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SONGWRITER’S HANDBOOK … #3 Artists that want songwriting credits - Sep 25, 2013

picture If you write a hit song then you’re artistry is rewarded not only with the respect and admiration of your peers but also a nice regular royalty cheque. So it’s not surprising then that top artists want a piece of the action – even if they can’t actually write for toffee.

For this edition of Songwriter’s Handbook an array of top songwriters and publishers, including Diane Warren, Damon Sharpe, Bangladesh and Ne-Yo explain the phenomenon of artists taking writing credits and offer their own experiences.

Click on the interviewee name for the original full interview.

Do artists want to get involved in the songwriting process even when they’re not songwriters?

NATALIE HARKER (publisher at Cal IV Entertainment): “It is moving towards the artists wanting to be the songwriters. It is becoming much more political now. There’s a lot more of “who wrote the song” rather than if it’s the best song for the project, and that’s frustrating.

There’s definitely a lot of co-writing going on with the artist and I will find that it will be the songwriter that will write a good deal of the song, or at least have a very good idea of where the song is going before they walk in. That way they have a little more control – they know they’re gonna get a good song out of the co-write as opposed to leaning on an artist writer who’s not even really a writer.

It’s more the younger artists that get pushed by their labels to write their own songs or just think it’s the thing to do.”

SHAMORA CRAWFORD (songwriter for Monica): “They’ll send in the artist to the studio session and you’ll sit down and do a song with them. Unfortunately a lot of these artists can’t write. So sometimes it’s a little bit of a tug-of-war in the studio.”

Why do artists want a co-writing credit?

JODY GERSON ( executive vice president of EMI Music Publishing ): “We as an industry don’t look at someone who has an incredible voice as an artist. I think people place more of a value on an artist if they write their own songs, it gives them credibility.”

“An artist once demanded 70% of a song I had worked on. That would've left the three of us who had written it with 10% each.”

SC (songwriter for Monica): “I guess they realize that to make money you need to have a little publishing.”

Do you find artists want a share of the publishing even when they haven’t actually contributed anything?

JG: “It’s pretty prevalent in pop and R&B ... I think the way people now divide publishing splits is who was in the room. 'OK ... I changed the word "the" to "a," and I deserve 10 percent of the publishing.’”

HELIENNE LINDVALL (songwriter): "It's common for artists to demand songwriting credits on a track – jokingly called "change a word, get a third" by songwriters – sometimes without having anything to do with the writing.

An artist once demanded 70% of a song I had worked on, if she decided to record it. As the song was a three-way co-write, that would've left the three of us who actually had written it with 10% each.

If an artist gets a co-writing credit like this, and then leaves the track off the album, they can prevent it being recorded by anyone else, as composers have the right to decide who will release the first recording of a song (they don't, however, have a right to deny anyone from covering it after the first release)."

DIANE WARREN (songwriter): “It’s crazy! How can someone look in the mirror and know they didn’t do something and their name is on it? For money? For credit? It’s a lie. It's like, ‘You want some publishing? OK then, give me a piece of the money you're making touring for the next five years for the hit I just wrote you.’”

Do artists underestimate the skill that's involved in writing a song?

HL (songwriter): “Avril Lavigne famously claimed she wrote most of her first album, causing the Matrix writing team to go public to dispute it. She then went off to try to write her own songs, resulting in masterpieces like When You're Gone and Girlfriend.

Robbie Williams left his writing partner Guy Chambers in a huff, saying that Guy got all the glory when it was he, Robbie, who was the creative source of the songs. More than a million copies of the resulting album are now being shipped to China to make road covering.”

Are there artists that really can write but even with the writing credit people assume they can’t?

SC (songwriter for Monica): “Sometimes you run into an artist who can really write but unfortunately they don’t get that recognition. So it’s really good to have them have the opportunity to come in and be able to collaborate with you, so they can get those ideas out on paper.”

Is it ever worth giving up a share of the publishing to an artist that hasn’t contributed to the song?

NE-YO (artist and songwriter): "If you're an unknown songwriter and you are lucky enough to get on a superstar's album and you know that the song is going to be a single and it means if it becomes No. 1 everyone is going to know your name because you wrote it, I think it's worth giving up a piece of publishing ... you are going to make your money back."

There have been countless claims that Beyonce is somewhat undeserving of a lot of her songwriting credits, but are writers only too happy to give up a share just to get involved with such a major artist?

BANGLADESH (producer for Beyonce, Lil Wayne): "At the end of the day, [Beyonce]’s on a level where things are handed to her. People want to be a part of what she’s doing. It really doesn’t matter if Beyonce is actually sitting there physically writing the song. Even if she’s not, it don’t mean she can’t. She might not have the time. She either wrote it, or she can put her name on it – it doesn’t matter because that’s the boss you are.”

Have you ever given up some of the publishing in order to get a song placed with a big artist?

DAMON SHARPE (songwriter for Kelly Rowland, Kylie, Jennifer Lopez): “I’ve done it. When somebody else takes the credit it can be a bit of an ego buster. But then again, you have tell yourself that if you place the song with a big artist that could really help your career, it might just put you in a financial position where you can relax and focus, and other opportunities will come out of it.

“ How can someone look in the mirror and know they didn’t do something and their name is on it? For money? For credit? It’s a lie.”

If the song you conceded to the artist sells, they might want to work with you on the song after that. If I tell them they can’t get a piece of the publishing, then they’ll probably try to get a song from somebody else. Chances are they won’t, but a bird in the hand is a bird in the hand, as they say.”

Up-and-coming songwriters might be willing to sacrifice a credit for a career break but what about established songwriters?

ROGER FRIEDMAN (entertainment journalist): “On album ‘Let's Talk About Love’, Celine Dion and her husband/manager, René Angelil, asked the writers of all the songs submitted to them for up to 20 percent of the publishing money. Some writers whose songs had been on previous Dion albums declined, and their songs were not used. But six songs by lesser-known writers, or writers without clout in the music industry, succumbed to Dion's demands.

In one case — a song called "The Reason," co-written by Carole King, Mark Hudson and Greg Wells — the last two writers agreed to Dion's terms but were vetoed at the last minute by the veteran King, who refused to give in.”

With the trend being for top artists to claim a piece of a song whether they’ve contributed or not, it means those that don’t have any credits are now taken to task, such as with Britney Spears …

HEATHER BRIGHT (songwriter for Britney, Justin Bieber, Far East Movement): “The media is talking trash about how Britney didn't write any of the songs on her album … Hello! Wake up everybody! None of these artists write their own songs! There are a few exceptions … Lady Gaga,, Chris Brown is starting to write a lot of his own stuff … Anyway, here's my thing, Britney could have come to me, like all these other A-list artists, and said: ‘Hey, you wanna be on my album? I'm gonna need writing credit for that song and part of your publishing even though I didn't write anything! And then I'm gonna go on tour and gross $150 million in ticket sales and not give you any of that, even though I'm performing your song!’

I could rattle off a laundry list of artists who I've had that conversation with! Britney's one of the few artists I've worked with who didn't try to take something that wasn't hers."

Read On ...

* Songwriter's Handbook gives the lowdown on co-writing with the artist
* Co-writing sessions are the subject of Songwriter's Handbook