Define Your Collaboration Conditions in Advance!

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This topic has been discussed before but I wanted to mention it again for new folks! If you decide to collaborate with someone at 50/90 it is a good idea to decide in advance what that collaboration means!

1) is this just a collaboration for fun for the songwriting challenge and after the challenge both/all parties retain all rights to their individual contributions?


2) is this a more formal collaboration where both/all parties intend to create something together meaning after the challenge the entire finished product is co-owned by all participants?

This is not typically an issue of huge import but kinda nice to at least consider what you prefer prior to doing it!

i only have a couple of collaborations which have resulted in me adopting the music or the lyricist adopting my arrangement/ composition, and one where i intend to take part of the musical realization within my own. i expect most to be in a spirit of fun, with the possibility of a result usable by both parties. oddly enough, after i articulated explicitly that i write my own arrangement before i listen to possible realizations on my FAWM page, there was less collaboration, not more. i'm thinking of just putting that it is on a case-by-case basis, as a direct explication seems to have resulted in less interest in collaboration.

Personally, I'm here for the fun of it and can't imagine my work being used commercially.

I always work off the assumption that my collaborations are just for fun within the walls of 50/90 and personal Soundcloud pages and the like (and that any other use would require express discussions and consent). But of course I have no reason to assume anyone else shares my particular understanding (and some people could reasonably balk at *any* posting outside 50/90). So @johnstaples is undoubtedly correct that an ounce of discussion early on can stem a ton of hard feelings down the road. I will say that all of my collaborations have always been delightful experiences for me (and I believe for my collaborators), and there have never been any difficulties*, although perhaps my collaborators and I always have happened to have similar philosophies.

* Well, except for the time that @musicsongwriter generously allowed me to remix and add vocals to some piano lines she provided, whereupon I went super dark in terms of lyrics and theme, much, I think, to her surprise. Even then, she was extraordinarily gracious at my misstep. But it really goes to show: if I were to add lyrics to someone else's music again with the intention of going in an off-kilter direction, I'd certainly discuss it with that person first! As always in life, communication is key.

For me, always #2. There's no "fun" in working with a song just to realize you're just being used and will get dumped a few weeks later. Never been in a relationship like that before, have we now? Wink Totally sucks.

I'm mixed between the two slightly. If we create something beautiful together then let it be officially "born". If my partner would like to post it publicly, I would expect they ask permission first and include my name as a contributor. If the stars align and actual money is made...well I'll worry about that if it ever happens.

If we create something that is for pure silliness, then I would expect our little liaison would not be binding. My partner could take their lyric or their melody, depending on which was theirs, and reuse it to something that fit better. I would also expect to be able to do the same.

There have been a couple lyric I've written, that someone else added music to, where I hear something very different and would like to explore adding melody myself. It doesn't happen often, but it has happened. I'm pretty much a basement performer - literally - so only have had my partner ask permission to make collabs public. Happily it's happened twice in my life so far! That's amazing....

@darcistrutt , your first paragraph sums up my approach, in essence.

I enjoy curating my collaborations in the form of a free-to-download album on bandcamp (always with the consent of, and credit to, the collaborateur). If you want to work with me, there's a good chance you'll end up on one. The number of downloads suggests that there's no immediate threat of my becoming famous and creating a royalties nightmare.

I try to be explicit about my part of any contribution being "Creative Commons Attribution" licensed. By being explicit in the license of my part of the contribution, there are no surprises. I'm totally fine with people taking my work and making money off of it, as if I wasn't, I'd use a different licensing model. (Such as "Attribution Non-Commercial Share-A-Like", which allows for derivative works but not commercial ones.)

Really great comments!

To those who have suggested this is only an issue if a song is used commercially I'd say for me the collaboration arrangement matters regardless of whether or not the song ever makes a dime! For the very reason that most of our music is not destined for commercial success, how it is used, shared and enjoyed becomes even more important.

My personal preference is similar to @bithprod's position. If I invest time in writing a part to a song, usually I would prefer the final song be considered a finished joint work. I would not be keen to having my collaborator offer their part to others to write a different version! In that case, all subsequent versions are covers in my opinion. Smile

@yam655, how would that work if someone else did not agree to their contribution being licensed this way? Can you have a song where the music is copyrighted but the lyrics are not (or vice versa)?

