The Standard Single Song Contract:

There's No Such Thing as 'Standard'

If you are offered the chance to sign one of your songs to a standard single song contract, you should know this: There is no such thing as a 'standard' contract.

The standard single song contract does not really exist. Just because the contract has 'standard' at the top of the page, doesn't mean it's the same as any other standard contract.

It also doesn't mean it's non-negotiable.

If you are fortunate enough to be offered a publishing deal, the first thing you should do is have the contract looked over by a music business attorney.

Not because the publisher is out to take you. But because it will be biased to the publisher's advantage.

Now if you are just starting out in your career, you won't have much bargaining power. That's just the way it is.

I'm no lawyer, but I believe there are a few clauses you should try to have included in your songwriter contract.

The Reversion Clause

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single song contract
The Reversion Clause says that if the publisher is unable to secure a commercial release of your song within a certain amount of time, the copyright ownership reverts back to the writer.

The amount of time is, of course, negotiable. It can be as short as six months, or as long as three years.

Due to the nature of the business, six months is probably not nearly
enough time for a publisher to secure a deal.

According to the National Academy of Songwriters (NAS), two years should be a sufficient amount of time.

Statutory Mechanical Royalty Rate

Sometimes a record company will say they want their artist to record your song, but they don't want to pay the full rate.

At the time of this writing, the statutory mechanical royalty rate for physical recordings (such as CDs) and permanent digital downloads is:

9.10 Cents for songs 5 minutes or less,
or 1.75 Cents per minute or fraction thereof over 5 minutes.

For example:

5:01 to 6:00 = $.105 (6 x $.0175 = $.105)
6:01 to 7:00 = $.1225 (7 x $.0175 = $.1225)
7:01 to 8:00 = $.14 (8 x $.0175 = $.14)

The statutory mechanical royalty rate for ringtones is 24ยข per copy.

So if your three and a half minute song sells one million copies at 9.1 cents per song, that's a total of $91,000 to be split between you and your publisher.

As you can see, if your song becomes a hit, you stand to lose a lot of money if you agree on a reduced rate.

Then again, if you refuse to budge the record company may pass on your song altogether. As they say, "One hundred percent of nothing is nothing!"

So depending on your situation, you may want to agree on no less than a three quarter reduced rate on your single song contract.

No Changes Should Be Made to the Song Without Writer's Approval

Say an artist wants to record your song, but he tells the publisher the bridge is weak and he wants to rewrite it. And he wants a portion of the writer's share.

The bridge may be just fine as it is. If the artist rewrites it, he may ruin it.

The publisher should give you the first opportunity to rewrite that bridge.

Otherwise, the song has been changed (not for the better), and you have been deprived of potentially thousands of dollars.

Without this clause, the publisher has every right to allow the artist to rewrite your bridge.

Needless to say, I feel very strongly about this clause being included in a songwriter contract!)

Above all, when signing a single song contract, or any contract for that matter, watch out for vague language.

Make sure everything is spelled out in black and white, and have a music business attorney look it over for you.

And just because it says 'standard', doesn't mean it is!

Further reading:

Making Music Make Moneyicon by Eric Beall

The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishingicon by Randall D. Wixen

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