.
It does not take a lawyer to execute a split sheet, and it is not a contract – it is an agreement between all parties. So, it basically costs nothing and you have no excuse not to get in the habit of using cash sheets, err, umm, split sheets.▼ Article continues below ▼
However, it’s paperwork, and musicians of all kinds simply hate paperwork, it’s why we got into this business in the first place. Right? There are some issues to deal with. Is the actual sheet in a Word document, a PDF? How many physical copies should you make, do you scan it when signed, and who should get those copies? What if there’s a change or additional writer?
Paperwork. It sucks. But again, it’s a “cash sheet” — if it was a bit easier to deal with, wouldn’t that be worth your time?
Enter SongSplits, a cloud-based, free, online split sheet platform. I spoke to Todd Wright, CEO of SongSplits, to give me some insight into how they are addressing these challenges and what the future may bring.
I usually start with any founder in music tech by asking about their life in music. Are you a musician or songwriter? How did you get into this part of the industry?
I started out loving music. I was partially creative, a mediocre (at best) guitar player. I guess due to my upbringing, I didn’t take that route at first. I spent ten years in traditional finance, it was safer. I dealt with interesting people for sure, but because they weren’t in music, it just didn’t fit me completely. It turns out I had a client in the music business and he asked me to come join him in a business management capacity – to merge my skill set in the financial world with my passion about music. I learned the ropes, and then started a music-focused business management company getting involved with the James Brown estate, and working with a client repping some of the Rolling Stones catalog.
Over time, I grew the practice, working with producers, songwriters, and artists. But, time and time again, I started to see disputes and clarification issues over splits through requests from Kobalt and UMPG. Their spreadsheet says one thing, but our says another. Sometimes it’s just a name spelling that’s off, or one missing collaborator, like 10 instead of 11, or one percentage point. So, it was affecting the management side when someone like Kobalt would come with unreconciled balances or licensing that can’t be completed.
I needed to find a solution for my own business and also figured if we could solve this thing it could assist others in preventing these disputes in the future. SongSplits was born.
How many members does SongSplits have currently?
As of 2019, more than 250,000 songwriters have their work registered in the SongSplits system.
We’re doing well in Canada, and are expanding globally in the U.K. and Europe. We’re also very excited about gaining more traction in Africa, which has multiple countries emerging quickly in the modern music business.
Do all members who have splits or shares have to be members of SongSplits?
Yes, and it’s a free account for everyone. We do this so that you see what songs you have an interest in and can feel comfortable it won’t be lost or amended without you knowing about it by notification. We also provide a way for your team–publishers, attorneys, and managers– to have access to your splits.
What are the main benefits to an online split sheet platform?
Great question. First, the obvious benefit of having a digital storage solution takes away the headache of literal paperwork – a lot of people don’t even have a printer at home anymore. Second, by having all parties on a split sheet involved in the same entry rather than just one party controlling the paperwork, it builds trust. Everyone can feel comfortable by seeing exactly what the splits are, and if there are changes agreed upon, everyone gets a notification to accept those changes.
Is this just a platform for split sheet paperwork?
It is our primary focus. But additionally, users can upload the lyrics to a song and attach that to the same entry as the split sheet. We also just rolled out the ability to actually upload the song file as well. This way all of your assets are all in one place. And it’s all still completely free.
What is your best advice on getting songwriters (especially bands/artists) to actually follow through on the split sheet process?
Within our platform the writers can not only start a split sheet, but also modify the splits and make notes on why. The ability to modify makes it a lot easier, so it can be changed (and other writers can be added or amended).
My advice is that maybe the song doesn’t have to be 100% finished, but once it’s locked in and it’s been decided who is involved and at what percentage, that’s the time to get that information in order and then we can confirm through the system and set the roles. Again, it can be amended, and everyone involved is notified. Just start getting into the habit, be polite, and don’t make it too serious, but get it done.
Any new features you’d like to tease us with?
Of course! We are always working on ways we think we can make the entire process of dealing with songs better. Some of those include portability, and different ways to share information with clients and directly with PROs. We hope to have some news on that soon.
My real goal here goes beyond just paperwork; it’s to build this ecosystem and help improve it.
We’re not just trying to do a split sheet — yes that’s the core of the platform and the DNA of the music business — we really are trying to improve the confusing processes of PROs, registrations, copyrights, and licensing as well.
Try it out for free here: https://songsplits.com
-Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.