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songwriters credit??

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by jmiller, Feb 26, 2008.


  1. jmiller

    jmiller

    Dec 31, 2006
    Manager at Bass Club Chicago
    this is the best place i can find to post this thread.

    heres the story:
    i had dinner last night with my drummer and singer/guitarist. we were discussing our new songs and the art of songwriting. the way we work is as follows: my guitar/singer comes in with and idea(chord progression) and says to me what kind of bass line can you put to this. after a little work, we have something amazing. same for the drummer. he comes up with a beat that we all like and we go on from there. now my singer/guitarist is trying to convince us that because she came up with the original idea for the song that we have NO songwriters credit to it. i truely believe she is wrong. the bassline is a part of a song and i wrote it. her arguement is this, she came with the original idea and we built off of it. the original idea was hers therefore we dont get any credit. we also colabratively arrange the song. what do you guys think? its been bothering me since we talked about it.
     
  2. Your guitarist is correct. The initial idea or chord progression is pretty much the basis for a song. But if she is saying that she wants to take all the royalties you should run as fast as you can. From what im guessing you guys are not even earning money yet, whats gonna happen if ya start earning some dough and her greedy trait that she is showing comes out even more. Just tell her to shove her songs up her butt and start a new band.
     
  3. mikethecannibal

    mikethecannibal

    Jan 19, 2008
    erie pa
    ive had this happen before... it got ugly and a little later i ended up leaving the band due to conflicting intrests. anyways we had just wrote a solid sounding song and my lead guitarist claimed the song to be his, as it was a non-vocal song and he came up with the original riff for it, which was quite good actually. Our drummer had a strong drum beat and i came up with a simi-good bass line for it, but our guitarist would not let us claim credit for our parts in it. What i would do is just get the other band members together and get them to refuse to play the song until the band as a whole gets credit for writing the song, not just your singer.
     
  4. jmiller

    jmiller

    Dec 31, 2006
    Manager at Bass Club Chicago
    how do royalties work?
     
  5. hunta

    hunta

    Dec 2, 2004
    Washington, DC
    Maybe your singer/guitar player just knows what's up with copyright law. You can't copyright the drum part, or the bass part. That doesn't mean you both can't get songwriter credit, but it's something you all have to agree on as a band. Effectively you have to ask permission from the singer/guitarist to get credit for other parts of the song that you wrote. Pretty silly but thems the laws..

    I certainly wouldn't kick members out of the band over songwriting credits that most likely will never come into play anyway.
     
  6. HomeBrewTJ

    HomeBrewTJ

    May 16, 2004
    Lafayette, IN
    Does it really matter?
     
  7. Inflin

    Inflin

    Apr 30, 2007
    Newcastle, UK/Currently London
    Affiliated with Genelec, Avalon Design.
    I've seen this a million billion times, and it does destroy bands. Ever wonder why your favourite sucessful bands split up? 9/10 it's because someones getting a lot more money than someone else.

    I would either say make sure some of your ideas for lyrics and melody are used, therefore you are legally doubtlessly one of the song's writers, or agree now that the BAND should be credited as songwriters, so every single on of you gets the same number on those lovely little royalty cheques.
     
  8. jmiller

    jmiller

    Dec 31, 2006
    Manager at Bass Club Chicago
    it is very plausable that it could matter. we are working with a multiplatinum selling producer and have label interest. i spoke with an attorney today and he said if she conceeds to the fact that i wrote the bassline then there is no question that i am entitled to songwriting credit. how much? thats up for debate. id rather nip this situation in the butt before it does become a bigger issue then it already has. so i think im going to have to have a "band meeting" to get this all straighten out. i truely hope this is not the end of my envolvement in the band but im not going sign over my creative input. thanks for all of your help....
     
  9. santucci218

    santucci218

    Jan 26, 2007
    Pittsburgh
    chord progressions are NOT copyrighted. On the other hand, melodies are.
     
  10. Music Attorney

    Music Attorney

    Feb 22, 2004
    “there is no question”?

    I'm not a copyright attorney, but that assertion makes me go Hmmmm .........

    Is the band based in the U.S.? If not, then never mind.

