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

40 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

  9. Wonderful article. I’m pretty sure you’ve answered my question but for the sake of clarity. As an artist, I’ve written the song and melody on my guitar. The entire song was produced by me. I sent her my guitar and asked to build strings and a simple drum pattern around the song. Are they entitled to any publishing?? songwriting or production?

    • I would have to hear the before and after on the song, but at first blush, it sounds like the other party is producing and/or arranging, not songwriting.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  10. This has most likely been covered but my questions is this. If I had written all the music, lyrics plus demoed the melody and the singer changed a line or two and in some cases a word, does that constitute song writing credit? If so would it be more of a percentage based off how many words or lines changed. Thank you.

    • Changing the lyrics is most often considering songwriting, yes. If it’s one word, well maybe not. But you need to look at the overall change in the song from your singer’s contributions. And then you need to have an open discussion with he or she about how these songs should be divided up.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  11. Hello!
    Myself and a guitar play wrote some original songs and were offered free recording by a music studio student for their final year course project.
    The songs are unheard and never recorded.
    We decided to upload the original songs on soundcloud as a means of documentation.
    We expect to have no changes to the songs moving forward into studio recording, and plan to upload the studio recordings to my soundcloud after recording as well.
    Does this sound like a safe course of action? Should there be some kind of contract saying the recorder cannot distribute the music?
    Respectfully,
    Brett Nelson Coelho

    • It really depends how much you trust the producer. It should be fine but I’ve seen producers hold masters ransom unless a fee is paid. You should be safe as you likely have emails that document the arrangement.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  12. Skool Aid is my Company. One of the programs we offer is a Songwriting class. If our Teaching Artist is paid to work with students to write a song, who is the Songwriter? The student should, in my opinion get most of the credit, but who gets the rest? The Teaching Artist that works with us? The school that pays us? Skool Aid? A lot of gray area here so I would likely default to the student, but interested in hearing your opinion.

    • It depends whether it is addressed in your Employment Agreement with the TA. It might be a work for hire, so writing goes to Skool Aid. But the student would have a claim as well, unless they waived that somehow. Hope this helps!

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  13. Hi I receive music stems and am told to come up with other concepts before the song releases for really big name artists and sometimes they don’t make the final cut but essentially I am working on the song for a label and submitting ideas and stems I’m curious if I work on a song and have the data and records to prove it am I entitled to some form of credit? For example I receive said song file work on it and create other concepts not remixes even if what I make doesn’t make it to the final master aren’t I supposed to be credited as a writer or something because I feel that I am being jipped please let me know am I

    • It depends on your arrangement with your employer, and also depends if your contributions constitute songwriting, which is a question of fact in each instance

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  14. Hello! I write the lyrics to my songs, create the vocal harmonies and song pattern/arrangement, and even come up with the basic format of the instrumentation in piano. My producer just takes the basic format of the instrumentation I’ve already created and adds some chords and some more instruments and that’s it. So I ac tually make his job easier than most artists because all of my songs are mostly already put together by the time I get with him so he only adds to the instrumentation really. Does he still get writer credits since he didn’t actually write anything? Especially pertaining to BMI.

    • At first blush, it sounds like he is producing and not co-writing. But I’d have to obtain further info to give a full opinion! Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  15. Pingback: Does my producer deserve publishing and songwriting credit? – The Vocalist Magazine

  16. Hello I was sent a song to sing by a songwriter friend and then I paid to have it produced by them but it was not finished. I have a different producer I want to finish the song and he is enhancing the music also. Who owned the rights to the song?

  17. Hello! I wrote all the lyrics, melodies, harmonies for my music. I’m collaborating with a producer to make the beats using instruments and/or various audio production software. I will sing my lyrics, melodies and harmonies over the producer’s beats. Do I own 100% of the master? Does the producer get any Songwriting credits? Who should be on the SR copyright, and who should be on the PA copyright, and how much % for each? What is a fair arrangement for royalties on each sale? Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Lala. It really depends on what you and the producer agree. Many producers would ask for 50% of the songwriting in the situation you describe. But sometimes, if you are paying them more for a producer fee, they lower this ask. So in short: it depends on many factors. Email me to chat further. Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  18. Hello! A music producer asked me for help in completing some songs that he had started in terms of lyric writing. He already had melody, a story idea and a few lyrics, but almost the whole lyrics of the song came from me. He uploaded the songs on various platforms, YouTube, a website, facebook, but the captions only say “Music by: (his name)”, not mentioning at all that I co-wrote the lyrics with him (in fact most of them). He didn’t even inform me via direct message that he had uploaded them already. You think it’s just right for me to demand a credit and also how about a payment for being his lyricist? Really hoping for your reply. Thank you for your help!

  19. I am currently working with a producer who has produced 2 songs for me. We are meeting tomorrow to get everything in writing. I had the lyrics and melody completely done when I gave him the demo. He produced the track for the song. I want to be fair with him, because he produced both tracks for free. Would he get writer’s credit on either of these songs for producing the track? He did help a little more with the arrangement on the second track. (I wanted to start with the chorus and he suggested to start with the verse and that’s what we did.) Also, because there was no exchange of money, would the producer own the masters? We never discussed that either. I’m not at a place where i have a huge following so unless I sold it for placement, I don’t know if I’d make a lot of money off of either of the songs. Please advise.

    • Hi Laura. Whatever you do, please get something in writing with the producer. You definitely need to own the masters. I would have to hear the songs before and after before giving an opinion on songwriting splits. Email to chat further and let me know what your producer suggested is fair.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

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