Should Musicians Give Their Producer Songwriting Credit?

very common question I get asked by my musician friends and clients is whether they should give their producer songwriting credit on songs they’ve produced.

This question brings up a key distinction to be drawn between the Songwriting Copyright and the Sound Recording Copyright.

Record Points vs. Songwriting Points

Rather than give their producer songwriting points, recording artists would traditionally give their producer 2 to 4 points on the record. In simplified terms, this means that 2 to 4% of revenues generated from the sale of these records would go to the producer. So for each $0.99 iTunes sale, two to four cents would go to the producer. Only the sound recording copyright is involved here.

However, I’ve noticed an interesting thing happening in the last few years: as record sales (and therefore producer royalties) continue to decline, many producers are suddenly calling themselves songwriters. In some cases, it’s justified: I know a lot of producers that are also talented writers, and who sit down with the artists they record and help them take the songwriting to the next level. They might help write lyrics, add entire parts to the song, suggest structural changes, or change the chords and melodies.

If the producer is indeed a co-writer, they would be entitled to portion of the songwriting copyright, for the length of the copyright (the life of the writers plus 50 years in Canada). Once a songwriter, he or she will always be a songwriter of that song, likely for a hundred years or more. They will be entitled to revenue from radio play, use of the song on television, at sports games, and any other time the song is performed…for decades.

Giving up songwriting is a big deal, and a much deeper commitment than giving up points on the record. See my article on The Two Copyrights in a Song for a more in-depth comparison.

This leaves us with the million-dollar question: where is the line drawn between producing and writing?

Producer or Producer/Songwriter? 

You as artist are paying – and likely a significant amount – to obtain the various services that a producer provides, such as offering their opinion of the songs, making suggestions on improving them, and suggesting changes to the arrangements. But do any of these things constitute producer songwriting?

For example, if a producer changes a single chord in the chorus of your song, is that producer songwriting? If they write all the lyrics to that chorus, is that producer songwriting? In my opinion, the answer to the former is no and latter is yes. Unfortunately, most contributions fall somewhere in between the two extremes, which creates a real grey area.

producer songwriting

What does the law say? 

In Canada, the question of whether the producer is entitled to songwriting was settled in the Sarah McLachlan case (see Neudorf v. McLachlan et al, BC Supreme Court). The court ruled that there must be proof of mutual intent between artist and producer that producer songwriting with the artist will take place, as well as evidence that such producer songwriting occurred. What this means is that bands and producers need to sit down before recording begins and discuss this important issue, and agree if the producer will get points on the record and/or on the song, or neither. Unfortunately, 90% of the time this does not happen, and things hit the fan when a song becomes a hit and the producer claims half of the songwriting.

While the issue of intent might be clear in some cases (i.e. was it discussed or not), finding evidence that producer songwriting actually occurred might prove to be difficult. See my article on What Constitutes Songwriting for more clarity. In the meantime, just know that as an artist, you should not be giving away any of your songwriting unless real co-writing is happening with your producer. And it should all be discussed before the “record” button is pushed.

producer songwriting

19 thoughts on “Should Musicians Give Their Producer Songwriting Credit?

  1. If the song structure, chord progressions, vocal melodies and lyrics have all stayed the same (all written by the artist) and the producer adds one additional instrumental part on top of that (trumpet line in the background,) is the producer entitled to songwriting credit?

  2. Hi, great site by the way.
    Iv written songs for over 5 yrs with my friend producing/helping me arrange the songs in his studio at no cost.We have a band and made an album. My gut feeling is he should be 50/50 on the songwriting because he’s helped bring my songs up to scratch and helped me all the way. Do you feel I should do this or could I have problems in the future?

