Who Writes The Songs? The Sometimes Murky Business of Crediting Songwriters

The process of crediting songwriters has always been somewhat tricky, but in today’s collaborative-driven songwriting culture it’s more important than ever before. Everything from songwriting collaboration software to trends increasingly favoring artists who feature one another in their work makes the process of properly crediting songwriters hugely important and often complicated.

Why crediting songwriters is so important

Let’s say you and a couple of collaborators release a song and it ends up finding an audience and becomes a hit. Agreeing on who contributed what and how they should be credited is massively important because even a small amount of ambiguity and uncertainty could lead to costly problems for you down the road. Even when songwriters are properly credited, there’s always a risk for things getting complicated because the stakes are so high. But not deciding how the writers you work with should get credited beforehand leaves you open for serious trouble.

There’s also the issue of the need to accurately tell the world who’s really responsible for the music you’re putting out into the world. If you want your listeners to really engage with your work, they need to have an accurate idea of who is involved with making your music.

Want to know more about copyright law? Check out our Music Law series.

How to credit songwriters

Unless you’re a songwriter that writes, records, and produces music completely on your own, you’re going to need to put a good deal of thought and planning when it comes to crediting the songwriters you work with. Whenever your music involves other people, communication has to be something you actively prioritize and think about, and this is especially important when it comes to crediting the writers and producers you make music with.

Conversations need to be had and decisions have to be made about who should be credited in your songs long before they’re released and distributed. Some musicians go to great lengths to avoid conversations like these, but putting them off or refusing to have them altogether will end up hurting you in the end.

When collaborators disagree

When multiple writers are involved in the process of working on a piece of music, disagreements over how each person should be credited are bound to crop up. But while these conversations can be uncomfortable, they have to happen early in order to come to some sort of consensus before music is released.

And while not always seeing eye to eye about things is natural, if you find yourself constantly at odds with the writers you work with about who wrote what, you might be in an unhealthy collaborative relationship. Again, not being on the same page about crediting a song’s collaborators isn’t that big of a deal if your music is unknown, but what happens if your song takes off? But even for songwriters working in musical mediums that aren’t likely to achieve commercial success, repeated arguments about songwriting credits is a bad sign because creative and personal trust and transparency is vital in maintaining healthy collaborative relationships.

Learn more about copyright in our Music Law series.

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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