How to Split up the Songwriters' Shares in a Band

How to Split up the Songwriters' Shares in a Band

By Les Stroud

Waaaaaay back in the early '80s I went to a songwriting seminar. I have never forgotten what one of the writers said to us all. The question put to him was, “How do you split up royalties, my drummer wants a piece”. His answer was candid and straight to the point. He said something like: “Look unless you just wrote Stairway To Heaven and you’re certain it will be the last great thing you ever write, just split it all up evenly amongst the band.” And I would add to that, even for the drummer who is sleeping over on the floor and seemingly not contributing.

We writers of lyric and melody tend to put ourselves on a writer’s pedestal. But the list of songs that truly struck a chord with the audience (pun intended) because of some little bass lick or drum fill opening is nearly endless. No, I don’t believe that the strength of a song comes down to the sound of the reverb on the delay on the snare, let’s not go too far here. But what a musician contributes in the studio, can sometimes make all the difference in the world. They should be honoured for that contribution.

Cream struggled endlessly trying to get "Sunshine of Your Love" to work in the studio and it wasn’t until Tom Dowd, the producer, stepped in and told Ginger Baker to play an “Indian” rhythm on the kit and lo and behold it gelled into the perfect rock song it is. Tom didn’t get a share of the writers credit however.

A Canadian band I worked with once told me of their terrific method for splitting up the writer’s royalties with the whole band and yet still honouring the two writers who stayed up all night crafting the lyrics, melody and chord structure of the song. They take the publishing royalty plus 50% of the writer’s royalties and that goes directly to the main writer(s) split evenly if there are more than one. Then the remaining 50% of the writer’s royalties is split amongst the band including the main writer because he or she is after all, also a part of the band. In this way everyone is honoured for their contribution to the art no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

The moral of the story is - relax. You will write more great songs and anyway, isn’t it a joy to share the spotlight with another person if you are so graced as to see your music receive attention and success? It’s still going to be your name on the album credit but the players will always know they get to share in a piece of the musical pie.

Les Stroud continues to forge new pathways with his artistry and as such has three new albums and a major concert announcement releasing soon. You can follow Les Stroud’s musical endeavours and sign up for his newsletter at