In songwriting, as in any creative endeavor, there’s a delicate balance between art and commerce.  While writing songs is, at its core, an act of artistic expression, it also marks the creation of what attorneys refer to as “intellectual property.” So, given that there is property ownership involved, the questions on the table are how important is it to document that relationship and at what stage of the creative game should it be done? Specifically, when it comes to co-writing, it means what percentage of the copyright will be attributed to each collaborator.

I should begin by say, that I don’t – nor do any songwriters in Nashville that I’m aware of – use legal split sheets as a way to document my co-writes. Not only that but I was taught by example in Nashville that any songwriter in the writing room when the song is being written is entitled to an equal share of the copyright of the resulting song. This means that whatever contribution a songwriter makes on a given day during a co-write is an essential – and equally valued – part of the creation of that song and so the split percentages are also equal. Without those writers in that room on that day, the song wouldn’t be the song that it is. I’m fully aware that this isn’t the unwritten rule in cities/countries outside of Nashville but I like what it represents and have chosen throughout my career to take this approach.

No matter whether you will be establishing percentages with an official document such as the split sheet or not, it’s essential that you consider the steps below to make sure that the issue of song ownership and percentages is discussed.

1. Have a clear and frank discussion 

Ideally in advance of a co-writing session, it’s worth everyone’s while to have a discussion among collaborators about how you will approach percentages when it comes to your co-write. Whether it’s an even split – like the Nashville example above – or an agreed upon split based, for example, on how much of a completed song one writer brings to the session, this discussion can go a long way towards avoiding misunderstandings later on.

2. Register the song (including percentages) with your respective performing rights organizations

In the absence of an official spit sheet, registering your finished song with your respective PROs (i.e. BMI, ASCAP, SESAC) will officially document the percentages of the song attributed to each songwriter involved. This is a simple – and free – way to legally establish each writer’s ownership of the song.

3. Have discussions about how you plan to demo, pitch and promote the song

Another thing to remember, beyond the percentages of each writer, is that all writers are responsible for sharing expenses when it comes to demoing your finished song. Not only that but the more work all the writers do to pitch and promote the song, the greater the likelihood that something good will happen with your shared creation.


The collaborative process has yielded some of the world’s greatest and most enduring songs. It’s important to remember that you are responsible for not only the creation of a great song but also for the business side of your collaboration as well. Being up front, clear and generous in your approach is a great place to start. 

Good Luck!

Learn how to navigate your songwriting career.

Click the image on the right to find out more.

6 responses to “A Discussion About Co-Writing Percentages”

  1. Dave Kinnoin says:

    Great advice, as usual. I’d like to add that a lyricist is 50% responsible for the excellence of the melody, and vice versa. That is, if a lyricist has a suggestion for a part of the melody, he or she should speak up, and the melody writer should pay close attention. And the same if the melody writer has a lyric idea.

  2. J. Sanchez says:

    It also would be important to make certain that both songwriters are agreeable be and compatible. One writer may storm off to another writerin the middle of completion of a song and then claim rights to your song.

  3. Rich Hayes says:

    If only I had the problem of how revenue is going to be divided!

  4. Glad (but not surprised) to hear you advocating the Nashville concept of equal shares for everyone who contributed. I’ve always worked on that basis and I have no doubt it has saved me from lots of heartache and bad feelings!

  5. Michael Gitter says:

    This article is typical of Cliff. Helpful, clear and to the point! thanks so much for all you do.

    Cliff please pass this along!
    Although this may not be the ideal time context wise, I probably wont gt another chance to say this: . I want to thank Buddy for all your wonderful contributions made to Everything Waits with Art and Maia.
    I have gone back and listened to (and watched)
    those great story Songs uncountable times.

  6. Tom McCormack says:

    Great insight as usual, I have heard first hand how some major artists will cross a “t” or dot an “I” for writing credit on a lesser artist’s songs that they plan to cover on an album, also I have been approached with a publishing split to sweeten the deal for major artists. I think it’s probably just a part of the business fundamentals, %100 percent of nothing, or a nice sized piece of something.
    I’d like to hear your take on this Cliff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.