Should lyrics really get 50 percent?

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Apr 18, 2018, 05:08 AM

I was looking into the topic of songwriting splits and it’s common that music gets 50 percent and lyrics get the other 50 percent.  I’m a person that loves good lyrics and the vast majority of songs lyrics are not impressive to me.  I do believe great lyrics bring so much to a song and in those cases lyrics should get 50 percent.  I’m a huge fan of Roger Waters, Maynard Keenen, Axl Rose, Eminem and Bob Dylan, all very great lyrics.  However, most lyrics are just horrible throw away lines that anybody could do. 
    When songs are created the majority of time the music comes first.  A singer will comes up with a “vocal melody” that he will “hum” first and later he will put words to the melody. It’s this original song that is by far the most important aspect, the lyrics could be a 100 different versions and it’s not going to matter that much.
    Take for example the Nirvana song “Stay Away” from their “Nevermind” album, the chorus went “Stay, Stay away.”  This exact same song was released a few years later on the “Beavis and Butthead Soundtrack” now called “Pay to play.”  The exact same song, but this time the chorus lyrics were “Pay, Pay to play”
    To my mind they are equal songs, this example shows how not important lyrics are.  It amazes me that a person could get 50 percent of a song by doing something so easy that most 8 year olds could do.

 
     
mattmaves2018 Joined Apr 18, 2018
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Apr 18, 2018, 06:03 AM

If the Lyric is so easy the Composer shouldn’t need to farm out a fifty percent share. If the Composer CAN’T come up with an ‘easy’ Lyric himself and has to partner with someone else, and accepts what they come up with, no matter how easily it came to them, they probably owe them a 50% share.

The share is more a way of getting all parties to commit to the work of getting the Song to market, everyone having an equal interest in its success.

I always cite Billy Ray Cyrus’s use of “Achy, Breaky Heart”, a Song that, had I been offered it to cover, would have been turned down. But to his credit he sang it and parlayed that fame into other cuts, a TV show (Was it “Doc”?), and launched his daughter’s career with “Hannah Montana”, touring, and now a judge on The Voice (If I got all that right.)

If it’s ‘easy’, do it yourself. You can keep 100% of Songwriting Royalties, have 100% of Publishing Royalties to negotiate with a Publisher, and 100% control of the Songwriter’s side of any deal to be made. No “I’ll have to check with the Lyricist first,” in negotiations. No “I’ll have to get the Lyricist to change registration from his Performance Rights Organization to mine.” No slow-downs or roadblocks to a Song moving steadily forward to market where those ‘shares’ mean earning Royalties or advancing careers.

If you’re cutting the Lyricist out or even just down to a lesser share you’re decreasing their motive to write a Lyric to begin with, and to cooperate in marketing. If you intend to make that deal with the Lyricist you might want to establish the share up front to keep from getting into a deal with a third party only to find you can’t make THAT deal because you’ve just revealed the deal you WANT to make with the Lyricist and they’re not agreeable to it. You don’t want to keep a Publisher waiting while you work it out with the Lyricist.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Apr 18, 2018, 08:00 AM

“Take for example the Nirvana song “Stay Away” from their “Nevermind” album, the chorus went “Stay, Stay away.”  This exact same song was released a few years later on the “Beavis and Butthead Soundtrack” now called “Pay to play.”  The exact same song, but this time the chorus lyrics were “Pay, Pay to play”
  To my mind they are equal songs, this example shows how not important lyrics are.  It amazes me that a person could get 50 percent of a song by doing something so easy that most 8 year olds could do.”

I think you made this point clear with your initial question…. “Should lyrics really get 50 percent?” lol. The lyrics are obviously just not that important to you, and that’s really just a matter of style….. however

“When songs are created the majority of time the music comes first”....... Do you really believe Kurt would agree with that? As simple, yet emotionally provocative, as his songs were? If a particular piece of music, without lyrics, effects you emotionally…... how do you describe that? :)

[ Edited: 18 April 2018 08:03 AM by JAPOV]
 
     
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JAPOV Joined Jul 02, 2006
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Apr 18, 2018, 08:21 AM

Music gets them there. Lyrics keep them there.

MAB

 
     
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MBarne4908 Joined Jul 29, 2010
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Apr 18, 2018, 08:44 AM

As you mention correctly it’s the tune that someone ‘hums’ (every kid can do this, too) that counts as the composition. Today many composers also produce the song - at least the backing track - and hence get their share of the profit from the musicians and/or labels. In their role as the composer of the song they get 50% of the royalties in addition to that share.

Also, lyrics DO matter a lot. If the lyrics don’t fit the song (I prefer to say: if they don’t SERVE the song) the song probably won’t really take off. Even lyrics that at first sight look quite stupit can do a lot to lift the music to new dimensions (“My Baby Baby Balla Balla”!).

I don’t know about the US but in Germany lyricists receive only a third of the royalties for live performances (half of that if a publisher is involved), it’s 50% for mechanical productions.

