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Q&A: What's the difference between co-writing and arranging?
By Mary Dawson - 06/08/2007 - 10:35 AM EDT

Hi there,
I have found myself in quite an interesting situation that needs some external advice given to it and would greatly appreciate your help.  I am in the process of recording a CD and it is my first time dealing with this stuff. So I have done things in the wrong order and feel like I am being taken advantage of a little bit because of my trusting nature and inexperience.  I have hired a man to be my producer and arranger for a fee of $400 a song.  So over the summer I had written songs and we went through them all and he improved on my chords and the structures of the songs, I did the melodies and the lyrics, he and I made some bridges together which are generally solo'd over by the instrumentalists on the CD.  One of the songs he did help me alot and create a chorus and a pre-chorus, once again he did the chords and I went home with that and made a melody and wrote lyrics.  The agreement that we signed before starting was very simple and short. It stated that he would be paid 50% of the fee up front for arranging and producing and then would be given the last half once I was given my master CD.  So on top of being paid for arranging and producing he wants to discuss song percents and suggested that we do a 60/40 split (60 for me).  From what I understand this means he will have the $4000 (eleven songs) for arranging/producing...a percent cut for co-writing...then the producer's fee that he would get from CD sales (not sure what that's called but was told it's something like 3%).  Is this right or am I being taken a bit? I'm not sure what counts as arranging and what would be co-writing.  If I wrote something with just straight chunking chords and he made it prettier with arpeggio chords does that deserve a percent of the song writing or is that what an arranger does? If it is writing...what kind of percent?  I was thinking 25% on the one where he helped me do the chorus/prechorus chords, and perhaps 10 on the other ones? On top of this he hasn't created the sound that he said he could and agreed to make and has wasted alot of my money in studio time (I wanted organic, simple music and I now have a very thick wall of sound which I am undoing slowly in the studio by taking some of the instruments out and undoubling alot of them).  So he wants to discuss song percentages soon and I'm a little paniced because i'm an inexperienced 22 year old and he's a 54 year old whos been in the music game for a long time and he's quite manipulative. He tells me 'that's how it is' and I need to know if that is the case. 
I really hope you can help.
thanks for reading :)
very sincerely,
K.M.

Hi K.,

Thanks so much for writing to me. I am always honored when someone finds me on the Muses Muse and thinks enough of me to ask me an important question like this.

Unfortunately, I receive variations of this question regularly in my inbox. In fact, it is such a common situation that I devoted a whole section to this kind of problem in my new book, "How To Get Somewhere in the Music Business from Nowhere with Nothing." Aspiring singer/songwriters often find themselves facing these kinds of issues with producers. Many don't even have a written agreement when they begin to do the production work. I'm glad to hear that you at least had something on paper.

Songs consist of four elements -- words, melody, harmony and rhythm. Of these four elements, the two non-negotiables are words and melody. The harmonies and rhythms can be changed to suit the style of music and the taste of the artist. Think about how many versions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow you have heard --- everything from Judy Garland, to Ray Charles to Israel Kamakawiwo's Hawaiian ukelele version. Yet you always know that the song is Somewhere Over the Rainbow because it has the same words and melody. If you have written words and melody for a song, you have a copyright. The fact that someone comes along and adds a creative harmony or rhythm as producer, does not mean that they have co-written the song.

It sounds like you signed a reasonable agreement with this producer and that he is now trying to change the rules a little. Most demo producers or producers of first-time artists do not get a producer's percentage. They are paid on a per song basis as a "work for hire." Without actually hearing the songs and knowing what was done by each of you on each song, it would be difficult to be more specific. Sometimes when a producer and songwriter are working together, the relationship DOES develop into a co-writing relationship on some songs. These would have to be considered individually and a separate co-writer's agreement signed for each.

I would encourage you to consider reading my book as I think it will help you , not only with this issue, but with many other similar challenges as you work to bring your music to the next level. It can be ordered by visiting the website at http://www.FromNowhereWithNothing.com. By the way, the website is really the appendices for the book....we decided to put the information that should be in the apppendices online so that we can adjust and add to it as we find more resources for songwriters.  The resources listed there are free -- and all of them are services we personally have used and found to be reputable.

I hope this helps somewhat. At this point, you may need to find a good entertainment lawyer who can help you interpret and enforce the agreement you already have in place. Don't get a family wills and divorce lawyer. Get someone who knows  the music business and can help you navigate these waters.

Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

All the Best,
Mary Dawson



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