What Rights Do You Have in a Sound Recording You Play On?

kurt_dahlArticles, Lawyer News114 Comments

halen 2

I get many emails every week from musicians around the world asking me questions about the music business. One of the most common questions is: what rights do I have in a recording that I performed on? Whether it’s a song you played on decades ago that was just re-released by your former bandmates, or a song recorded last week that has yet to be released, the same principles apply. And whether you’re a drummer, guitar player, oboe soloist, or David Lee Roth, the law is the same.

Your Rights: Two Main Copyrights In A Recording

A starting point is understanding the two main copyrights in a recording: one in the written composition (the songwriting copyright) and one in the recording of that composition (the sound recording copyright).

The revenue streams generated from the songwriting copyright include performance royalties (from radio play, public performance of the song, etc.), mechanical license royalties (a fee paid per-song for every copy of the song that is made), synchronization fees (if the composition is used in film or television), and more.

The revenue streams generated from the sound recording copyright include record sales (both digital and physical), streaming royalties, master use license fees (to use the actual recording of the song in film and television), and more.

Co-writer Rights

If you are a co-writer of the composition that was recorded, you are entitled to a percentage of revenues generated from the songwriting copyright. Some drummers are considered songwriters, some aren’t. Some guitar players are considered songwriters, some aren’t. It really depends on the agreement you have with your bandmates, and the extent of your contribution to the song in question. If you are indeed a co-writer, the other writers cannot exploit the recording containing the composition without your written consent.

For example, if David Lee Roth co-wrote Hot For Teacher, he could stop the other members of Van Halen from using that composition once he left the band. However, this principle does not apply if a publishing agreement was signed, as these rights would be assigned to a publisher (which they were in this instance). But if your indie band has not signed a pub deal, the principle applies: one writer can stop the other writers from using a co-written song, unless something is put down in writing between them.

Rights - DLR

If you are not considered a co-writer of the composition, you still have certain rights in your performance on the recording. Absent an agreement to the contrary, you own your performance on the master recording, and it cannot be exploited without your consent. In other words, even if David Lee Roth didn’t co-write Hot For Teacher, he could still stop his ex-bandmates from exploiting the recording of that song. However, this principle does not apply if a record deal was signed that gives these rights to a record label (again, one was in this instance).

But for indie bands without a record label, the principle applies: without something in writing between the members (a Band Agreement), any single member can stop the others from exploiting recordings that contain their performances.

This comes as a surprise to many of my clients, and is why the Band Agreement is so important. If you record your masterpiece and three months later your bass player quits, he or she could stop you from releasing your masterpiece. As we all know from reading rock and roll bios, bands don’t always stay happy and together (just ask Hagar…or anyone else that sang for Van Halen).

Rights - Hagar

The Modern Musician’s Rights

So what does this mean for you, the modern musician? Well, without a Band Agreement that outlines the various rights and responsibilities of each member vis-a-vis the compositions and sound recordings, any one member can stop the others from exploiting the songs.

My advice: sign a Band Agreement that deals with these issues and clarifies the rights of each member. If no Band Agreement exists and you’re having a dispute with a current or former member, you have the choice of discussing it with them or discussing it through lawyers. One option costs a lot more.

rights - Halen

114 Comments on “What Rights Do You Have in a Sound Recording You Play On?”

  1. What if you pay a producer who hires sessions musicians out of the budget to lay down a bass line or horn partc, etc but they are not actually in the group as it’s a slo act. Can they come back after the fact and block the solo artist from using the record?

    1. Hi Randy,

      They might have that right, without an agreement that states otherwise. I always recommend that a Session Player Agreement is signed, wherein these musicians waive their rights to both the masters and the compositions. Otherwise, the guitar player for example could claim that his riff constitutes songwriting. Or at the very least, he could claim that you do not have the right to exploit his performances.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  2. HI. I have a partnership agreement with my producer that states that we are 50/50 partners on our complete works. He produced all 30 tracks and I wrote the lyrics to all of them. He now wants to dissolve the partnership agreement and take his beats back and license them to me, but I still want to be able to use the music to market my skills toajor labels, and keep my 50/50 of the songs. Should I just say no to that?

  3. Hey Kurt. Just quit a recording session as a drummer. Bad witch voodoo hex on my tracks and too many things I’m pissed off about. Having my stuff withheld from me for 9 months and then being shared before I even got to listen to it once. What I’m I entitled to for leaving? There was no band agreement. They should give me a copy of all my drum tracks + all the work that’s been laid down overtop of it, right? I haven’t heard a goddamn thing yet everyone else heard my stuff before I even did. Thanks

  4. If I was with a band who dropped me some music and asked me to put lyrics to it and I did, but later the band fell apart. Then I reproduced the songs I took part in writing with my own musicians and recording equipment, can I publish these songs without fear that I will be sued for utilizing the musical content from the previous band?