I love the phrase "Communication is the key". I think best thing to do is to discuss with each collaborator what the ideas and the goals are. I love collaborating and I find it fun to collaborate but I also have my hopes that one day one song (or more) might find its way to a movie/theatre, etc. so I take it seriously too. It is always good to discuss thoughts and ideas and there is often a compromise to be reached. The worst cases for me were when my collaborator would disappear and I didn't have a chance to have some questions answered. I think it's important to keep in touch as sometimes more and more ideas are coming to mind. I've been lucky though with almost all my collaborations and I'm looking forward to more collaborations this time around.

@OdilonGreen it was fun to collaborate with you, the idea of your song is very cool, it's kind of too dark for me. I know though our song had huge attention and it was amazing to listen to. Hope one day we collaborate again Smile

Legally, once a lyric is set to melody and recorded (or notated etc.,) then it is a work co-owned by all those who took part in the songwriting. If you want a different deal then you need to expressly state that (as our good friend, John pointed out to start with.) The key being, you can't "take it back" after it has been collab'd unless it is agreed upon ahead of time. It also means any cowriter can legally use it as they see fit afterwards. I've never had a bad situation arise from FAWM or 50/90 but I hear some folks have.

There are those who will post a big exclaimer on their soundboard and on each lyric they offer for cowriting. I think that's great. It makes things less fuzzy and lays out expectations. But it will cause some people not to collaborate if they don't like the terms. Which is only fair.

Thanks @tcelliott! I seem to recall us discussing this in detail (surprise!) at one of the previous challenges and someone (@writeandwrong ?) found something in the law that said there needs to be intent on the part of each contributor for it to be considered a joint work. Maybe the simple act of joining the collaboration would suffice? Best to state what your expectations are ahead of time I'd guess.

@johnstaples, Music, arrangement and lyrics of a single piece of sheet music can have different attribution and different copyright. (Then each recording of a performance of an arrangement has another copyright.) For instance, the Christmas song "Carol of the Bells" is currently under copyright (in the US), but only the lyrics are copyrighted (1936), as the music comes from "Shchedryk", which was a Ukranian New Year's Carol originally arranged in 1916 (and is in the public domain).

If the lyrics alone have a less restrictive license, it would be like someone taking the lyrics to Jingle Bells and using them with a totally different melody. Not particularly likely, but at least sites hosting the lyrics couldn't be subject to takedown requests for copyright infringement.

If the lyrics and melody both have a less restrictive license, then someone else could make another arrangement. This might be the difference between a simple acoustic guitar arrangement versus a piano arrangement, (which a person could feel might step on toes), or it could be something more novel like an arrangement for barbershop quartet or maybe Tuvan throat singing with piccolo.

This is also why church hymns can be totally within copyright, even though both the lyrics and melody have been out of copyright for hundreds of years. All it takes is for someone to make a new arrangement and the sheet music is within copyright.

Let's go back to Jingle Bells, whose lyrics and melody are in the public domain. However, if Tomorrow's Boy Band records a performance of it, they own that performance and can make money from selling that single and can (rightfully) send out take-down requests if it is being illegally distributed. Their heirs then own the copyright on that performance for the "life of the artist plus 70 years." The fact that the lyrics and melody are in the public domain just means they don't need to share the proceeds with anyone. This would be the case, even if they only used a piano like the original arrangement.

Basically: Lyrics, music and performance are totally separate. Now if, say, someone wants to use my Crapcapella demo as the vocals in their final piece... This is also explicitly allowed by the Creative Commons Attribution license. The Attribution license allows a person to take the Crapcapella vocals and use them in their song as they like without tainting their own copyright in any way. The other person is under zero obligation to use any sort of Creative Commons license in their final work and can make all the money from it.

Consider it like taking an out-of-copyright recording and using it in a song. You can do it, yes, but so can someone else. The Creative Commons Attribution license gives almost all the freedoms of being out-of-copyright, with the exception that you need to attribute the parts I wrote/sang to me.

@yam655, do they at least need to give you any credit? Or even tell you they've used your music?

