Friday, January 2, 2009


"Let’s just get started and we’ll work out the details later."
You’ve written most of a song. You show it to a friend who adds a couple lines. The guitar player in your band comes up with a chord progression under your melody and the bassist and drummer add some rhythm. In the little studio a horn and keyboard players are brought in for the session. You post the song on the Internet. What could possibly go wrong?

The song could catch on and now the composition and recording are worth money. The writer friend is claiming to own half the publishing even though you only kept a few words he wrote. The guitarist and bass player are both claiming co-ownership. One of the session guys you brought in wants a piece of the recording (at least he is not going after the songwriting, yet).

With a little bit of copyright knowledge and a few simple forms all of these problems could have been avoided. Problems occur when people try to manage artists, promote concerts, provide artwork and graphics or do other activities in the music industry without a prior written understanding. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on friendship. Every ugly band breakup or divorce started with a friendship. At least most did. Some agreements, like those concerning copyright, have to be in writing to be enforced.

Some clients will tell me that they didn’t want to work out these issues in advance because they thought it might break the deal or interfered with the vibe. They say this to me after everything has fallen apart, but now they have spent a ton of money and time on recording the album. There are millions of dollars sitting in escrow waiting for co-writers to agree on splits that could have been agreed in the studio in ten minutes. These things should not be adversarial, it’s just taking care of business.