    1. Dayna

      All writers would have to approve of the use of the songs, regardless of their contribution. Without something in writing between all the writers, they could definitely stop you from using the songs in any manner.

      Email to chat more

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

      1. Hey Dayna & Kurt

        Would Dayna be able to take her lyrics and presumably top-line vocal melody and just sing it to a completely different instrumental arrangement/melody?

        And would Dayna be able to block the person who dropped her the music originally from using that music they sent without permission for a completely different vocal/lyrical arrangement?

        Thanks!

        1. Hi Lee

          Without something in writing that clarifies that Dayna wrote the lyrics and not the original music (and vice versa with her former bandmates), you cannot divide up the parts of a song once it’s a whole composition. If Dayna had some sort of evidence that she wrote the lyrics separate from the original music, then maybe she could. It’s a grey area in the law, so you need an entertainment lawyer to assist you on this for sure.

          Thanks

          Kurt Dahl
          Entertainment Lawyer

  5. Hi Kurt,

    If I perform as an instrumental soloist on a video recording that will end up on YouTube and be published on a popular reading app, am I entitled to royalties? I did not compose the solos.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Sara

      You should be entitled to performance royalties through a neighbouring rights collective, unless you otherwise sign away those rights.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  6. Hey there. My buddy was in a band that sold 18 million records. There are documentaries of him in the studio, helping to shape the songs and essentially add to the writing process. However, he never received a penny of the publishing or songwriting royalties. Is there any way to retroactively do something about this?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi D,

      His entitlement to publishing royalties really depends if he was a songwriter of the compositions. Even if he wasn’t a writer, he would still in theory be entitled to revenues from his performances on the master recordings. He should hire a good entertainment lawyer.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  7. I recently left a band because I did not wish to be in a band thats run under a dictatorship by the drummer. We had no written agreements in place. The other members decided they would rather follow me than continue working with him. We could not kick him out because he wouldnt leave because its “his band” I was the person who wrote all of the songs in my home by myself including lyrics for 2 songs and brought to said drummer to add drums to. Now that i have left the band I want to take my music with me and the other guys under a new name but said drummer is now claiming he co wrote everything and has apparent recordings proving it and is talking to an attorney who im guessing is going to.contacting me saying I have no right to play my own music. Is this right?
    Thanks..

    1. Without something in writing, each and every member is presumed to have an equal ownership of all assets. This includes the band name, the masters, etc. For the compositions, it really is a question of fact as to who wrote them. Without something in writing in that regard, no single writer can use the compositions without the consent of the writers. So it sounds like you need to speak with an attorney as well. If you are in Canada, I can help

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  8. Hey,
    Say I have applied for a PA copyright and not a SR copyright but my work has not been published yet so I applied as unpublished work. Then after the copyright is accepted I decide to publish my work as a sound recording will this affect my copyright? Also what are the contingencies with people using my recording and/ or sending it out to be used since I have a copyright on the song but not the recording?

    1. You would have inherent rights in the recording just by the fact that it was recorded and “fixed”. You can always email me the recording and then we have a date/time record of it. Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  9. Hi – a slight curve ball to this.
    Band A has been playing new songs off their proposed album for a while live, but haven’t recorded yet. Musician leaves and says they can’t use the guitar parts they’ve adapted over time for the actual album recording (they aren’t and haven’t been credited as a songwriter). No band agreements in place, but plenty of youtube footage of the new songs at gigs. Is it the same or different? Can a new guitar player come in and record the same parts on the actual recording? No party can prove otherwise…or can they? thanks

    1. The old guitar player would own his performances if they were recorded, but the new guitar player could record new performances on the masters. However, the old player would own his contributions to the songwriting, if he is considered a songwriter. So there’s a distinction here between the performances (which you can re-record) and the actual songwriting (which the new player cannot claim to have written).

      In other words: If Mick kicked Keith Richards out of the band, Keith wouldn’t all of a sudden lose his songwriting on the songs already written. But a new guitar player could come in and record new guitar parts on new versions of old Stones songs, for example.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  10. Hi,
    could you tell me how long a record label holds the rights in a recording please?
    I should that the label in question is UK based and the contract was signed in 1970……….although I no longer have a copy.
    Thanks.

  11. I have paid a studio 20 thousand in full. Now he wont give me ny masters. He wants a producer contract when the studio advertised all inclusive. I wrote the music for all songs. Now he will not give me my masters. Says i oew him 1000 dollars. Liar! And wants points after the fact. How do i get a judge to oder him to return my files? Is this fraud?

  12. Hi Kurt,

    Very informative. I’m in a situation now where I’ve written and recorded a guitar part and a producer is going to use it on his track as a sample (I’m assuming, he hasn’t showed me the final track). How do you suggest I move forward with the business end of things?

    Thanks,
    Sean

  13. Hey Kurt, Simple question (I hope!). I am the composer and copyright holder of a Christmas song. I got an album cut and and have received royalties (BMI). The publishing rights are owned by a publishing company. Can I record my song for digital release w/o paying the publisher for mechanical license?

