Songs can be written by one or many. It can be a week long process of refining or written in minutes on a napkin in a restaurant. It can be tucked away in a notebook never to be recorded or end up a mega hit bringing in millions of dollars. It is the latter situation that all song writers need prepare for no matter how long the song took to write, how many contributed, and no matter where it was written, even if you intend to store it away and not ever share it.
If a song becomes a hit and brings in revenue it can either be a blessing or a curse depending on how smart the song writer or writers were when the song was created. Messy lawsuits fighting over ownership can dip heavily into what should be a lucrative venture if the song becomes a hit and the writers had verbal agreements rather than written ones. There are steps the writers can take to protect not only their own interests but perhaps even the interests of their future heirs. Songs have the potential to cross generations and become hits over and over again.
Once a song is written it should be noted who contributed to the writing of the song. This includes the music, lyrics, and even if the one person who only contributed to a few lines of the lyrics. All the writers need to agree as to the distribution of effort, input, and therefore potential income. The writers can also agree to dividing income equally despite individual contributions. It is important to put the information in writing and give everyone a copy with signatures.
If the song is recorded and shared online it is important to list the writers and how to contact them. Include the information in text areas made available to the person that is loading the file. Clearly name the song, list writers, and contact information for use of the song – always. Do the same if the song is distributed physically on disc or through files.
You do not necessarily have to officially copyright a song since it is “original” in content and “fixed” by being written or recorded and therefore is owned by the creator. However, if you do wish to copyright a song then you can do so through the U.S. Copyright Office and the cost is minimal. For more information you can visit the U.S. Copyright Office website.
There are many stories of writers that later disagreed on the ownership of a song that made a sizeable income for the one recording it or selling it, such as the story of Robbie Williams and Ray Heffernan involving the writing of the song “Angels” which made millions for one of them. By doing things right in the beginning, a writer can insure they have taken their creative role to the business side and set in motion an action that will be beneficial for all that were a part of the creative process.
Must see video: "Sting: How I started writing songs again" via Ted.com