Cheers,
Bernd

Bernd
good lyricist, mediocre songwriter, lousy musician;
likes rock, writes for anybody anyway
http://bernd-harmsen.com

 
     
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Bernd Harmsen Joined May 31, 2009
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Apr 18, 2018, 09:17 AM

Matt,

I agree that most pop lyrics these days hardly matter, at least in terms of the meaning or story (the actual sound of the words might be the only lyrical element providing a hook), but I think probably in most such cases, the composer and “lyricist” are one and the same, or else the producer is basically doing the whole thing, maybe hiring a “top liner.” This kind of makes the 50% to the lyricist irrelevant in these cases.

It’s different in other genres, such as country, where the lyric is often very important and well worth the 50%.

 
     
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Gavin Sinclair Joined Dec 02, 2014
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Apr 18, 2018, 12:46 PM

i wouldn’t say that lyrics hardly matter anymore , if that were the case , wouldn’t the charts would be full of scat songs ?

 
     
sandor nevery Joined Jun 08, 2014
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Apr 18, 2018, 01:40 PM

Country music has always been a story format, so the lyric is king. The same with folk, blues and Gospel. In rock, pop, hip hop, Dance, Electronic, alternative, lyrics are an afterthought, usually written after the music. Those formats are more production oriented, so a lyrical story is not as important.  Two sides of the same coin.

MAB

 
     
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MBarne4908 Joined Jul 29, 2010
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Apr 18, 2018, 01:43 PM

There are two halfs of a song. Publishing and writer’s share. The writers share gets split however the writers agree on. Some have unequal splits but it is not suggested because you may never get a writing appointment again. IT is all open to negotiation, so if the original poster doesn’t want to split it equally, that would be up to him/her. But they would only have themselves to pitch and promote what they are doing. Including other people in the creation of the song, helps with the promotion of the song. You make all of this up as you go along.
IT all looks very easy. It’s not.

MAB

 
     
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MBarne4908 Joined Jul 29, 2010
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Apr 18, 2018, 09:01 PM

Hi Matt. Welcome to the Forum. Where I’m sitting right now (in terms of my head-space), I find myself stunned by this question. Like many people here, I’m a musician, but I’m also a writer of melody and lyrics. Having just finished writing the lyrics for a concept album, I can honestly say that I absolutely earned my 50%. When I write, I don’t just write whatever comes to my mind. I have the germ of an idea and then work with the rhythm of words and play with the words and look up synonyms and work out near rhymes and on and on. The initial lyric might take 10 minutes to write, but the refining process takes a lot of time and thought. Sometimes, like in the case of the album John Evans and I are soon to release, I knew nothing of the subject that I was writing about (ancient Egypt). I read many histories about that time before deciding to focus on the story around the pharaoh, Hatshepsut. Then, I spent days reading about her story and about the rituals that were common in her time. I even read a translation of the Book of the Dead (that was weirdness) so that I could knowledgeably tell her story. THEN, I needed to figure out how to communicate the essence of her story in a handful of songs with as few words as possible. Granted, that’s not the norm, but it’s certainly not unheard of

Did I earn my 50%? Yup. Could I have done it without John’s contribution? No I absolutely could not. Not in a million years. Did John earn his 50%? Absolutely (and more). Could he have done it without me? Nope.

I think it’s like MAB says, the lyrics stand on the shoulders of the music and visa versa. Lyrics keep a person engaged. In many cases, lyrics sell the song.

https://soundcloud.com/jennystokes-nz
http://www.evansandstokes.com

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”
- Bob Marley

 
     
Jenny Stokes Joined Sep 24, 2015
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Apr 22, 2018, 12:15 PM

I’ve heard of unequal splits where one of the writers has better connections to the industry and therefore a means of possibly getting the song cut. There are plenty of writers who’d actually pay for a co-write with someone who has a proven track record. I’ve also heard of situations where the artist or producer is let in on the publishing for small changes to the words or music, resulting in an equal share for an unequal contribution. Some artists have even given up some or all of their publishing in management deals.

My point is there may be other reasons for unequal splits than the relative importance of music vs lyrics and the writer is often at a disadvantage.

FWIW, I’ve always favored equal splits and most of the folks I’ve written with do both words and music.

 
     
LoRez Joined Jan 14, 2018
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Apr 27, 2018, 03:44 AM

In my opinion - YES, the words are an important part of the song, so it deserves 50 % of the credit. Only problem is: Many lyrics these days are just NOT GOOD. I think the standard of lyrics is soooooo low today, that it´s easy for a composer with no lyrical Talent to put together his own set of words.

...every once in a while, I get in the mood or so…and start to play..

http://www.songcycle.org

 
     
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Martin G Joined May 27, 2009
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Apr 27, 2018, 08:34 AM

Over the past 20-30 years, we have gone through what I refer to as “The Amateurization of the Music Industry.” Up until about 30 years ago, if you were going to do music, you had to learn music, learn an instrument, work for years and decades on craft, get in bands, spend tons of times, sometimes on classic musical education, but also just DOING it, and of course, you needed some form of TALENT to do it. And while there were plenty of high school, garage, weekend warrior entertainers, it mostly took skill, money, time to learn it. Recording was a major endeavor, going to a real studio, getting musicians, etc. It all cost money and you didn’t do it lightly. And BEING GOOD was generally a requirement.