  14. Kurt- I am releasing my own arrangement of a famous song. I am getting PDD licensing through the Harry Fox site. As producer of this “version” what do I won? Mechanical rights? And what are those exactly? If someone wants to use MY recording in film/video then I get paid, but not for airplay on SAirius XM? I’m not quite certain how that all works. If a movie wants to use my recording does the writer/publisher have to give their OK, or do they just get their share, and what % would that be?

  15. I was in a band some time ago, but we disbanded during the recording process of our first album.
    Though none of the tracks were finished, we all received a letter stating that no member of the band could rightfully reproduce or sell those songs now that the band had parted ways. Made perfect sense to me.
    Now, almost a year later, I have been, without my knowledge or permission, “featured” to promote the sale of a rough recording of one of the aforementioned songs.
    This person has not only been promoting this song all over social media but has now begun to send the song link directly to my friends and family to promote his own sales of the song, again, without my permission, and making money off of them because they don’t know it’s not to support me in anyway.

    Is there anything I can do?

    1. Hi Leila,

      I suggest you hire an entertainment lawyer and enforce your rights under the letter you mention, not to mention your rights contained on the record.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  16. Hi,
    My name’s xavier and I recently started working with a startup label (we’ll call SHADY RECORDS) in the SF Bay Area. The idea being that they send backing tracks, essentially, I write all the lyrics/vocals and perform them myself, they pay for the recording and we split the revenue based on a percentage. Nothing was signed as this was meant to be a completely non exclusive agreement with the option to sign into exclusivity at a later time.

    After a series of extremely unprofessional antics and attempts to intimidate me from 1, of the 2, owners and their romantic partner, I’ve decided to leave the situation.

    I recorded our phone conversations in which we discussed our exit plan. We discussed that the music, which they had the rights to record, master, and start publishing on their social media accounts, would obviously no longer be sold, as I didn’t want the owner making money off of my work BUT that I could use them for my own demo material to demonstrate my abilities with the understanding that and that I would not monetize anything featuring the tracks.
    They, the owners, go on to say, that if a need any help in the future that they offer their assistance and will “support [me] in any way [they] can.”

    Fast forward and now I’ve gotten a message, after we’d concluded the exit agreement talk, trying to limit how I can use the demos (i.e. no demos allowed on the internet, regardless of wether it’s clearly labeled a demo and not being monetized on, and not linking or referencing SHADY REDORDS)

    They are now claiming that neither party can post the tracks because the project is not moving forward. They’ve said they give the rights back to the producer of the backing track even though they claim to have been given the rights to record, master, and publish the recording featuring the backing tracks.
    It would appear to me that this rescinding of rights to the master recordings (which I didn’t know was even possible) happened after the recorded exit agreement, in which they gave me permission to use the track for demos and non monetarily. This is because during, and after, the recorded call had ended, my image/music featuring the backing tracks had been published and used as promo on SHADY RECORDS various Instagram accounts and the mixing/mastering process on one of the two tracks is still currently being finished.

    To top it all off, somehow the label though they claim to have no rights, has the option to use the backing tracks for a different artist if they so choose in the future, to be recorded and published, etc…

    I’m a little confused as I thought I’ve earned the rights to the master as I had permission to record over the backing track and wrote and perfomed everything else featured on the recording myself with no help from SHADY RECORDS or the third party.

    What are my options?/Can they go back on they’re recorded exit agreement?

    Thank you so much for your time

    1. Hi Xavier,

      Sounds like you need to hire an entertainment lawyer in Cali. Technically, neither party can do anything with the songs because you’re co-writers. Or – you can’t do anything without the other’s consent. Your phone conversation will only help you if it goes to court, and that costs tens of thousands of dollars. So a) hire a lawyer or b) try to reach an agreement with them on your own.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  17. I am a recording artist ona Indie label. Recently o e of our aong writers(who is no longer on label) took my recorded songs that I recorded that I co wrote on and 2 she wrote (that was NOT PUBLISHED or copywrite and put her cover photo of herself and all her info on credits and left me off and was selling my new releases as her own.. Then when I demanded she remove may vocals she went back to studio and got copies of master mp3 back tracks that was made from my acupella vocal melody to create song and re released them.. Also the kne song that I wrote I had registered with bmi waiting copy write also register melody acupella vocals ect. The studio guy allowed her use if my master track. Helped her rename the song and remove half the lyrics changing its wording but sang by original melody. That I have registered and published. What can I do to stop them. Also I have text after text that she told mw whe was dieing of a t we seminal illness all was a lie

