A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories

Who Should Be Listed As A Songwriter For A Song?

Metallica want to re-issue their 1982 demo “No Life To Leather”

Dave Mustaine on Twitter, said the talks broke down because Lars wanted song writing credits on two songs that Mustaine wrote every note and word to. So instead of agreeing to share the song writing, Mustaine passed.

If you look at the track listing of the demo, it sure has a distinct Dave Mustaine flavour. Four out of the seven songs, “The Mechanix”, “Metal Militia”, “Jump in the Fire” and “Phantom Lord” have song writing from Dave Mustaine.

I am presuming based on interviews, that “The Mechanix” and “Jump In The Fire” are the two songs written solely by Dave Mustaine.

“Hit the Lights”, “Motorbreath” and “Seek & Destroy” make up the other songs.

Song writing is always an issue with bands.

  • Van Halen had all the band members listed as songwriters on all of their albums. Suddenly, when the band re-negotiated their publishing deals for their earlier David Lee Roth albums, Michael Anthony was removed as a song writer.
  • Skid Row’s Dave Sabo and Rachel Bolan said that Sebastian Bach didn’t contribute to the Skid Row debut album as most of the songs were written before Bach joined. Bach countered to say, that the way he sung the songs, and the way he decided to hold certain notes was enough of a contribution to the debut album.
  • Nikki Sixx said one of the reasons for Vince Neil’s departure from Motley was due to his lack of song writing contributions, which Vince countered to say he had enough co-writes on Motley’s classic era.

100% of the time, when I write a song, I write the music, the words and the vocal melodies. And when I say music, I mean, the guitar riffs/chords and the vocal melodies. Then I bring the song to the band and show them the song. The bass player learns the guitar riffs and starts to play the bass lines in their own unique style. The singer learns the vocal melodies and starts to add their own unique vocal style to the song. The drummer hears the song and puts a beat to it.

Finally the song is played by a band. It’s structure is still the same as it was on the day I wrote it.

Do I need to share credit with anyone in the band?

Is the bass player, singer or drummer entitled to a song writing credit based on the above?

What about this scenario?

I write the song, complete with music, words and vocal melodies. I show it to the band. The drummer doesn’t like the interlude for some reason, so I write new music to the interlude and the drummer is now happy. Also the singer didn’t like the Chorus melody and the words, so I change them as well. We finally play the song as the band and it sounds great.

If you look at the definition of songwriter it states, a person who composes words or music or both.

So am I still the sole songwriter or do I need to share the credit with the two band members?

My view is no, I don’t need to share a song writing credit. The other guys in the band didn’t write a single note or word to the song. They might have made suggestions, but those changes still happened because I wrote extra music and extra words for the song.

Remember Copyright, that wonderful word. Well there is a mechanical copyright and a performance copyright. Mechanical monies are paid when the song is listened to on a streaming service, viewed on a video platform or the song is recreated onto a CD, a vinyl, a cassette and those physical items artists still try to sell sell. Performance monies are paid when the song is played on radio or TV, or in bars and restaurants.

Now, the recording industry and the publishers (yes, those pesky corporations who hold the copyrights to most of the popular songs) have lobbied hard to make these mechanical rights even more complex. Each new work would have a copyright for the composition (songwriter) and the sound recording (the band performance).

So let’s look at a real example. Motley Crue’s “Live Wire” is listed as a Nikki Sixx composition on the album credits. However, the mechanical rights of the song would be worked out in the following way and would be part of a band agreement, while Nikki Sixx is listed as the songwriter.

Nikki Sixx share

• 100% (Composition) + 25% (sound recording) = 125% out of 200% available.

• 125% divided by 200 x 100 =  62.5%

Tommy Lee, Vince Neil and Mick Mars share

• 25% for the sound recording is divided by 200 and multiplied by 100% = 12.5%

So the final copyright allocations for the mechanical license is as follows;

• 62.5% – Nikki Sixx

• 12.5% – Tommy Lee

• 12.5% – Vince Neil

• 12.5% – Mick Mars

Now, the performance rights organisations that collect the royalties for songs, do not allow decimal numbers, so you would assume, Nikki Sixx would get 64% and everyone else would get 12%.

Who would have thought making music involved maths and shares and allocations and what not. So when certain members see the lion’s share of monies going to a single person, they would start to write songs themselves, bring them in and they would either get rejected or re-written that they are nowhere near the original song the member brought in.

And if the song makes money, expect an argument to happen as to who gets what.

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