Making art can seem like you are spending more money than making it, (for an easy example of this, look no further than here). And until this problematic social situation changes, many must contend with making art for passion and pleasure.
It is with this mindset that many bands head to the Rouen studios on a Friday night: “the shows pay the beers and guitar strings: never mind the rest, it’s a good time!”
One morning, you wake up and find out you made your big break: the media discovered your band’s project and pushed your single in the limelight. Significant revenues could be made, in particular because of all the radio spins it’s getting. People are pressuring you to become members of collecting societies.
Then comes the innocuous question:
WHO OWNS THE SINGLE?
While identifying the producer and performers is typically easy, marking down who the author and composer are can sometimes create a rift between band members.
In other words, who wrote what?
This question, often a huge taboo within a band, deserves careful attention, and ideally, a written agreement.
WHERE TO START
Though the singer and guitarist are often the first to claim rights to the music, (and sometimes the keyboardist, and even rarer the bassist, or drummer), this practice is not a legal rule. Everyone who participates and collaborates in the making of a musical work is an author, and it follows that copyright should be split in a manner that reflects everyone’s contribution, in studio or out.
Here are a few things to get the conversation going within the band:
- Others, including lawyers, may tell you differently, but I am of the school of thought that a musical work is more than its vocal melody, three main chords and lyrics: it is the fruit of a labor made alone or as a group. When a guitarist walks into my office claiming they own the song’s music because they came up with the five main chords, my first question is this: “Has the song evolved, or taken a different tone since you walked into the studio?” In other words, has the
- Artistic contributions in music, or any art form for that matter, generally shape the work, and in the collaborative context of a band, I find it unfair to restrict “song writing” to someone’s early draft. Obviously, there are bands who truly only have a single writer/composer, but it is good practice to be mindful of everyone’s contribution and to reward them for it. For example, some bands choose to attribute song credits to each member equally, without any particular distinctions.
- From personal experience, drummers are treated like the black sheep in terms of copyright. Many view their instrument as the unsophisticated part of a song, devoid of any complex emotions and artistry. They fail to see that drums are the pillar of a song, sometimes even its signature. For example, what would We Will Rock You (Queen) and When the Levee Breaks (Led Zeppelin) be without them? Your drummer doesn’t just want their 2 x Boréal Beer coupons per show: if it’s justified, they’d appreciate a share of the copyright.
- Sharing copyright is good for the band. It can remove tensions caused by low (or non-existent) income, for example. It also doesn’t necessarily mean splitting copyright evenly: sometimes the recognition is enough to strengthen team spirits.
- You are free to bring up the subject however you want with your bandmates – if I can suggest one thing, however, it would be this: do it in a common area, approaching it from a place of making peace, not war. A late Friday night at the recording studio with everyone in a corner of the room is not ideal.
In other words, anyone involved in the creation of a work can eventually claim copyright. A contract between the band members, as well as with any third party involved (i.e. director, arranger, guest musician, etc.), is always good practice. Obviously, I strongly recommend that you consult a lawyer specialized in this field to guide you in the drafting process!
I am always available for any questions!
[Translated by Emily Alberton / Photo credit : Sandie Pollard]