  18. Hi there Kurt.
    As a Writer/Composer myself that has owned Studios professionally in Scandinavia and consequently worked major Studios in the UK, I’ve naturally
    been privileged to have everything at my disposal to Produce every Song I’ve written from click track to Master.
    This includes asking Session players (as friend & colleague) to help out as paid work.
    Part of this has been also being able to ask some formidable Vocalist talent to
    “do” the song for me, both as paid work and to help me finish the Song, not to
    launch their career (one was working for Kylie Minogue, Beverley Knight, Sting)
    others have gone on to make Pro. Careers signed and others more recently I would like to give them more publicity such is the talent).
    This is recorded work as far back as 98-2003 and more recent projects.
    I’m at the point now of wanting to compile all my Catalogue of these projects as a Songwriter with a Distribution Co. on all the usual media platforms, but am suddenly filled with trepidation in respect of if I can simply submit them under my name as Songwriter/Composer etc or if I have to be more aware of the fact that the Session players/Singers will be a problem for me?
    They knew it was personal work that ultimately I was wanting to submit for Publishing at some point as a Songwriter.
    Is this a case of “no signed disclaimer, beware??)
    Kind regards.
    Mike.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Ideally they would have all signed Session Player Agreements that would govern. It sounds like that’s not the case. However, they may have registered their performances with the appropriate neighboring rights entity. Or you can, if you have the relevant info.

      Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  19. If i created a group (just the two of us) and i paid for everything, studio, production, masters, videos, etc. and the other member of the group only wrote a few lyrics to add in to a verse or do background vocals, and we split up and went separate ways, but i own the masters, can he release the music or distribute it ? We do not have a band agreement. Ive also sent a cease & desist letter and it is not being taken into account. Am i allowed to release the songs since i own the masters? Or do I need written consent from him?

    1. Without something in writing, neither you nor him can release/exploit the music without the other’s consent, as you’re both considered equal owners.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  20. Hey Kurt,

    I am a singer/songwriter and I want to go do an amateur recording with a guy I know at his house studio, just to hear myself and explore possibilities.

    He is a dj and not sure if he is a capable producer, or that I would like to work with him in the future, if there is a future.

    None the less, how should I protect myself for any future disputes that may arise and if we do decide to work together, what kind of agreement would you suggest?

    Thank you in advance for your time, effort and advice.

    Regards,
    Jure

    1. Definitely a Producer Agreement once you agree that you’re going to work together. Make sure you own the masters, and that songwriting is dealt with (i.e. is he going to be a co-writer or not). Thanks

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  21. Hi Kurt,

    I performed on an album as a drummer, all tracks and as a member of a band. That record went on to sell quite well but I was A. Never paid a dime, B. Never signed a release.

    One of the former members of that band approached the band leader about the subject of royalties and was told to take a flying leap. The issue was never broached again. My question is— can I register the material with a platform like Sound Exchange to recover some of those owed royalties?

    Realistically, the three of us who were never paid or signed releases, have a legitimate claim as co-songwriters and I have hours and hours of rehearsal recordings that prove it. But the focus of my question is about claiming status as a “Featured Artist” and recovering those royalties owing to performance, rather than publishing or writing.

    Thank you!

  22. What if your band mates kick you out mid tour without consulting the label first hand.and they never give you a release of separation

    1. Depends if they have that right in a Band Agreement. If no agreement, you would still have rights in your performances on the recordings, unless you gave them up in a record deal.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  23. How are you.. So its a movie out called Blue Hill Avenue. When I was alittle younger me and my cousin did a soundtrack to the movie and before we knew it was getting used for that movie. How do we go about getting a law suit because our parents weren’t asked nor were we asked if it could get used?!

  24. Hi there Kurt,

    I’m an independent singer-songwriter from the Midwest and a senior at a music college. I’m about to go into a studio in a few weeks and record 8 of my original songs with some friends. One of them the other day mentioned filling out split sheets for the sessions, but I’ve only ever heard of split sheets being completed for the actual songwriting. I’ve written all of the songs on my own and have registered the copyright here in the US as they’ve been completed over the last 3 years. They habe also been registered with BMI since I joined last year.

    I am a solo artist and want to release this music as a solo record when the process is done. That has been the plan all along and the musicians are well-aware of that. I am financing the entire project myself (no outside monetary resources). I have no issue with them using the recordings in a portfolio or something similar, but don’t want it given away or have something held over my head 20 years down the line. What kind of documentation do I need to be protected here so that I don’t run into problems down the line? What are the rights they have as sessions musicians versus “actual band mates”?

    1. Hi LeAnn,

      I always suggest that a Session Player Agreement be drafted and signed in these situations. You want it made clear that they will not take any ownership in the Masters nor will they acquire any songwriting from their contributions in the studio.