    • That sounds fair Simon, assuming he truly did help with the songwriting. Whatever you decide, you need to get a Co-Writer Agreement in place, so you can administer the compositions going forward.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  3. Hello, I am getting ready to have a record released with a production partner. Originally the material wasn’t created to be a collaboration album, but has now become one. Its an instrumental hip hop record. The majority of the songs were started by me with many hours of editing and arrangement at the early stages and were well developed by the time he gave any input into the tracks. The drums/beat, tonic key, chord progressions, and general arrangement were all in place. My production partner later added a few parts to the songs that certainly do fit nicely , but do not substantially change the feel of the material I had previously recorded, the parts do not constitute a hook or chorus. I started the songs alone, although on a couple songs he had a few suggestions for source material early on, but wasn’t present when i created the bulk of the composition and arrangements. The parts he added was an arpegiated flute that fit with the chord progression in place and a piano motif that lasted about 15 seconds towards the end of the song. The drums, bass, chord progressions were in place already, with minor changes to the sequencing/ arrangement, is he entitled to song writer credits based on this information or would an “additional instrumentation” credit be a more accurate credit? Thanks!

    • Hi Dahv,

      Because it’s an instrumental album, and he contributed some important parts to the instrumental, it sound like he’s entitled to some writing. But I would have to hear the before and after. You might want to give a small % of writing as a good gesture, so he promotes etc and is more excited about the project. But that’s a business decision not a legal one. The real question: did his contributions fundamentally change the songs?

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  4. Hi, my producer changed a song of mine so that the chords of the chorus are also used in the verse, rather than the chords I’d written. But he didn’t write new chords. On another he cut the last line of the chorus but again didn’t add any new words. Do you think he deserves to listed as a songwriter?

    Thanks

    • Hi Zoe

      Tough one. It really depends how these two suggestions changed the song. The second change isn’t songwriting, the first might be. I would try to push for no songwriting to the producer, especially if you’re paying a healthy producer fee. But if he hasn’t asked for songwriting, don’t offer it.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  5. I have written songs and hummed the music tune out to a producer I work with who used my tune ,as well as, created music around it. He says he is also the writer, but did not write any lyrics to my song. Can he claim writing rights?

    • Hi Brenda

      I would have to hear the original humming vs the final song, but it sounds like he created the music from your humming, so he deserves something in terms of songwriting.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  6. I am collaborating on a beat/underlying music with a friend at a studio he works at and has been given access to the studio for his personal use. We will both collaborate on the music (midi instruments), then I write the lyrics, vocal melody, and sing on the recording. My friend will record my vocals and mix the song. I am a solo artist/songwriter. Is it fair to split the songwriting 50/50? and would it be reasonable for me to own the master sound recording as the featured artist or would you split that 50/50 as well? What agreements do I need? And should I consider getting the studio owner to sign an agreement stating he has no rights to the master recording? Thank you.

    • Hi Diana

      You definitely want an agreement b/w the two of you, that clarifies who owns the Master (you) and what the songwriting splits are. 50/50 would be high I would think, unless your friend brought all of the music and you did lyrics only. If you did half the music and all the lyrics, something like 75/25 would be more ideal.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  7. I am working with a long-time friend to bring material I wrote (chords, melody, lyrics) up to snuff production-wise (he is a brilliant producer). He is also doing new arrangements for the music, but under my direction. Considering that it is a symbiotic collaboration in that way, and wanting to be fair and rewarding to him for his production and arrangement talents, what are some common ways to be generous in this regard?

    • Hi Rob,

      You could give him more backend on the sales of masters, via producer points. They typically are in the 2 to 5 range, i.e. 2 to 5% of record sale revenues. So you could increase this number. You could also give him special credit in the liner notes and online. Or pay him a higher producer fee.

      I hope this helps

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  8. Hi Kurt,
    I recently collaborated with a singer on a jazz album. In addition to playing piano on the album, I wrote all of the chord changes for the originals. He would sing the melodies and I would come up with the chord changes then write the charts out to give to the band. I also helped develop intros, outros and arrangements. I worked with him many months leading up to the recording and am currently assisting on post-production. Should I receive partial songwriting credit? Thanks!

    • Hi Nicholas,

      It sounds like you might. I would have to hear the before and after for the songs, but it sounds like you helped write. Ultimately, you need to have this discussion with your collaborator.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

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