Nine Tips for Songwriters in the Zoom Co-Write Era

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The COVID-19 pandemic in America has brought forth numerous, unprecedented adaptations to everyday life—face masks in public spaces, toilet paper hoarding, and quantity limits on how much food you can purchase in a single visit. However, the pandemic has also forced many of us to be more efficient, reset a work-life balance expectation, and translate the time typically lost in commuting into more time to channel creative energy. 

Zoom has become the premier, go-to platform for creatives to collaborate and connect during the era of COVID-19. Songwriters thrive when co-writing with others and Zoom can make this possible. But, before you schedule a virtual meet-up, there are some essential tips and tools in considering to avoid any legal backlash or headaches down the road.

  1. Restrict access before your Zoom co-write.  When it comes to protecting your intellectual property, you definitely want to restrict access to the meeting.  When setting up your Zoom co-write, refrain from posting meeting access codes on a public forum and utilize passcodes to limit privacy breaches.  This will help to prevent unwanted “Zoombombing.”
  2. Do not Zoom co-write in public spaces.  This should go without saying in the era of social distancing and limiting public interaction with others, but conducting your Zoom co-write from a coffee shop or restaurant is not a good idea.  Again, your intellectual property is precious and should be protected as you would any real property you own.  You never know who might be at the next table to cop your secret to rhyming “hard to see though” and “shotgun seat-oh!”
  3. Keep watch during the write.  Once your write has commenced, the leader will want to scan the participant list periodically to make sure that the appropriate parties are in the room, and no one else!  To avoid this issue, Zoom has a feature that allows you to lock meetings once they are started, which will help eliminate any issues.  Zoombomb denied!
  4. Keep your roommate at bay.  So your roommate happens to be walking by during your co-write and throws out a dope idea to you to include.  Now we have to cut him in?  You’ll want to make sure that your co-writers are apprised as to the existence and especially creative input of any third parties lurking in the background during the Zoom co-write.
  5. Record the Zoom co-write only with permission.  Various laws prohibit the audio and visual recording of others without express permission.  Although Zoom typically indicates at the top of the screen when a meeting is being recorded, it’s a good idea for you to go around the so-called “room” and get a verbal thumbs-up from everyone that recording the Zoom co-write is okay.  If you write the next “Friends In Low Places” it’s not hard to conceive that the footage from your COVID-19 virtual Zoom co-write would be valuable content!
  6. Use your publishing information as your Zoom name.  Oftentimes, it’s difficult to backtrack and collect all the necessary information that you need in order to register a completed work with performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC).  Instead of putting “Tommy” as your Zoom name, put your name as it appears on your PRO account along with your international identification number, such as, “Thomas Noel Cecil, BMI, CAE/IPI# 545097929.”  This will be enough information for writers (or their publishers) to register the song appropriately down the road.
  7. Beware of regional customs regarding splits.  Although an entire article could be written on this topic, simply put—the customary way Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York writers divvy up splits on a song is completely different.  In the era of Zoom co-writes, once you and your crew become more and more comfortable with the format, it’s inevitable that you’ll continue to Zoom co-write with other creatives from across the country (or even world) as you realize that this is an accessible and easy means to facilitate co-creation.  You’ll want to be up front prior to initiating your Zoom co-write what custom split model you’re following.  If not, it will be virtually impossible to get songs cleared down the road with a cut pending.
  8. Use third-party tools to codify splits.  Once your write is complete, it’s a good idea to utilize one of the new third-party applications to codify your splits with your Zoom co-writers.  “Jammber Splits,” by Jammber and “Splits” by Create Music Group are two phenomenal options that will allow you to link in your Zoom co-writers and all agree on song splits before you even end the Zoom meeting.
  9. Be sure to take advantage of tax write-off opportunities.  If you have upgraded to the premium version of Zoom or bought new gear to facilitate smoother Zoom co-writes, keep your receipts so that you can write them off as business expenses.  Likewise, if you are Zoom co-writing from home, you’re now using a portion of your home as a “home office,” and can write off part of your mortgage or rent as a business expense!

Christian Barker is a Nashville-based entertainment attorney and creative consultant. Primarily music industry-focused, Christian provides transactional and litigation representation for artists, songwriters, producers, independent record labels, independent music publishing companies, and boutique artist management companies nationwide. In addition, Christian represents clients in the TV/film, fine arts, and PR/digital media realms and manages the intellectual property portfolios of several small businesses—both in and outside of the entertainment space.

He can be reached at cbarker@lewisthomason.com.

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