      Email me and I can help.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  25. We (Our Band Katzz) from Cleveland had our album out years ago. We sold thousands of Units and was Aired on 93Fm at least 5-6 times every day for about 9 months. And since We were number 2 on the roster chart We were also offered to sign With 3 major labels, Warner Bro for one. The Record Company gave is 72 hours to sign but our Manager decided that he did want the deal. That was our last offer before I quit..To this day 26 years later I still hear the song being played and our manager still hasn’t paid me a penny for helping create the Hit song or singing backgrounds and all the ad libs. Is there anyway I can collect for from him this back pay is it true that I was supposed to be paid to$45,000 a year for my part and creating the song and singing background vocals and coming up with ideas for the songs

    1. That’s a tough one. You can definitely hire a lawyer to see if you have monies owed to you. I don’t know how much that would be, but that’s what a lawyer in your area could hopefully find out.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  26. Hi Kurt, i am a drummer/vocalist i play covers in a band & have been playing for 30 + years in various bands, i am unsigned, but 10 years ago i met a singer/songwriter & he wanted me to play drums on about 5 of his songs, 1 of them as been on download sites like I tunes & Amazon for the past 10 years, i don’t know how many people have downloaded & paid for the song, & how much money he as made from it, but as a unsigned musician can i get a small percentage of whatever has been made on the song, i didn’t sign a agreement with him, but it is really bugging me that i might be able to get something from the downloads the song as had.. Ricky..

  27. Hi Kurt,

    What if an artist signs with a small record company, releases a few albums (in the 90’s), and then the record company closes shop in the early 2000’s. Does the copyright for those releases/albums go back to the artist?

    1. Depends on the language in the recording agreement Brett! I always insert a clause if I’m repping the artist that covers this point – i.e. if the label goes into bankruptcy etc., those rights revert to artist. But just “closing shop” is different. In theory, the owner would still be able to collect money on their catalog, unless a clause in the deal indicates otherwise.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  28. Here is our predicament, that throws a wrench into the question. We finished a record. I engineered it and produced it myself. I played on it as well. Our singer had a mental breakdown (literally) and decided we were all the devil. He explicitly said if we continued without him, we could not use his lyrics or melodies (the rest of the band wrote the music). We decided to disband the band, but still want to release the record – it took a year to finish. Can he stop us, even if we offer it up as a free download? No profits to be made?

  29. I performed violin in a band and we recorded two albums on our own. The band dissolved after a while but are now back together without me, and have put up the album we recorded on spotify, iTunes, etc without notifying me. They are also using photos of me in their marketing. Is there anything I can do to stop them from releasing that album online/using my likeness? Am I entitled to a portion of the money they receive? I am credited on both albums. Talking to them like an adult is not an option unfortunately. Thanks!

    1. Unless you signed away your personality rights, they have no right to use your name/likeness. But you need to hire a lawyer and send a firmly worded letter.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  30. Hello. I have a concern regarding my current situation. I, a drummer, am not in a band with an ex-bandmate, a guitarist. There are pieces of songs that have not been recorded, and there is plenty more material that is recorded onto a music sharing platform for demo and writing purposes (guitar tracks only, no lyrics). None of these recorded tracks were ever copyrighted or had any licensing implementing the rights to the content creator. It must also be noted that there was never a band agreement made that would pertain to this predicament in which I am currently facing. My question I have for you would be is there a chance that I could face legal trouble if I recorded all of the music that we wrote together and released it? I don’t entirely like the idea of using what he wrote onto this album; however I don’t like the idea of not releasing this music even more and keeping it as a memory. I believe I have some entitlement to the music because of my contributions, but anything that can clarify my concern would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for your time.

    1. If you recorded co-written songs on your own and released them, any of the other writers could stop you from keeping these songs available for sale and possibly sue you for any revenues made etc.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  31. I am putting together a cd album of guitar instrumentals of which i composed digitally and then sent to various guitarists throughout the world to play the lead guitar on to a backing track. All the songs are registered in my name here in the UK. My question is as the composer obviously i would receive royalties as the songwriter but i am aware the performers would be entitled to performance royalties would these be paid by the respective Performing Rights Society in each country ?

  32. Hi Kurt,

    Firstly, thank you so much for the resource! I do session vocals for a variety of projects, and was just asked to record lead vocals for an original band’s 10-song album. They are in the UK, so I’d be recording remotely. I’m fine with not having songwriting credit (as I am simply recording what was written). But I would like to have access to performance royalties, should the song be placed 0n a TV show, or a popular youtube channel, etc. How should I word this on the written agreement? Are there examples online of such contracts? Thanks again!
    Sincerely,
    Alison

    1. Hi Allison,

      Hmm, great question. I don’t know about templates that fit this situation, but if you Google “Session Player Agreement” you could edit it to cover you and include performance royalty entitlement. This is of course the second best option after hiring a trusted entertainment lawyer. But you definitely want something in writing to ensure that you get those perf royalties, especially because you’re the lead singer on all 10 songs…if one of them blows up, it will be largely because of your contributions. Hope this helps

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  33. I started a band with 2 other guys and wrote all the music. We were recommended to go to a producer and he and I used my music and developed it all into similar songs to my own. We did not sign a contract, and as far as I know, we all had equal rights. I was kicked out of the band a few months later and the remaining members re-recorded the exact music with another guys vocals instead of mine. They changed their name and I am not mentioned in anything. The producer said we can all do whatever we want with the songs since we are all equal owners. They are now getting ready to sign a deal with a label. I am never mentioned in anything. Have I been lied to?