    If it is, then let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that your bass line entitles you to songwriting credit. Based on the collaborative scenario your post suggests, you would almost certainly be in a joint authorship situation (explained elsewhere on these boards). Assuming it is a joint authorship situation, then unless you’re voluntarily choosing to do so, your share is not up for debate. Absent a WRITTEN agreement to the contrary, 2 joint authors would split a song 50/50. If there are 3 joint authors, then the song is split evenly 3 ways. And so on. And the equal splits would hold true regardless of the relative contributions of the authors (e.g., one of the authors could bring all of the melody and most of the lyrics). The law in this area is clear: if the writers don’t agree to the splits in writing, then courts are not going to get into a situation where they are trying to determine if the splits should be 80/20, 70/30, 60/40, etc. (nor should they). They will simply allocate equal shares to all authors. Not sure about you, but I’ll pass on the courts being the arbiters of how much a chorus is worth, or a verse, or a bridge, etc,

    Assuming U.S. law controls, I’d be curious what your attorney bases his conclusion on? To be clear, songwriters can agree to have splits be whatever they want them to be. But the notion that a bass line entitles the bassist to songwriter credit as a matter of law (i.e., “there is no question”) is intriguing to me.

    Best,
    MA
     
  11. I had this same problem. There is a little wriggle room here for bassists. I've even seen drummers get songwriter credit (check out Mike Joyce - drums and Andy Rourke - bass lawsuit against Morrissey and Johnny Marr of the Smiths)

    Also, Louis Johnson won songwriter credit from Michael Jackson. I believe the song was Billy Jean where the bassline BECAME the song.

    Anyway, a bassline CAN become the main focus of the song melodically regardless who who came up with the original idea. If that is the case, you are DEFINATELY entitled to songwriter credit.

    It seems to be an epidemic with singer-songwriters to think that because they put 3 little chords together as a VERY raw idea, that they should take credit for EVERYTHING once the song is completed. I played with someone just like this for 4 years and finally quit. I couldn't handle her ego anymore. Everyone (our audience) was under the impression that she wrote everything when in fact all she usually brought to the table were unfinished verse sections. The BAND added choruses, memorable hooks, and real melodies. We as a band created songs together, yet the person up front (usually a gui****) wants all the credit. ugh.

    /rant :ninja:
     
  12. jmiller

    jmiller

    Dec 31, 2006
    Manager at Bass Club Chicago
    the bass parts that i write are definately not your average root note bass parts. the music is very dancy and they definately reflect a "billy jean" type parts in many ways. where as the bass part can be seen as a driving force in the song. if it were a root note situation i really wouldnt care but these are definately melodies. my attorney said that the percentages should be determined now before anything takes off. this is where bands end up in court and argue and spend a ton of money because one said thinks the other doesnt deserve as much credit. i think that we agree that with there" is no question" idea that im entitled to credit. hes argument is that what if she claimed that she wrote the track and i didnt? he said she said thing. we are a trio. i personally dont necessarily feel that im entitled to 33%. she has final say, writes all guitar parts, and lyrics. but i certainly feel im entitled to something. i also spoke with a friend of mine who was a an r&b group called kwiet storm, that had some substantial success. one of former members is currently on mtvs making the band 4. he said that the 3 members entered in to a type of contributing business venture and arranged that everything would be split 33%. he said at times only 2 people would work on a song and complete it but per their agreement they all shared ownership. i not sure whats the best idea.

    i dont know because i feel like my singer/guitarist is not going to give in. i am also not going to give up my creative input. i wish i could type out the whole story for you guys/girls so you could get a true perspective on the situation. this could turn out to be one of the saddest days of my life......
     
  13. Music Attorney

    Music Attorney

    Feb 22, 2004
    I looked on my Westlaw database and other legal resources and could not find any filings regarding that matter. Was the suit filed in the U.S.?

    Again, don’t find any filings on this matter. Not sure what you mean by “won.” Maybe MJ just felt like LJ deserved the credit.

    People file lawsuits all the time that are of dubious merit. Often times it’s done in an effort to extract something from the other side. Lawsuits can be very expensive, reveal unflattering information, tie up careers, etc. Hard as it may be to believe, it’s not always about right and wrong ;-)

    My guess is that were I to read the filings and judge's opinion in the above matters (assuming there are some), I think I'd find that they don't support the notion that a bass line is "definitely" a copyrightable contribution to a musical composition.

    I certainly could be wrong.

    Best,
    MA
     
  14. barebones

    barebones Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Denver, CO

    That's my understanding as well--melody and lyrics are all that can be copyrighted. Bands can, however, work out songwriting credits based on what everyone agrees was each individual's contribution. Sometimes bands--like the one I'm in--just say, "Hey, we all wrote our own parts. Let's split song credits equally." Other bands go through a process of assigning a percentage to each person who contributed something to the song. For me, that gets a little to anal retentive and bums everyone out, so I opt not to go that route, even on the stuff I contributed the most to. Now, if my band had a bunch of money to quibble over, maybe I'd be a little more dickish about it... but probably not.

