Recording Producer and Artist Guide on Legal Agreements

Hello Emerson,

I am a music producer and I have a question for you. I produced music and an artist wrote the lyrics and sang the song. How would this be split? Would 50 /50 be ok in everything? ASCAP, iTunes selling etc.

I did the recording using my own equipment and I also guided him at certain places on singing harmony etc. Also if there is any book that you would recommend for producers, I would greatly appreciate that. Your help is greatly appreciated.


My reply:

You need a producer –artist agreement or contract

The most important requirement for any record producer before starting to work with any recording artist is to complete and settle the producer-artist agreement or contract.

In this agreement, it contains all the important terms that are being agreed between you and the recording artist. This includes royalties, delivery of final product (the master recording), advance payment, royalty distribution, etc.

I recommend hiring a lawyer to get this done. But before hiring a lawyer, you need to discuss thoroughly with your artist and agree on the most important aspects that are to be included in the producer-artist agreement. What to agree would be discussed on each section below.

Agreement on the ownership of the song and sound recording

You mentioned that the artist is the one writing the lyrics and you are the one producing/writing the music. In copyright laws, the copyright of the song and sound recording are two different entities. Both of you own the copyright of the song; while you also own the copyright of the sound recording because you are the one creating the masters, not the artist.

Therefore both you can earn royalties from the ownership of the song. These royalties came from the use of different music rights when the originally written song is licensed in film, videos, radio and other applications.

The standard split of copyright song ownership is 50/50. This assumes that the artist agrees that this percentage share is fair. Otherwise both of you need to agree with the exact percentage based on songwriting contributions.

You can then break it down; for example as follows:

Producer = 50% song ownership, 50% publisher rights ownership
Artist = 50% song ownership, 50% publisher rights ownership

You will then use this agreed percentage of ownership in all the legal documentation pertaining to song copyright ownership. A good example is during the copyright registration (Form PA), application to performing right organizations (e.g. ASCAP, Sound Exchange); etc.

For the sound recording copyright (also known as the masters); you entirely own the recording except for the following cases:

1.) The artist is the one financing the entire recording project and hiring you (paying to you as well for the services rendered) and that the payment is in exchange to the ownership of the sound recording.

2.) The artist is signed to a recording label and that the label/artist is hiring a music producer to create the recordings. Since the label is entirely financing the project, they own the copyright of the masters.

If you are the one financing the recording and the recording studio is used, you own the master recording. When you submit for sound recording copyright application (Form SR). You will be the only author or creator.