    1. Your producer is wrong. Each writer can stop the others from using the compositions unless he/she gives written consent. So you can stop them from using the songs, you just need to hire a lawyer to draft a letter etc

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  34. I created and am the “owner” of a musical ensemble (LLC) I write all of the music and lyrics(Copyright on all). My (hired) band and I went into the studio where we recorded the songs and they laid their parts down. All musicians were paid for their recordings and vocalists paid for their recording(s) as well.. Recording, producing, design and pressing of CD’s was done by and paid for by me-the LLC.

    What royalty rights might these members have with regard to the songs that they performed on? Thank you.

    1. That’s partly up to you, i.e. whether you want to cut them in on royalties from the sale of the masters. They would be entitled to neighboring rights for their performances on the masters. Hope this helps!

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  35. I recently left the band I was in. I was the drummer and did some vocals. I no longer want to be associated with the band. The members are refusing to remove photos of me and to return my drum and vocal tracks for an upcoming album we recorded. The current members insist on still using them even though I am not giving them permission to do so. No band agreement has been signed. What can I do?

  36. Thank you Kurt that is very helpful to know – one follow up -What is neighboring rights? Would that be something through Sound Exchange for example? It is not something I collect and distribute to them correct?

    Thank you so much.

    Joy

  37. Played guitars on over 30tracks with different artiste..some has paid session fee, without a release form.. While some haven’t paid a dime..all songs have been published and making lots of money via downloads. Songs even getting awards.. Any royalty plan?.

  38. If I wrote and performed on an album with a band that was released 10 years ago, and my name was listed on the original contract ( as 1/5th of the band), am I still entitled to royalties? I never received any monies despite the album (and an acoustic release of some of the songs) reaching close to 100k total sales? Additionally would I be entitled to monies made from video content (YouTube etc.) where I was in the video, and the band was able to capitalize on ad revenue (60+ million views)?

    1. In theory, you would still be entitled to 1/5, unless you gave away any rights to a record label or in an agreement with your former members.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  39. Hi in 2017 I recorded a collaboration song where I paid an unsigned artist a lump sum to have him free style several verses on my song. I want to release that song now to the public and that artist is now signed with a major record label.

    Does that artist or record label have any rights to control the release of my song?

  40. If I wrote and recorded an album in 2009 (released in 2010) as part of a band signed to a record label contract. Do I still have the right to royalties owed? I was never paid for my work on the album, despite the album doing well.

  41. hey kurt , my name is tonyswing artist latin singer , bare with me for a bit. so sorry, I recorded my first cd tonyswing por fin. in 2000 under a label who had to disappear not good business (Latins best). under distrubition by universal, I don’t remember a contract, let me explain when cd came out months later I was in a tragic bad apartment fire in nyc , so everything got lost, and sorry to say lost my kids in smoke inhalation,,,and well I was in a coma so my memory well not the best, anyways question im trying to make a comeback , besides new music that im recording, I was wondering , can I take out those songs I recorded then???thats already recorded if I found them ??ON THIS NEW PLATFORM???? its basically almost 20years later, sorry for the long message , this would help me a lot , just someone trying to get back to what I love.. AGAIN SORRY FOR THE LONG MESSAGE
    TONYSWING

    1. Hi Tony,

      Really truly sorry to hear of this tragedy. I guess it all depends if there is a recording agreement that governs things. If you have no way of finding it, you can always try to re-release the music and see what happens.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  42. Hey Kurt,

    I’m happy to see this post has been alive for so long and hopefully helping a lot of people. Quick question, if my band is an LLC, can the band agreement state all creative ownership of songs is property of that LLC to prevent issues if there is a falling out between members in the future?

    1. Yes, via the Band Agreement, you can have all master recordings being owned by the company. But then you want to make sure that ownership/control of the company is clearly articulated as well.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  43. Hi Kurt!

    Thanks so much for this resource! I am in a band where we are getting ready to release some recordings. I am the songwriter in the traditional sense (vocal melody, lead guitar melody, lyrics & chords), but I would like to share the songwriting credit with the other people in the band (bass and drums) like Chris Martin does in Coldplay, or Win Butler in Arcade Fire. I also recorded and mixed the recordings.

    I’m a solo performer and composer, so I understand how the different rights organizations work and how to register both the songwriting and mechanical copyrights, but the other guys don’t have any experience with that at all.

    Sounds like we need a band agreement for sure, but do you have any tips on how other bands do the splits and how I should register the songs if the other guys are not registered with SOCAN or anything? Thanks!