@johnstaples one of my favorite experiences was when a group of us did a different take on the same lyric. We did it in every style you could imagine. It was OKed by the writer to begin with. I agree that is the key - communicate! He was honored and had great fun with the fact his lyric had a dozen collabs. We all gave him collab credit of course. I find the games of challenge, where you use 50% of the compilation before you, can also mean (in my case) keeping the lyric and totally redoing the music in a different style. In a playground like 50/90 or FAWM there needs to be room for non-normal scenarios.

@darcistrutt, I agree 101% and I love the spirit here with all the crazy sharing and games and challenges! It makes for a wonderful and stimulating environment for songwriting! My only point really is for folks to give it a bit of thought about what they hope to achieve and maybe then confirm your collaborators are on the same page.

Thumbs up @johnstaples, plus-1, Like, whatever means I agree..... Biggrin

I can say from experience that open communication is the only way to collaborate...and I've not been as good at it as I'd like to be. Everyone says upfront what they expect from the finished product.

I too am in the "writing for fun" camp with downloads and video plays as a reality check. Even in the "writing for fun" camp, communication is important to head off misunderstanding of expectations and outcomes. Suggestions from my experience, are not to be too attached to a song idea or outcome, and check ego at the door. For a more interactive co-write communicate by e-mail, better yet phone/skype to get to know each other a bit first, and bring multiple ideas to the table.

Either way, here are a few added questions to clear up. Will the collaboration start with just one idea or pick from several ideas? Who decides? Is the collaborator open to suggested changes in their contribution (e.g. changes in lyrics, music)? Who does the recording. producing and/or mixing? How to determine when the demo is done enough to post and FAWM on?

Thanks for starting this thread [@John Staples]. In my experiences here and at FAWM, most of the time collaborations have been fun and gone very smoothly. A few have been dropped for various reasons and became learning experiences.

In collaborations I always tried to match up my efforts to complement the collaborator. When putting another's words to music, I always send the rough demo music idea to the lyric writer first. Sometimes my musicification gets posted as-is. Sometimes it does not match the writers intent or feeling. I can't think of a single instance where I did not like a collaborators contribution and asked the collaborator to redo or not post. As I mentioned, I am doing this for fun. On the one collaboration that made it to a recording, and another several in the queue, I asked for permission from the collaborator to publish/record and will give co-writing credit with any proceeds (so far zilch), intended to go to non-profit music/arts/charity organizations.

@darcistrutt I love group collaborating with the same lyrics. It's fun Smile

@johnstaples Good topic as these things need to be discussed up front so people can make an informed decision before they start collaborating.

@yam655 Yes....nice work.

Hopefully I will be hunting down some lyric-only stuff this 50/90 and putting them to music. My approach will default to "if I am just putting music to existing lyrics" then the lyric holder can do anything with their lyrics at a later time if they so wish (and I have no rights to publish outside of 50/90 unless agreement is reached beforehand).

A co-write where collaborators work on the music/lyrics as they go along is a "true" co-write and cannot be put asunder after 50/90.

kc5's picture

@Kevin Emmrich I added you to my watchlist simply because what you said above peaked my interest as I am a lyricist/melodian who likes to retain rights to my lyrics and allow musicians to retain the rights to their music because I DO like to experiment and hear different versions of the same lyric. I'm not sure your style of music and if it would jive with my style of writing, but, I'm sort of poking and exploring and would even consider writing to already existing music to challenge my writing skills. I find this takes a bit longer to do since I have to listen to the music a number of times to get a feel of how/what to write -- how the music speaks to me. I am not glued to that arrangement always, but its my default until other considerations/arrangements are made with collaborators. I figure the way to discover if we're a good match is to listen to your stuff, but nothing there yet, so I'm watchlisting you!

@johnstaples, credit is required -- that's the "attribution" that's required. Legally they don't need to tell me they've used my music. Sure, it might be fun to know, but having my music spread is more important than knowing where it has spread to. Cory Doctorow says, "think like a dandelion": Since reproduction is so cheap, it isn't important to know every location where your work travels to, it is only important that your work travels everywhere.

For instance, my "Shipping Containers" album has a GitHub page with the source to the sheet music (that's included in the full album download on BandCamp). This makes it easy for someone to compile it for a novel page size, as well as makes it trivial for someone to add or change a verse before they print it out for their group.

