"To be a co-writer," says copyright expert Steve Fishman, "a person must contribute more than mere ideas. They must provide concrete material, such as lyrics or music." For songwriting purposes, "music" generally refers to the melody, chord changes, and order of the parts (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.). It does not usually refer to riffs, solos, and harmonies. Think of it in terms of sheet music: The song consists of the elements that are included on sheet music or tablature. Anyone who contributes substantially to these elements would be a co-writer.
A lot can happen to a song after this basic structure is created. You can, for example, create a terrific interpretation of it in your performance. But don't expect songwriting credit for being a great musician. Band members may add fabulous drum beats, swinging bass lines, incredible guitar solos, and beguiling vocal harmonies-but these "arrangements" do not qualify you as a co-writer. As one court stated, "Neither rhythm nor harmony can in itself be the subject of copyright."
Some music law basics: There are 2 copyrights in every recording,
1. Lyrics or literary works which is owned by the songwriters or their music publisher (that's called the "publishing" ownership).
2. The musical composition, arrangement or sound recording itself which embodies the composition, usually owned by the record label or whoever financed the recording (these recordings are called the "master recordings").
Generally, songwriters split a publishing copyright. That usually means that the creative contributors get a portion of the ownership. When a song is written, it's automatically copyrighted, but the writers should have a deal in place that will specify the "splits" of a song, and who owns what percentage of the writing credits. Songwriters will also be entitled to "mechanical royalties" paid by the record label or anyone else who wants to make copies of the song and sell them. The rate for these royalties is set by law.
4. Songwriters and publishers, usually work on a 50-50 basis. Both Songwriters and Publishers register with a performing rights organization, such as SOCAN, ASCAP, BMI or SESAC (North American options). The “PROs” pay the publishers and writers for "performance royalties" when the songs are played on TV or in films or on the radio or in live venues. Then the publishers pay 50% of the revenue to the songwriter(s). If you are in a band and your band mates co-wrote the songs, they can sell recordings as long as they pay you your share of the mechanical royalties for the sales.
5. Once a composition has been published, you can't stop anyone from performing it, or covering it. Anyone can get a "compulsory license," meaning you (the writer) have no choice about licensing it to them. You can find some options to get paid for the covers especially on youtube. I use Audiam for this service and they also market my songs for use, to help me generate more income.
You need to have your fingers in a few pies if you want to survive as an independent musician.
Check back soon, I have some awesome stuff coming down the pipe!!