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10 Key Parts Of A Songwriter Contract

10 Key Parts Of A Songwriter Contract

The Songwriter’s Guild of America is a great resource for understanding exactly what impacts songwriters from a business perspective.

They cover a variety of topics on their site, chief among them – contracts.

If you’ve got a business background, you know contracts are used to: (1) lock someone into doing something, (2) lock someone into paying someone, (3)  make sure you get paid, or (4) keeping someone from doing something.  So, they matter.

And, just like in the corporate world, being able to read one is important – and you should always read something completely before signing it.


Tips For Reading A Songwriter Contract


A friend of my mine has a great contract reading tip: print out a copy.

Highlight everything in yellow as you read it. Now go back a second time with a blue highlighter and highlight everything you understand. Wherever it’s not green, ask someone who knows the answer!

(She’s a realtor – and those contracts are complex, so a solid tip)


Below is a brief summary of the types of contracts you’ll run into.  For more detailed descriptions and legal ramifications, visit the Songwriters Guild of America site.


Key Elements That Should Be In Every Contract


1  Work For Hire

When you receive a contract covering just one composition, you should make sure that the phrases ‘employment for hire’ and ‘exclusive writer agreement’ are not included. Also, there should be no options for future songs.

2  Performing Rights Affiliation

If you previously signed publishing contracts, you should be affiliated with either ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. All performance royalties must be received directly by you from your performing rights organization and this should be written into your song contract (the same goes for any third-party licensing organization mutually agreed upon).

3  Reversion Clause

The contract should include a provision stating that you may terminate your contract if the publisher does not secure a release of a commercial sound recording within a specified time (one year – two years, etc).

4  Changes In The Composition

If the contract includes a provision stating that the publisher can change the title, lyrics or music, this should be amended so that such changes can only be made with your previous consent.

5  Royalty Provisions

You should receive fifty percent (50%) of all publisher’s income on all licenses issued. If the publisher prints and sells his own sheet music and folios, your royalty should be ten percent (10%) of the wholesale selling price. The royalty should not be stated in the contract as a flat rate ($.05, $.07, etc).

6  Negotiable Deductions

Ideally, demos and all other expenses of publication should be paid in full by the publisher. The only allowable fee generally charged to you is the Harry Fox Agency collection fee, whereby the writer pays one-half of the amount charged to the publisher. Today’s rate charged by The Harry Fox Agency is 6.75 percent.

7  Royalty Statements and Audit Provision

Once your song is recorded and printed, you are entitled to receive royalty statements at least once every six months. In addition, an audit provision, with no time restriction, should be included in every contract.

9  Writer’s Credit

The publisher should make sure that you receive proper credit on all uses of the composition.

10  Arbitration

In order to avoid large legal fees involved with any dispute with a publisher, the contract should include an arbitration clause.

10  Future Uses

Any use not specifically covered by the contract should be retained by the writer to be negotiated as it becomes salient.


Source:  Songwriters Guild of America


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