@kc5 : Almost everyone on 50/90 has a FAWM profile, so you can listen to their February songs. @Kevin Emmrich has a bandcamp listed on his profile. I'm listening to it right now. So thank you Smile

I'm still at the "$0" level. If someone's serious about selling their lyrics, I don't think my demos are going to help Smile Especially if you're relying on my vocal performance Biggrin . On the other hand, if someone wanted to pay money for a song we collaborated on, I would let you know, because I'd be totally freaking out.

Yup, that be me. Always good to be 100% clear what the intentions are from the beginning. I'm in a contract. It is what it is. What we do during 50/90 is for fun...and that version of it is solely for 50/90. However, that being said, some I do will NEVER be used for anything beyond 50/90 anyway or isn't right for the band... so those ones are open to whatever...but yes, truly is on a song to song basis with me. No sense in arguing over it. We are all in different places with what we do so there is no "right" answer. General copyright law will be had unless there is a clear written statement that can legally alter it. I have a statement on my page, but that's my "general" statement, and if a song I do is something that the band will never play or it was a silly one for a skirmish, etc... then that is open to general copyright law and I'll usually say that in the liner notes that it's something they'll never do.

Ohh, and forgot to mention, another legal way around this is if you change the song at least 50% after 50/90.

@darcistrutt I do this a couple times each FAWM or 50/90, with a set of lyrics, as I really enjoy seeing how different composers relate to the lyrics I have written. Great fun !

I wouldn't, however, do this with the rest of my 50/90 or FAWM lyrics, as I believe that the 'trust' and 'integrity' of any collaboration is paramount. I always discuss prior to starting if the song is just for 50/90, or for 'everywhere and eternity' with the collaborator, and using this process have not had a problem yet. And, with the agreement of the co-writer, some of my songs go on to be used commercially in one way or another, so deciding on parameters is paramount (pun intended) prior to starting work.

The only time I did have a problem was before I started putting the collab 'terms' on each song and on my profile.

Even with all the technical bit text on each song's liner notes, people still seem happy to collaborate as they know where they stand from the get go. Despite all the technical 'bumpf' on my songs, I'm pretty easy going, and am almost always happy for it to be just 50/90 or 'everywhere in the universe', whichever we both want.

I think I need to stop rambling now... too much caffeine Wink

It's a bit shocking, no matter what, when ---I see folks, via one of the many sell ur stuff sites, say "hey, here's a new song I wrote". Then, in the feedback, at this other closed group, I consistently was told, responded to the critical feedback, --- "oh, I only sang it". Who wrote the lyrics, wrote the music, played the instrument, recorded, arranged it..."oh, wasn't me"... "so, whattayah think"? How could I feedback and comment ... "Stuff", while explaining CR law, theory, etc. Smile ?

My point: no matter what, you need to get to know folks.

I have a friend here, known for 2 yrs or so... we still are clear, first, --what's being done and why.

Why risk the friendship ... real ones, so hard to make online, --if at all.

The biggest issue seems to be, misuse, context of the song. That means, I actually don't want my name, aka, etc. on a song used in a Context, I would be uncomfortable with; e.g. Artist finds their song is the Theme Ralley Song for a political candidate ... worse, would be a "new" arrangement... -- modded words, -- no right to modify others work. Please, leave my name off, if my ballad is transformed into a death metal suicide song ... etc. How many ways can u sing "I shot the sheriff, and glad the deputy too!" eh? Not good, if mine. Don't want my name on a viral video of *accidentlal making.

And, for me, it's not the money... no day dreaming here, ... my songs, good, bad, liked or not, are like children ? ... If I work in a jingle-house... writing copy, not at all... But, otherwise, ---many lyrics are Framework if a personal idea, feeling, to be finished down the road. So, just a point of irritation.

But, make no mistake, properly CR'd or not, let it accidentally make enough money, and you'll be in court. Keep, records of public exposure especially. So many are so confused by CR law, though, really, quite simple... Krappe just seems to happen... Am chord, arpegiated, ala "stairway to heaven"... as I stop now Smile ?

No one owns, standard notation, the 145prog., styles, cadences... they own the magic, of their differences of use.

Well my intention on collaborating with someone is to work on my compistional pieces. As I find them to be too short or lacking interesting ideals and I figured two people working on one song is better than one working on one song. So i guess I belong in category 2. I mean I want to have fun songwriting but I also want to improve on it as well! Smile