    1. I’ve seen so many different arrangements, and every band falls on the spectrum somewhere. If you’re in Canada, I’m happy to have a call to discuss, as I’d need more info to give any real advice on the appropriate splits.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  44. Hi,

    Im currently in a UK based band, which last year brought in a new singer. We struggled to connect on a personal level and relationshipse became strained to say the least.

    In that year, we have recorded and released one song with said singer, which i’m not even sure he paid for his part. He has neither written nor composed any portion of this or any song we’ve done, only performed them.

    As of a few weeks ago, he threatened again to pull out of a show and caused another argument, upon which he quit the band. Since then, we’ve tried to be amicable, but he’s refusing to let things lie.

    As of today, he has told us we can no longer use any recordings or videos that were done while he was in the band. Which means removing all photographs and videos from all Social Media platforms, removing the recording from Music streaming services and not allowing the release of a pro-shot video of a major festival appearance.

    We have no agreement in place. We’re not a signed act, and have made no money from any of this. We’re just a local band doing this for fun with no aspirations of superstardom.

    Can he demand that we no longer use items featuring his image and recording when they were authorised and distributed while he was part of the band? Can he block the video release ?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Unfortunately, he has personality rights on anything that includes his image/performance, so yes – he can stop you from using photos, recordings, videos, etc unless he signed away those rights which it sounds like he did not. Wish I had better news for you!

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  45. Hi Kurt,

    I am an unsigned music producer, and I wrote 50% of a song (the musical arrangement) and an artist who is signed to Warner Records wrote the other 50% (the lyrics). I know that I have rights to 50% of the songwriting copyright, but since I am not signed, does this mean I also have rights to 50% of the sound recording copyright? Or does his label own 100% of the sound recording copyright?

    Thanks,
    Jules

    1. It would depend on the deal signed with Warner and what the two of you have agreed upon (i.e. sometimes producers offer a lower producer fee in exchange for ownership of the master, etc).

      So, in short, I need more info! Email me

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  46. Hi Kurt,
    If you’re in a band and the person who writes the lyrics leaves, can he/she stop you from performing the songs live at gigs? I understand that recording and publishing the songs would be a different matter but playing live, can that person really just kill the prospect of any more live gigs? Thanks

  47. Hello Kurt!

    So I’m a composer and songwriter attending a music university and over my years here I’ve recorded many of my songs, with performers ranging between myself to about 5 other people in various different combinations. These were just practice recordings or even school projects for sound recording majors. Now I want to collect some of these as an album to help get my name out there as a singer/songwriter.

    All of the songs are and were clearly solely my compositions presented to the musicians. However, they all performed them. I know I need to get permission from the musicians to publish recordings of their performances, but do I need to contact the sound recorders for permission, and is it normal to offer them a percentage of profits? Can the performers still claim cowriting simply because there were no written agreements?

    1. I think a Session Player Agreement for all performers should cover you. Make sure the agreements states that you have permission to use their performances on the recordings, and that they are not acquiring songwriting rights. A similar type agreement could be used with the recorders/producers, to be safe.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  48. Hey Kurt

    I was in a band years ago with no formal agreement about songwriting splits. After leaving the band a few years ago i got a call from a friend telling me he heard one of my old bands songs on a major network television series mulitple times and on a few major video games. After doing some research, I found out my former band mate signed a huge publishing deal under his name without letting anyone who was or is in the band know. He was given a massive advancement and continues to collect on song I recorded on and feel like I really helped shape. They only problem is I am a drummer. Any advice?

    1. If you can prove that you’re a co-writer of some of those songs, you definitely have a legal case against him for some of the advance and revenues generated. Contact an entertainment lawyer in your area.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  49. Hi Kurt,

    I am getting my music catalog in order spanning back 10 years in order to submit to libraries with a view to obtaining as many syncs as possible.

    Do I have to obtain the permission of the producers who produced the songs and the session vocalists whom I hired to sing the songs before starting the process of submitting to libraries and gaining syncs? I paid the producers (so presumably I own the masters?) but we didn’t sign any waiver agreements for either the singers or producers.

    There is also a song with a famous singer’s vocals who recorded, but never released, a song I wrote. Do I need her permission?

    I would be most grateful for your advice on this please.

    Kind regards,

    James

    1. To be safe, you should have written agreements with both the producers (Producer Agreement) and performers (Session Player Agreements), otherwise a) the performers could very easily argue that they never assigned their rights in their performances to you and b) the producers could argue that they are co-owners of the masters, which is quite often the case.

      So unfortunately, you’re not fully protected until both those groups have signed off on things.

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  50. Hi kurt,
    Apologies if this has been answered before but I couldn’t see it above…
    I’m not a drummer but a saxophonist in the UK. I was asked by a friend’s band to put some sax on 3 songs for them in 2017 which have subsequently been released by a record company to some success. I also performed these songs live with them twice. All sax music was improvised by me and, therefore, written by me so do I have the right to claim a percentage as co- writer (PRS) and performer (PPL) or just performer? No session agreement was signed and no fee ever paid or promised.
    Many thanks!

