I was just talking with someone today about the line between music production and cowriting. You probably all know my views on this, but I wanted to put my rant into a blog as a reference. Hopefully this will help someone from making a bad mistake.
A lot of my clients have songs in their head and they don’t play an instrument. They sing the melody to me, I record the raw version, and we go to work from there. Their melody implies a rhythm. We talk about the tempo and the beat and I show them some examples. They decide what it was that was closest to what they were hearing in their head.
Their melody also implies harmony – chords. I’ll try some simple ideas suggested by the melody and again, they will tell me what is closest to what they were hearing. I see my part in this as a sort of musical detective – trying to uncover the rest of the music that wasn’t heard in the raw recording. I am NOT acting as a cowriter, but as an interpreter of sorts.
Sometimes I’ll hear something that the writer didn’t hear. I’ll play that, too, and if they like it better we’ll use it instead. Now, that is treading on the line, IMO. But they didn’t come into the studio looking for a cowriter and I don’t look at what I’ve contributed as earning me a part of the song even if it makes a drastic difference in the way the final product is perceived by listeners.
Some producers think differently. Afraid that they’ll miss out on a piece of the pie or some recognition, they feel that any contribution they make that isn’t specifically spelled out is cause for them to be a part writer in the song. I feel this is wrong, but at the same time there is nothing stopping the uninformed or timid writer from making a bad decision at this point and giving up part of their copyright.
No matter how the law may be written to protect your rights, if you enter into an agreement that is not to your advantage, you must live with the consequences. Case in point – when my song “Taking Our Own Sweet Time” was recorded by the Kinleys back in the 90′s, the record label sent me a form that stated I would agree to being paid a sub-statutory rate on my royalties. The choice for me was whether to sign an agreement that earned me less money than what I was entitled to, or not sign and be excluded from the album. I signed. I got paid. I’m OK with it, but I still don’t like being another victim of record label leverage.
So, understand your rights. But also be aware of your situation and what kind of leverage you may have. You may be able to negotiate and keep more of what’s yours in the first place.