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Q&A: What's a fair split for a collaborator agreement?
By Mary Dawson - 12/09/2001 - 02:01 PM EST

Hello Mary!

I am a Canadian singer/songwriter based in San Francisco. If you have a couple words of advice for my situation I'd be eternally grateful!

I have a cowriting relationship with a man who is a composer/producer/arranger etc in Montreal Quebec. For 3 years I have been flying out to write with him (4 week-long writing sessions total so far) and have produced 32 songs together in the process.

Him:

* he takes time off his money-making work to work with me b/c he loves to work with me (calls me his best writing partner) and wants to break into english music. (it's a dream of his to work with just my material etc...)
* he uses his studio and with some of my help arranges, mixes and masters the pieces
* he has accepted payment... much less than his usual fees.... and the payment gets less each time I go... eg. $300 for 12 day stay at his place writing/arrg/mix/master 6 songs. (it is hard to afford after the plane fare and missed work for me....)
* He does strictly composition... no lyrics (he is a virtuoso guitarist)
* He makes some phone calls and has some meetings with people to promote me
* He hopes to produce (coproduce with me) my album

Me:

* I write lyrics and music (guitar)
* I am a solo artist
* Some pieces I have come up with most of the music and all of the lyrics
* Some pieces we write the compostion on the spot with my lyrics following later or lyrics before etc.. (we write fast, easy, and with much fun)
* I have written 2 songs intended for other people with him (tho they weren't used)
* I help arrange/mix/master
* I promote myself full time after my full time job
* He is a great friend and I love writing and working with him

Basically I want to be fair, and I don't want either of us to be taken advantage of. People have mentioned a 51/49 split, but I'm confused. There isn't much literature that I've found that gets into different kinds of scenarios. A part of me feels that if he didn't accept payment (however nominal) I could give a bigger percentage.. but I don't know if that's unacceptable. We will write more in the future and considering the way things are getting noticed right now.. I should really clear it up! Yike!

I'm looking forward to hearing your opinion. Thank you!


Hi Teresa:

Your situation is a common one that collaborators often face -- simply what is fair for both parties in the division of the work and in the division of the potential profits.

It sounds like you have a wonderful collaboration with this composer and a relationship that you value a great deal. For this reason, I firmly believe that the two of you need to sit down AS FRIENDS and honestly talk through some of these issues. In most situations two collaborators divide both the work of writing and the profits 50-50. For instance, I am primarily a lyricist when I collaborate so my partner (who writes the music) also does the demo -- sequences and arranges the track and also does the vocal. For my part, I do the pitching of the song -- contacting the artists and/or producers, doing the mailing etc. With this division of efforts, we both feel comfortable dividing the profits equally as well.

However, if one person is writing most of the song, while the other person simply arranges it and does the demo, you may have to come up with another percentage. I had a co-writer once who wanted 50% ownership when I wrote all the words and the music and he only changed a couple of chords and did the demo. I did not feel good about that because there are many producers who will work for hire (for a fixed fee) and do the arrangement and recording with no stake in the composition.

The important thing is that you both be honest and work through these kinds of issues until you both feel good about the arrangement. THEN....once you have agreed, WRITE DOWN ON PAPER WHAT YOU HAVE AGREED TO VERBALLY. Then both of you should sign the paper indicating that you agree to what you have written. Even though this is a simple agreement, it is binding legally and also keeps memories from becoming "foggy" when the money starts coming in.

The worst thing to do is do nothing to iron out these things and just keep writing together for the sheer pleasure of it. The more songs you have, the more complicated the relationship becomes if you both are not "on the same page" when it comes to the working relationship.

I hope this helps. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to let me know.

All the Best --Mary Dawson


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