Signing A Songwriter Contract – What To Look Out For


Don’t sign that songwriter contract before reading the following.

Songwriting has a legal side which if overlooked or not adequately addressed, can prove to be very detrimental to a songwriter’s career. Consider the following points.

No such thing as a standard contract.

As a songwriter, a publisher may approach you with what he calls a ‘standard contract’. Don’t be fooled or intimidated by this. The publisher’s aim is to discourage you from varying the terms of the contract.

There is really no such thing as a standard songwriter contract. Don’t be afraid to make modifications to the contract, in your favor. Make sure you contact your lawyer before you sign that agreement.

The shorter the term of the contract, the better.

When signing your first contract, you should try to limit the time frame during which it is valid, as much as possible. When you’re starting out, the terms of a contract would be more advantageous to the publisher. However, if you become a major success, you have more bargaining power. If your contract is limited to no more than one year, the fact that you now have more say in determining the terms of the contract means that you can sign another contract which is more advantageous to you.

What number of songs do you assign to a publisher?

Similarly, when signing your first songwriter contract, you should avoid tying up all your songs. Limit the number of songs you assign to the publisher and wait till you’ve become more successful and have more bargaining power as a result.

The less copyright you transfer, the better.

As a songwriter, you want to ensure that you get as much of the publisher’s share of income as possible. You want a good percentage of those music publishing rights. Sadly, when you’re starting out and have not had any outstanding track record, this can prove to be quite difficult. In such a situation, the publisher usually ends up owning 100% of the publishing rights.

The alternative is a co-publishing agreement where you get to keep 50% of the publishing rights.

Ensure that the contract has a reversion clause.

You may sign a contract and find that the publisher fails to deliver. Your song simply sits on a shelf gathering dust.

This is why you should ensure that there is a reversion clause in the contract. You should be able to terminate the songwriter contract if the music publisher fails to secure a release of a commercial recording of your song within a particular amount of time. In some cases, this could be one or two years. When a reversion takes place, all rights are returned to the songwriter.

What is music publishing?

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