    1. Definitely performance rights/revenues, and the songwriting question is a tougher question – typically a sax part doesn’t count as songwriting (just like a guitar solo or piano solo wouldn’t). The exception would be if that sax part fundamentally changed the composition and nature of the song (I’m thinking of Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty, for example). But I would say it’s safe to assume that your performance doesn’t count as songwriting, as you were playing over an established chord structure and melody I am presuming.

      I hope this helps

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  51. I recently completed my new album and I want to make sure that the musicians that collaborated with my producers. I finished my copyrights but now before i register with ascap I wanted to make sure I do it correctly.

  52. I had a handshake deal with 2 different producers I paid them cash for tracks and recording time
    It was 25 yrs ago I wanna re-release the album
    I don’t need to get permission from anybody to re-release the album do I?

    1. With my lawyer hat on: technically they could claim songwriting or a % of master ownership.
      With my business/musician hat on: go ahead and do it, and if they come forward with demands, we can deal with it then.
      Hope this helps

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  53. Kurt- You are doing a wonderful service for a community that, on average, doesn’t understand how money works and has been taken advantage of since music was first sold- thanks for what you do! I run a band that played a live gig a year ago. The venue recorded the performance and I personally paid 100% of the cost for the raw track recordings. I paid all band members with a check for their live performance services that night; we did not have and still do not have any written agreements. Regarding the recording, I recently mixed and paid to have 7 tracks mastered. One of these tracks is an original song written by our other singer; I plan to sign a royalty agreement with him. The other 6 songs were covers; I’ll pay royalties to the original song writers. Regarding the other 3 musicians that night (1 musician was a backup), can they claim a portion of sales from the masters I have completely worked on and paid for considering I paid them a performance check that night? If yes, it seems like my options are to do nothing with the masters or cut them in on royalties (which I probably won’t make the money back that I have invested in buying tracks and mastering), but you never know. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Frank. Bottom line: you need a Session Player Agreement (or Side Man Agreement) to ensure that they give you the rights to use their live performances on the recording, and then sell the recordings. Without that, they could argue that they never gave you the right to record and exploit these recordings. Hope this helps

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  54. If a co-writer of a song has license to grant non-exclusive use of a song then how is it he can be blocked from releasing that song himself with other musicians other than the other co-writer?
    If there are several writers of a song that would seem to grant extraordinary power to any one dissenter in the exploitation of that work. In effect it would be denying the fair use and the ability of all other co-writers to earn anything from their work. Is there a time frame for this? If said writer doesn’t like what the others plan to do with the song, can they block it in perpetuity when they have made no effort for the use of that work , again denying the co-equals to see the benefit of their work?

  55. Hey there, very difficult situation I’m in. I’ve recorded two albums in which I am the sole producer, mixer and songwriter (apart from two songs on one of the albums with an old key player) and I am also starting an independent record label since I mixed/mastered and published all my work via TuneCore. I had an old drummer of mine play the drums on the two albums, he had no songwriting credits however and nothing was signed. He was a very mean person and quit the band after an alcohol fueled fight. If I’ve technically signed my act (and two albums) to my own record label, do I have the rights to both of my albums and are they safe from being forcefully taken down/demanded revenue from? I would like to never talk to the drummer again if possible however I have a feeling he’d attempt to make me take everything down or demand a substantial amount of money even though I spent years by myself on each album.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Technically he could demand that his performances be removed from the recordings, as he hasn’t signed away his rights in those performances. So either have them re-recorded, or proceed hoping that he doesn’t ever find this out. Hope this helps!

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

  56. Also adding on the comment I just made (its Andrew still) the second album is still unreleased and I am very close to releasing it and am wondering if I should sign myself before doing it in order to avoid going through the labor of having to re-record all the drums if that drummer were to want to spite me.

  57. Hello and thank you for the great service.
    I wrote a couple of songs (melody and lyrics) and hired a couple of musicians on hourly basis to record the songs at their studio., with no written agreement.
    We’re not even finished with the recording and I’ve been asking them to sign a contract with me so that our rights are clear.
    Now they’re claiming that they have sound recording rights.
    That was not our. renal agreement!
    Can I just discontinue work with them and go start recording from scratch with other musicians?
    This time with proper contract in place beforehand.
    Are they able to come after me, even though they’ve been paid their hourly rate for all hours worked?
    I gave to say that now they’re claiming that they discounted their hourly rate to me in hopes of a cut at the back end!

    1. I would recommend a Session Player Agreement be signed, where they acknowledge that they aren’t writers and don’t have any rights in the recording (other than their neighboring rights entitlement as performers on the recording – which they are entitled to). Hope this helps!

      Kurt Dahl
      Entertainment Lawyer

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