What Is A Single Song Contract?

By: Jerry A. Greene

Question: I am a songwriter looking to get my songs recorded. I have heard the term "single song contract" talked about at a few songwriting meetings I went to. What is a single song contract and what do I need to look out for?

Answer: Single song contracts are usually a starting point for a new songwriter's relationship with a music publisher.

One Song

As you can probably infer from the name, a single song contract is a contract formed between a songwriter and a music publisher. The publishing rights are given to the publisher in the hopes of getting that song recorded.

Publishing Percentages

Normally, you will split the income from a single song with the publisher 50/50. There are other things that need to be considered when there are multiple songwriters on the song. Usually the pulisher will retain the full 50% if all of the songwriters sign the contract (they all must belong to the same performing rights organization, ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC to sign with that publisher). The publisher would take 50% of the song and the writers would split the other 50% equally. If the songwriters each have a different performing rights affiliation, that is okay, but they will need to sign their portion of the publishing rights to a publisher that has the same affiliation, since a publisher can not sign a song with a songwriter that doesn't belong to the same performing rights organization (PRO). Since a single entity can own publishing companies in all three PRO's, then they may be able to keep the entire song in-house. The song will be split up between two different publishing company names since each company can only be affiliated with one PRO.

Single Song Contracts

You will want to take the single song contract over to a qualified entertainment attorney before signing it, especially if you have never had any experience with song contracts before. You will want to look for certain things like a reversion clause (reverting the entire rights of the song back to you if the publisher just sits with the song and/or it never gets recorded in an agreed upon time-scale). Some publishers will not even offer a reversion clause, or refuse to sign the contract if it has one. You need to decide if this is the right deal for you and should always consult your entertainment attorney.

Song Demo Costs

Many times a publisher will want to record a professional demo of their own for the song. You will find that the song demo (used to pitch the song to recording artists and bands) is usually paid for, or partially paid for, by the music publisher. These demo-recording expenses can be recouped from future royalties, if it says so in the contract. Make sure you know how your demos are being paid for! If it's not in the song contract, make sure it gets put in there! You do want a great song demo, but you don't want the publisher to spend thousands of dollars needlessly and expect you to pay for it in the future. Unless you are not going to have to repay any portion of the demo costs, make sure you keep an eye on them.

Song Plugging and Song Exploitation

Song exploitation may sound like a bad term, but it's what the publisher does with a song. They must try to get the song recorded by as many artists, or bands as they can and get the song into as many television shows, movies and commercials as they can. The more they can place the song, the more the music publisher will make for themselves and you. This part of the publishing job is called "song plugging". Always remember that a song is a piece of property, just like real estate and it should be used in any way possible (tastefully) to make money for it's owners.

Staff Writing Deal

After a few successes, you may be offered the chance to become a staff writer with the music publisher. This means that all songs that you write, during a certain time period, become automatically part of the publisher's catalog. You will be required to write a certain amount of songs, at a certain degree of acceptablity, to get a staff writing position with a publisher. If you aren't prolific writer and suffer from songwriters block very often, this would not be a good choice for you. Just realize that you will be giving every one of your songs over to the publisher created during that time period. You may be required to work with, or only allowed to work, with certain other co-writers.

It can be a very limiting experience, but if your publisher does a great job for you and your songs, then it is often worth it! Again, just make sure you check with your entertainment attorney before signing a staff writer deal.