    I think the most frustrating part about working with singer/songwriter/guitarists (or whatever instrument) who behave like this is that their claims of ownership, right down to the the letter of the way-too-simplistic law, either implicitly or explicitly let the musicians around them know how little they value their contributions. These days, my approach to these artists is that if I don't get some amount of songwriting credit for my contributions, then they need to pay me for my time spent rehearsing and/or recording "their" songs. In essence they are then purchasing my services, and I'm selling my services for an up-front price rather than banking on the potential to make money down the road if they happen to make money off the song or songs I contributed to.

    Matt
     
  15. rzm61

    rzm61

    Feb 26, 2008
    Simple. If you wrote it, it is yours. No one elses. No one can claim credit for the work you created. So if you wrote a bass line then the credit for that bass line belongs to you. Now, say they wrote the guitar parts an all and you just played the root notes. You don't have much say in it.

    So if you actually wrote it, its yours. :)
     
  16. Music Attorney

    Music Attorney

    Feb 22, 2004
    My only point in responding was to clarify the difference between a legal entitlement to songwriter credit versus songwriter credit as a result of negotiation and agreement.

    Using the Billie Jean example, if someone wanted to write a completely different song, but incorporated substantially the same “hook” bass line, I’m not sure a court would rule that copyright infringement. What would happen in practice is that the person creating the song would likely go to the publisher and ask permission so as to avoid a lawsuit, not necessarily because they actually need permission.

    Again, I reserve the right to be wrong on this issue.

    Best,
    MA
     
  17. mutedeity

    mutedeity

    Aug 27, 2007
    Sydney
    Based on common sense, notwithstanding various local laws, I would think that authorship is about not just who has the original idea but also about who develops and completes the idea so that it is a body of work. By that I mean who arranges the composition. Individual parts don't really make a song. If they did you would never be able to play a I IV V progression without infringing copywrite. Likewise, if playing or even writing a bassline entitled you to songwriting royalties, no-one would hire session musicians since they would all be entitled to royalties and credits. This is clearly not the case.

    On the other hand if you are part of a team that arranges the music from an initial idea that is not arranged, then you are definitely a songwriter, as far as I can tell.

    The best thing to do is get advice from an attorney that specialises in music and copywrite law. The best person on this thread to listen to though is Music Attorney.
     
  18. barebones

    barebones Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Denver, CO
    This statement, too, describes my understanding and experience with this subject. Very well put.

    Wasn't there a case, though, involving Vanilla Ice's lifting of the bassline from the Queen/David Bowie song "Under Pressure"? I remember reading that Ice's attorneys tried to argue that the bassline was original to Ice's recording, since he and his producers "added a note" to the original line. I'm pretty sure Ice lost that case, but it's been a long time.

    Matt
     
  19. Music Attorney

    Music Attorney

    Feb 22, 2004
    My understanding is that no lawsuit was ever filed and that the matter was settled out of court. The other thing I'm not certain of (and don't have time right now to confirm) is whether VI sampled the actual recording or had the bass line replayed by someone else. If it's the former, then there is clearly an issue, but it's because of the unauthorized use of the sound recording (which the owner of, presumably the record company, would need to grant permission for such sample use). To be clear, there may still have been an issue with respect to replaying the bass line, but since it appears the matter was settled out of court there is no court decision on whether replaying that bass line (or something substantially similar to it) qualifies as copyright infringement of the musical composition.

    Best,
    MA
     
  20. melody and lyrics are technically all that are copy protected from my understanding - as far as songwriting credits go anyway. Most band situations that I've been in are Lyrics:lyric writer, Music:Band by agreeement. I've even agreed to, in certain situations, to just song:band... I've also been in bands where the singer/songwriter actually came in with completed songs and we just incorporated our parts into them. In those two situations he/she were entitled to full songwriting credit. One of them rewrote lyrics and the melody to a song I wrote that we were using, recorded it using the same chord progression (not a typical 1-4-5), which I wrote, and even the same instrumental recording (session players and I didn't play bass on the original either), and told me later she'd done it. No biggie because we're friends and I wouldn't have a legal leg to stand on anyway, and I don't think it's ever going to be a grammy winner or anything.
     

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