Song Writing- Who gets Credit?

fixxxer

Senior Member
I am in a three piece band- singer/ lead guitar, bassist and drummer (me). We work as a "democracy" where there is no defined leader and everyone has equal say in how things go with the band.

All of our original material is usually born from jam sessions where we come up with songs that we like, and together, we start forming a song structure out of them. I will say that our singer/ lead guitarist writes all of the lyrics for the songs.
My question is, in a situation like this, who actually can take credit for writing the songs?

I ask this because recently the singer is getting somewhat of a big head and taking full credit for writing all of our originals to the extent that he announces (on stage to the audience) that he wrote them, which the bassist and I find a bit offensive because we feel we played a part in developing these songs.

Before we confront him (in an attempt to bring him back down to reality) I just want to make sure I understand how credit is given for song writing in this type of situation.
Thanks ahead for your responses!
 
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MJD

Silver Member
For the songs that were written out of jam sessions where you were all present you all get credit. For the things he wrote outside of practice and then brought in he gets credit even if you and the bass player wrote your own parts. For instance i'm the drummer in a band. I come up with an idea while riding on the train and quickly scribble down the melody(always carry staff paper with you btw) and chords and bassline. thats my song i wrote it. Another instance I'm the guitarist in a band and the bass player starts off a cool lick and i quickly come up with counter lines and a vocal melody while the drummer comes in with a groove. That is the band's song and all of our names better appear in the byline of the sheet music if it ever get's published.
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
We work as a "democracy" where there is no defined leader and everyone has equal say in how things go with the band.
A democracy.​

.... recently the singer is getting somewhat of a big head and taking full credit for writing all of our originals
Not a democracy. You need to nip this one in the bud. It needs to be addressed, talked out, and put down on paper.​
Mostly, just "common courtesy" would suggest fair play .... that everyone gets song writing credit. Unless your singer/guitarist actually charts bass and drum parts, he's not "writing" the entire song. Another option requires his pockets to be as big as his ego. Then he pays you and the bass player salary. You guys become "hired guns" behind his musical machine.​
 

fixxxer

Senior Member
@ harryconway- Yes! I agree with you 100%. We are trying to keep it a democracy but his head is getting a little large and we are getting ready to remind him of the "common courtesy" part real soon before it gets out of hand. Just wanted to make sure I am on the right track with it first. Thanks!

@MJD- Yeah, he has never come to us and said, "Here is the bassline for my idea and here is how I want the drums played". On all of the songs, we have created our own parts. Thanks for the clarification!
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
If you all worked on the arrangement, it's everyone's song. Probably best to just have him say "this is some of our original music".
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
From a legal stand point, what can be copyrighted as song writing is the melody, harmony and lyrics.

Everything else is just considered an arrangement.

So if he writes the riff, the melody, and lyrics, and you come up a drum part that compliments said riff, your drum part (from a legal standpoint) is not actually "writing" it is just adding an arrangement to his songwriting.

Legalities aside, if all the songwriting is done from jamming as a band, and you are a 3 piece democracy, then yes, "common courtesy" would suggest that everyone gets song writing credit. This is how the Doors did it, how Van Halen used to do it.

In Nirvana, Kurt Cobain wrote 100% of everything. But he shared credit in the early days because he didn't want Ghrol and Novoselic to broke and quit the band. After the band had considerable success, and it was apparent the other two were raking in plenty of money, Kurt asked them to return all credit to him, which apparently they agreed to do so.

In Rush, Neil gets no credit for writing the music, even though it's pretty apparent he writes the vast majority of the drum parts that made him a drumming star. But he does write all the lyrics, so gets paid as a song writer anyway.

Overall, it's a bit of fine line that many bands have broken up over, either before or after success.

But as Harry suggested, if he doesn't want to split credit, ask him to pay you for your time as a hired gun.

Nick (masonni) wrote a good article on that subject that is in a thread around here somewhere.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
From a legal stand point, what can be copyrighted as song writing is the melody, harmony and lyrics.

Everything else is just considered an arrangement.
That's pretty much it right there. I played in a band once with "musicians" that would hold this over me knowing that the drum part couldn't be copywritten - despite that we all banged it out from scratch in my basement.

Very frustrating. You have to be careful about who you choose to play with because these things can, and often do, come up.

But to play devil's advocate for a second, you (as a drummer) have to recognize that even the stuff written that started as just a jam will have been made up of melodies (vocal and otherwise) that were conceived by the "musicians".

