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Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Producer/Arranger collaboration with songwriter


Hi Bill,
I really appreciate this service, thanks for all the helpful advice.  I recently started working with a producer on songs I've written and previously recorded.  At this point the producer has mainly taken the songs I have written and arranged the parts in different order suggested some chords.  Also has taken a couple of parts from different songs of mine and put them together, for example a verse from one song added as the chorus to another.  There has been suggestions about lyrical content but no actual lyrics or melodies provided by the producer.  I like working with this person and feel that it is helping the songs and me see the songs and writing in a new way.  The problem is that when the subject of copyright or compensation comes up I am looking for specifics and the producer is being very vague.  I feel I need to get something up front so our relationship is not hindered by this, but I don't know what would be considered fair or how a situation like this is normally handled.  I want to be fair, he is doing this without being paid up front and I appreciate this and want to take care of him should something come of it.  I'm  just not sure how to structure it and if I should give up any or what percentage of the copyright.  

J :

Thanks for your question -- This is one of the most common situations that occurs with writers and producers, and I hear of more problems related top this than anything else.   I give many workshops on this topic at national conferences.

It is actually simple to handle if you understand the basics of the business relationship.
I can only give a short summary here, but for more detail, see my book "Songcrafters' Coloring Book" at  There is a chapter that deals with this as well as all other aspects of songwriting.

The bottom line is this:  You MUST have an up-front written agreement that spells out the terms of your working relationship.   In the absence of a written agreement, you are inviting all kinds of headaches.  There are a couple of options, and what I always recommend is as follows:  

Based on the services provided by the producer, agree on an amount to be paid by you up front for those services. (paid in installments upon completion of defined milestones).   This is to be accepted by the producer with the understanding that you are engaging his services as "work for hire", which means that he has absolutely no future claim on the copyright or any royalties from the song.  This is the cleanest situation, and one which most reputable producers should agree to.  Although a producer may contribute some creative input to the song,  he is essentially giving you full ownership of it in exchange for an up-front fee.     The key thing is this:  no matter who does what or who calls themself by what label,  the person who pays for the project is the executive producer, has complete final say in all decisions, and controls the process.   It is always to your advantage to pay a fair fee up front, and thus be the one who controls every aspect of what happens to your songs.

When a producer agrees to work with you up front "for free", it may sound like a favor, but it is actually creating a potential disaster for you.    It opens you up to having the producer later claim a share of copyright ownership and a percentage of royalties, and worse, I've heard of producers holding the master recordings hostage and not turning them over to the person who actually paid for the sessions (i.e. the real executive producer - you. )    In reality, the role you describe for the person you are working with is not so much producer as it is arranger and perhaps engineer (if they are also going to do the technical recording).  

If for some reason you want to or need to do a back-end deal (i.e. no money up front, but a portion of royalties if the song makes money), then you still need to have all specifics of that arrangement put in writing UP FRONT, before any work is done.  In that case, what you want to do is to award the producer "points" which is a percentage of any future royalty, but in no case do you want to give up any portion of the copyright ownership, either the writer share or the publisher share.  You want to always keep that for yourself.

In today's music world, lots of producers try to get a portion of copyright ownership by providing some creative input, but usually this is mostly arranging rather than actual songwriting.  In any case, you do not want to share your songwriting ownership -- the only exception is if the producer ACTUALLY works as a collaborative writer and makes significant changes in melody and lyric (not small changes, or chordal changes, or adding parts -- that's all arranging) AND if you are not paying them for their services.

Bottom line:  The best thing you can do is to pay an up front fee and put in writing that it is accepted by the producer as "payment in full as work for hire".   If a producer does not want to work under those terms or is not clear and specific about his terms, then you are going to be open to lots of hassle down the road and would best not work with that person.

Remember, you are the one in charge, you make all the decisions, and you want to protect your songs as you would protect your children.   When you pay for a service, the person you hire works for you.  You're the boss and you call the shots.

Good luck with your project.

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Bill Pere


Can answer questions on : Technical aspects of lyric and music compostion; How to give and receive objective critique; Arranging and production; Concrete vs abstract imagery; Use of metaphor; Rhyme techniques; Song Structure; Collaboration; Songwriter Associations; Promotion; Guitar technique; Music Business;


Grammy-Award-winning songwriter; President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association and Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Author of "Songcrafters' Coloring Book:The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting." Named Independent Artist of the Year,by the 2003 national Independent Music Conference; 30 years as a professional singer-songwriter; 16 original CD's released;
Have had songs placed on other artists' CD's. Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year.
20 years as Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble. Have attended more than 200 presentations by top industry professionals and have critiqued thousands of songs. Have written and produced dozens of stage plays and hundreds of concert events; Have coached hundreds of aspiring songwriters, and collaborated with several award winning writers. Have written commissioned songs as an Official Connecticut State Troubadour. Music Director of youth choirs and music camps.

Connecticut Songwriters Association (President); LUNCH Ensemble (Local United Network to Combat Hunger -- Exec, Director); CMEA (Connecticut Music Educators Association); Folk Alliance; Association For Psychological Type; Songsalive; WE R Indie; Creative Songwriting Academy;

Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Succesful Songwriting Songwriters Market (2001, 2002); Connecticut Songsmith; Contemporary Songwriter Magazine; Songwriters Musepaper;
Songcrafter's Coloring Book;   Strategies for Teaching Guitar;

Masters Degree Molecular Biology; Certified MBTI Practitioner (Myers Briggs Type Indicator); Connecticut Secondary Public School Teaching Certificate; Author: "Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting"

Awards and Honors
2012 Grammy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Independent Artist of the Year, (2003 national Indie Conference); Official Connecticut State Troubadour, appointed by CT Commission on the Arts, 1995 ; 1982 and 1992 CT Songwriter of the Year; 2000 Award for 20 years of Outstanding Service to Songwriters;
2002 CSA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education through Music; Numerous awards for outstanding community outreach through music; 1997 Citation from Connecticut Legislature for exemplary dedication to community outreach through music. 1995 Renaissance Award for multiple music achievements in a single year.   Invited Presenter and Mentor at various Music Conventions

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