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Is it still your song (for copyright purposes) if your drummer adds some drum stuff?


ChrisAlgoo

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I'd agree with kurdy. However, there have been bands who've credited the whole band on a number of songs, presumably a) because they felt that each musician contributed something important and/or b) because they wanted to be nice and give the performers an equal shot at making some money from their joint efforts.

 

I think it depends on the circumstances - I'd definitely want to credit everyone if (for example) the band were just jamming and playing around and something interesting came out that turned into a song. Just adding a drum pattern, a guitar part or a bass riff to a song though? No, I don't think I would unless that part became one of the hooks of the song. e.g. the guy who played the Sax solo on "Baker Street" could probably ethically (if not legally) justify being credited as a joint writer. Not sure if he was or not.

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I think bands should stop worrying about credits till they get somewhere. Arguments that get caused because people have egos that can't take it, jeez. If you add or take away a snare hit it is still going to be the same song, if it has any musical structure whatsoever. A different drummer will play different stuff to the same song. By all means if it's a band composed, 'we did it by jamming' then yes they can have a credit but if you were at home with an acoustic and a notebook then taught the rest of the band the changes, unless, like Surrealistic says, someone creates a signature riff like Baker Street then no credit for adding just parts.

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One way to explain this is to look at how songs are often produced in Nashville. A songwriter comes up with a song. He wrote the lyrics, he laid out the basic chord progression and melody. He even created a demo all by himself.

 

He or his publiher or his songplugger or whomever, ends up getting this song in front of the producer for Joe Country's (the hot new country singer) new CD. He plays it for Joe Country and Joe says, "great song, let's do it."

 

There are a LOT of things that can happen at this point. For example, Joe may decide that he wants to change a few lines in the lyrics. Naturally, he's going to ask for a co-writer credit (in some cases this might be done purely to get a cut of the writer royalties...in other cases, the changes may be done for artistic reasons...but whatever). Like I said, a lot of other things could happen here too, but let's keep it simple and say that Joe is fine with leaving the some intact.

 

So, you get into the studio and all of the musicians are assembled and ready to play their parts. They've listened to the demo that the songwriter put together so they know the structure of the song. The guitar player might come up with a great riff that really gives the song an extra hook. The drummer might play some sweet fills that improve the song or come up with a really great groove. Same goes for all of the other musicians. Heck, Joe might even change the melody here and there as he records the song...after all, once you add up all of the contributions of the other musicians, it only made sense!

 

In that scenario, NONE of the musicians (nor Joe...unless it was agreed upon previously) are getting a writer credit on this song. None of that stuff constitutes being considered a co-writer. The original writer will still get 100% of the writer share of the royalties.

 

That being said, you can always come up with an agreement, in advance, about this kind of stuff. For example, if you're writing a song and you really want this great guitar player you know to develop a guitar hook for the song, you and he might agree, in advance, to give him a co-write on that song...maybe that's what it takes to get him to agree to do it. It's negotiable and it's been done a million different ways.

 

Hope that helps.

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Technically, the only person entitled to copyright is the person (or people) who wrote the lyrics and melody.

 

The 1970s song "Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum was in the news recently. The original recording featured a distinctive organ riff. Although the organist didn't write lyrics or melody, he argued that his riff contributed to the song's popularity and success, and he asked for a share of the royalities on that basis.

 

I lost track of the news item, so I don't know the result of his request.:confused:

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The 1970s song "Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum was in the news recently. The original recording featured a distinctive organ riff. Although the organist didn't write lyrics or melody, he argued that his riff contributed to the song's popularity and success, and he asked for a share of the royalities on that basis.


I lost track of the news item, so I don't know the result of his request.
:confused:

 

I heard about that, and I think it sets a bad precedent. If the organist actually influnced the melody; that is, if the writer went back and changed the melody to resemble what the organist was playing--then yeah, I suppose the organist deserves credit. But if the organ riff was his only contribution, then he had no business receiving royalties, IMO.

 

It's the same thing as having an arranger write horn or string charts for a song. They may contribute a lot to the arrangement via countermelodies and sweeps and stabs, but in no way is that songwriting. If that were so, George Martin would get co-writing credit on 75% of the Beatles work.

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I heard about that, and I think it sets a bad precedent.

 

 

I think it just expands the notion of the melody, as that organ line has as memorable a melody as the vocal. It's a bit like giving credit to the guy who writes a guitar riff that drives a song, which seems fair, and is just a reflection of the shifting definition of "songness" in the age of recorded music.

 

As to the OP, you have my solemn vow that none of your songs will make you any money, so you don't need to worry about who gets credit. There's only about 6 people making money worth fighting over in songwriting right now, and they're all in a basement in Disney Headquarters.

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Once you start writing, or working with someone who is writing songs, it's important to appreciate the difference between SONGWRITING and ARRANGING. Many, many, many musicians don't appreciate that difference. Because often arrangements are distinctive, it's easy to confuse the two.

 

One of these days I'm going to look into whether and how an arrangement can be protected as intellectual property. Back in the big band era, the top bands had arrangers who worked for them, coming up with their own arrangements, and I'm pretty sure there must have been some basis for protecting that work. I'm sure you could copyright a written arrangement (i.e., a score), but it would be a derivative work from the original song.

 

This is why copyright lawyers make the big bucks.

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The way we do it is riff and/or chords, melody and lyrics constitute "songwriting" credit, i.e. the names that appear to the right of the song on the album liner notes.

 

It's pretty much common sense to figure out what is fair. In most cases, obviously a song starts off with those riffs and chords so it doesn't seem fair that only melody and lyrics has historically constituted songwriting credit and I guess that's what the majority of listeners get hooked on, but a lot of times that stuff wouldn't materialize without a decent riff or chord structure to build the song around. I would include a noteworthy bassline under the category of riff as well, but once again it's common sense and applies to each song differently.

 

No, a drummer shouldn't get songwriting credit for something like what you said. But, isn't there arranger credit that he would entitled to, and furthermore there are producer and performer credits.

 

Solos, drum fills, specific structural arrangements that appear after the main song has been laid out shouldn't be considered part of "songwriting".

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I actually had a long conversation with my bass player about this so it's fresh in my mind. He's in law school so he knows this stuff. Like others have said it's really not worth it to copyright every single thing, because the amount you make on a song may, or may not offset the copyright lawyer costs. By all means, register through copyright.gov if you and your band knows very well that you are the songwriter and if it makes you feel a bit better about what you've done.

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I'm sure you could copyright a written arrangement (i.e., a score), but it would be a derivative work from the original song.

 

 

I've seen modern arrangements of traditional (public domain) songs copyrighted.

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