I'm a sucker for a good melody and if a guitar player/singer/bass player is good enough to come up with something special, then I'm willing to concede that ground, and take my equitable share (whatever that is that we can agree on).
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Except where there is an agreement stating otherwise, or the drummer actually does compose some or all of the melody or lyrics, he is not normally entitled to a credit. If the drummer was entitled to a credit based on the drum parts, imagine how many copyright infringement actions might arise from simply playing a straight 16th fill, or a 'time' beat, that appears on another recording!

Just being present at the inception of a song, and playing a beat, doesn't typically amount to writing anything. When Bruce Gary (The Knack) tried to claim a credit for the writing of "My Sharona" becuase of its signature drum part, Doug Feiger subsequently issued his demo of the song showing that his guitar part existed first in the intro, and Bruce simply copied the rhythm. Both of them are gone now, I suppose they're still arguing about it.

I've been involved in the development of drum parts for virtually every Weird Al original song (roughly 80 compositions to date) and I have no illusions about having written any percentage of those songs. I'm simply playing beats and fills that a thousand other drummers have also played on recordings. I doubt that any part I've played qualifies as original enough to itself or the particular song, regardless of how integral it may be to the song, to merit a writing credit.

You didn't state whether there was ever an agreement that everyone would participate equally, I'm guessing your question is strictly academic. I think a discussion with the other guys will help clear things up. But I'll stick my neck out and say that they probably won't consider your drum parts as credit-worthy in the writing process.

Sorry, that's just the drummer's lot most of the time.

Bermuda
 

fixxxer

Senior Member
Thank you all for your replies so far!
Fortunately, this is not a legal issue or about money (at this time). We are much too small of an outfit for that! We are just three guys that got together, started making music together and started gigging together never even thinking in terms of who wrote what until this last Saturday night at a gig the singer/ guitarist introduced about 3 or 4 of our orginals by starting out saying (to the audience), "When I wrote this song......" or "I wrote this next one about........". Never giving credit to the band.

Granted, he did write all of the lyrics. It just kinda rubbed the bassist and me a little wrong.

I agree that it would be a little hard to convince a judge (or anyone else for that matter) that I wrote the drums parts. I am definately not playing anything that hasn't already been done before. This all just goes back to a common courtesy issue that we are going to sit him down and have a talk with him about. If he wants to stake total claim to the song writing we can easily leave the "democracy" and become hired guns for him and he can start paying us! :)
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
A band can be a democracy, and still not share in every aspect of being a band. I'd be careful about being so polarized regarding getting an acknowledgment or getting paid. Insisting on one or the other may result in gettikng you ousted.

Short of legal contracts, the spoken agreements between bandmembers carry little weight, and cannot be enforced. You might be able to reason with the singer and get him to be less self-serving when announcing the songs, but that's the best you can hope for. In the end, you either accept what it is/becomes, or you leave. Those are your options in the case of a selective democracy.

I've never insisted on much as either a sideman, or bonafide member of a band, and my career's been great as a result. There are a lot of guys who want things their way or believe they're owed something, and have been willing to take a stand. I don't know very many of them that are still playing music though.

You've gotta roll with the punches as much as possible. That doesn't mean allowing yourself to be taken advantage of, it simply means choose your battles carefully. Don't let your ego or pride or personal sense of right & wrong get in the way of moving forward with your music.

Bermuda
 

MJD

Silver Member
Harmony (meaning chord progression) cannot be copyrighted - that's the only way blues can continue to exist.
Yes and no. While a straight up chord progression of say A A6/3 D A E7 D7 A cannot be a song that is built on that can be provided that you write out a specific melody and specific lyrics. also specific recordings can be copyrighted while the song that is recorded remains public domain. Urgg copyright class in college was freaking confusing. Still it's nice to know that the moment i write out one of my tunes on staff paper it is technically protected under copyright even if it is not properly registered yet. I really must get around to doing that. Should probably finish the overture first
 

fixxxer

Senior Member
@ bermuda- Good advise given. Yes, as much as we try to keep it a total democracy, we have already found that others wind up carrying more of the load than others when you look at things like promoting, booking, equipment needs and other expenses that come with trying to put a band together and get it off the ground. It seems that it is never "equal" as far as these things go.

It is my hope that a quick conversation with this guy will settle everything. I think his ego just got a little inflated at our last gig and he probably doesn't even realize that we found it offensive. At the end of the day we are all pretty good friends so I think it can be resolved easily.

I feel the same as you as far as not insisting on much as the drummer for the band in terms of song entitlement. However, there are a lot of other things that I do to hold my own such as the things listed above that "earns my keep". I don't mind doing it and I don't ask for compensation as long as it is helping the band. I just want the band to move along as a "unit" where credit is given for the the hard work that we have all put in and not just one person.
 
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