Starting with Karaoke, in the 80’s, which made everyone a singer, advancing technologies, made music more accesable to anyone. Home recording, then computers made more and more people able to explore their musical ambitions. Finally, everything from camera phones, games like GUITAR HERO, reality television talent shows, has made ANYONE an entity and finally the Internet. gave them all a platform.

People’s expectations and understanding came further and further down as music was everywhere. No hearing something on the radio, waiting and going to the record store to get a copy of the newest hottest song, watching it on American Bandstand, playing records at parties with your friends. Now it was EVERYWHERE, and EVERYONE WAS DOING IT. And that brought us to where we are. Music is everywhere. It is free, and we are all doing it ourselves.

So the days of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lennon and McCartney, are pretty much over as the amateur day continues. But that doesn’t mean lyrics aren’t still important. They are. They are still what most people remember about songs. They are what they quote to each other, and sing along with fist pumping at concerts. And it is hard to slap some musical notes on a t shirt or a bumper sticker.

So all of it is important. Music. Lyrics. Production. It is harder and harder to stand out. It’s why in the new “Modernation of music” act passed in Congress, the inclusion of performers and producers are included. Personally I think all the laws in the world and rule changes are not going to force people who refuse to pay for music to pay for it. Or their kids or Grandkids who consider paying for anything is a foreign concept. Of course these are also people that believe in FREE education, provided jobs, free food, free lodging, free everything. SOMEONE has to pay.

And while the original poster and others have mentioned how bad the lyrics are, and that is true, HAVE YOU HEARD HOW PEOPLE ACTUALLY TALK? They SAY that stuff in natural conversation. They write it on TWITTER. They put it in their Facebook and Instagram posts. And if musical lyrics reflect HOW WE TALK, that is where your musical lyrics come from. People are no longer trying to be different. They are actually ALL TRYING TO BE THE SAME. Talk the same, sound the same, follow the leader. That is society now.

And in the modern day music business, that is one of the big questions. How do you get people to pay for something they feel entitled to?

That’s the question. So yes, Lyrics are important, and far deserve their 50%. Actually a lot of times with the “EVERY THING SOUNDS ALIKE” recycled, over sampled musical world we live in, where their are still only 12 notes, you almost could ask the question, “Do the COMPOSERS” and music suppliers deserve their 50%? Now, many people simply take some other piece of music they like, sample it, slap their own lyrics on it, and that is considered a song. People that “create “beats”, or take some track from somewhere else, are considered “writers” when really they are just computer geeks that take from somewhere else. Ever heard a rap song with the same beats, bass line, production, that is on 100 other rap songs? There you go.

The truth is it’s ALL A PART OF IT. That’s where we are.

mab

 
     
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MBarne4908 Joined Jul 29, 2010
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Apr 27, 2018, 08:45 AM

Modern pop lyrics may not look that great when you just READ them, that’s not what they are meant for, anyway. I’ve learned to appreciate well written pop lyrics since I’ve begun writing more and more pop lyrics myself. I call them ‘lousy lyrics’ because they don’t meet the Nashville criteria for well written country lyrics (imagery, story-telling, conversational) that most advisory books seem to refer to.

The other day I did a short analysis of the lyrics for a big hit in Germany that’s called “no roots”. They don’t look like anything much but they ‘serve the song’ perfectly, i.e. they flow well, stand out, have strong hooks (plural!), are easily remembered… They’ve set new standards for me with regard to great pop lyrics (I got close twice, but I’ve still got a lot to learn).

More in my blog: http://bernd-harmsen.com/index.php?/archives/106-rhythm-rhyme-REPETITION.html

Bernd
good lyricist, mediocre songwriter, lousy musician;
likes rock, writes for anybody anyway
http://bernd-harmsen.com

 
     
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Bernd Harmsen Joined May 31, 2009
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Apr 27, 2018, 09:11 AM

Bernd,

That’s exactly correct. Rock, pop, alternative, dance, were NEVER intended to be some magical poetry or lyrical statements. Come on, “I Wanna Hold your hand” or “Love me Do, you know I love you” were not the greatest example of great literature. Dickens they ain’t. Pop and rock were NEVER meant to be more than SOUNDING good. Most of the lyrics of the 70’s didn’t even make sense past the drugs. And DANCE music? It’s meant to…well ...make you DANCE! how many Dylan songs do that?  Punk and Alternative, are mostly just made to get people mad and run into each other.

So it’s all going to be genre specific. Country and folk have always been story oriented formats so the lyrics will be more important there. And there are always the socially concious raising elements of artists and lyricists. There truly is something for everyone. But to deny they are part of a song or even deserve recognition is pretty much nonsense.

MAB

 
     
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MBarne4908 Joined Jul 29, 2010
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Apr 27, 2018, 12:20 PM

Getting “good” goes without saying if we’re talking about session musicians, artist’s road bands, producers, sound engineers, and any number of other professionals who contribute to the industry as we know it. The job requirements and codes of conduct are pretty much cut and dried for these folks. It’s kind of interesting that this idea of becoming competent and professional even needs to be brought up in regard to songwriting.

 
     
LoRez Joined Jan 14, 2018
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