February 17, 2023

Song Writing Agreement

This article has been written by Mr. Saiyed Perwez, a 2nd year BBA LLB student from IFTM University.

A songwriting agreement is a legal contract. It’s a simple way to get all creative collaborators on the same page to avoid future conflicts. The most basic songwriting agreements include:

  • A list of the people involved in a project (song, album, score, etc.)
  • How the royalties of that project are split among collaborators
  • Who owns the master rights and publishing rights to that piece of music (which is sometimes different people)
  • Any limitations or guidelines around who can promote what, where
  • Delivery timelines and deadlines


A term songwriter agreement is just like a record deal except that, instead of making records, you agree to give the publisher all the songs you write during the term. In a sense, it’s also like a bunch of single-song agreements hooked together, because it’s similar to signing a single-song agreement for each composition when it’s created. The difference is that there’s one overall contract which sets out the terms on which each song will be delivered, and of course the advances are recoupable from all of the songs on a cross collateralized basis (see page 83 for what cross collateralized means).

Term:-  The term of the agreement (the period during which you have to sign over everything you write) is usually tied to delivery of songs (which we’ll discuss in more detail in a minute). Thus, it ends after delivery of the required songs (like record deal terms). Sometimes deals are for specific periods, such as one year, with the publisher having two to four additional one year options. And some deals are tied to your recording agreement (i.e., if it’s with a publisher affiliated with your record company), meaning is has the same term as the record deal (two or more deals with the same term are called co terminus). Note that the term only denotes the period during which you exclusively agree to deliver your songs the songs you deliver are owned by the publisher for the life of the copyright, which of course extends far beyond the term. (As we’ll see on page 259, however, this is sometimes negotiable

Concept of Songwriter Agreement

Songwriter agreement is also referred to as a staff writer contract? This alternative name is because a songwriter is a hired writer in the publishing field. Therefore, a songwriter’s contract is an agreement signed between a songwriter and a publisher to allow the latter to source songs from the writer on certain payment terms. The songwriterhands over all rights and interests of their song to the publisher from the moment they sign the songwriter’s contract.

The contract gives the publisher permission to legally publish songs written by the songwriter during the contract term. For this reason, it is important for both parties, especially the songwriter, to make sound decisions and read through the contract before signing. A songwriter needs to get an attorney to help them interpret every bit of the contract offered to them beforehand.

Meaning:- As a songwriter, the contract you sign binds both you and the publisher to operating in the terms written in it. State laws recognize contracts between parties. Anyone that signs one is obliged to accomplish all that is written in it. Should it go south, the defaulting party must pay the full cost as stipulated by the contract. Therefore, before signing a contract, be sure that you are ready and willing to be employed and work on different terms from your prior independent ones.

Publishing Administration Agreement

Often artists want to retain ownership in their music publishing, but hire a third party to exploit their catalogue of songs (through film/tv placements, etc.). A music publishing administrator also helps ensure that the correct amount of music publishing revenue from your catalog of songs is being paid and collected around the world. You’d be surprised how many commercials and films and video games use music and fail to pay the writers of the music. This is where an administrator can be your best friend, by ensuring your songs are generating the most music publishing revenue possible around the world.

If you sign a Pub Admin deal, the administrator does not acquire ownership in the copyrights in your songs, but administers them for a fee (ranging from 10-25%). You as writer give up a percentage of your music publishing revenue, with the hope that the administrator will help your songs generate more revenue to offset the fee. In the diagram below I’ve illustrated a 20% pub admin deal. The 20% only applies to the Publisher’s Share (the Writer’s Share is untouchable), so that’s 20% of 50%, or 10% of the overall publishing revenues generated by the Artist’s songs. The Artist retains full ownership of the full pie, but gives up 10% of the total music publishing revenue to the Pub Admin company.

 Co-Publishing Agreement

The Co-Pub deal is the norm in the business today. The music publisher and the writer co-own the copyrights in the musical works and the music publisher administers the copyrights in the works. This is a deeper commitment than the Admin Deal, as the term is often longer…often equal to the life of the copyrights (which equals the life of the author plus 50 years!). In exchange for this deepened commitment, a music publishing advance for the Artist is normal. The standard Co-Pub deal involves half of the Publisher’s Share going to the Publisher, meaning we’re left with a 75/25 split in favor of the Artist (i.e. 50% of the Publisher’s Share half is given away, or 25% overall):

 Buy-Out Agreement or a “Full” Publishing Agreement

Buy Out deals are not as common today as they were in the past, and are typically seen when a significant advance is being offered for the Writer’s catalogue. The Publisher owns 100% of the copyrights in the musical works and has sole administration rights. The overall split of music publishing revenue is 50/50, as the Writer is left only with the Writer’ Share of music publishing revenues from performances.

There are 6 basic types of agreements that songwriters sign with a music publisher. They are the Individual Song Agreement, the Exclusive Songwriter’s Agreement, the Co-Publishing Agreement, the Participation Agreement, the Administration Agreement and the Foreign Sub-Publishing Agreement. Additional agreements include the Songwriter/Performer Development deal as well as Joint Venture and Co-Venture deals.

Contracts / Legal Advice: It’s important to bear in mind that all of these agreements are contracts which bind the parties to whatever has been negotiated by the parties. Experienced legal advice is always essential when dealing in the world of contracts.

Summary: This article is intended to give the songwriter and music publisher a summary of the basic rights, obligations, structure, duties and scope of the 6 most common agreements that create the bond between a songwriter and his or her music publisher. If a music publisher is interested in one, many or all of your songs, you will have to deal with at least one, and most likely more than one, of these agreements.

Future Articles: In upcoming editions, we will be going into the details and meanings of these songwriter/music publisher agreements in addition to the many sources of songwriter and music publisher income emanating from these agreements (film and TV licensing, the licensing of songs in videogames, what the deal looks like for a song in an advertising commercial, how much do I get from a song used in a doll, toy or toothbrush, etc.). We will also be discussing many of the issues and challenges facing songwriters, composers and music publishers in the physical product and online digital music worlds as well as things that you can do to improve your changes of succeeding in music.

Case Laws:-

In most cases, songwriters will find that there’s more money in publishing (writing for other artists) and writing for syncs than there is selling albums, according to Roanna. She suggests that like with a band, if the collaboration feels equal everyone is in the room contributing the split should be equal. You never know when two words will lead to a hook. She added, “There are situations where the most powerful person in the room — perhaps the beat maker who made the foundation of the song — can say, ‘I get 50% and you all split the rest.’”

Saregama Ltd vs The New Digital Media & Ors on 22 December, 2017

Svf Entertainment Pvt. Ltd vs Mr. Anupriyo Sengupta on 30 April, 2018

Simran Music Company v. Prit Brar Others, on 16th March 2007

Aishwarya Says:

Law students often face problems, which they cannot share with their friends and families. We have started a column on our website Student’s Corner. In this column we are talking to several law students about the challenges that they face. Students who are interested in participating in the same, can fill this Google Form.


The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems to aishwarya@aishwaryasandeep.com

Join our  Whatsapp Group for latest Job Opening

Related articles