I’m a Featured Singer In a Recording. What Should I Be Getting Paid?

The following was emailed to Digital Music News this morning from a featured artist trying to figure out his royalties.  Can you help this person out?

Hi Paul,

I am a artist and songwriter who just finished reading your article “Now you know everything about publishing” One thing that I find hard to find is how featured artists are paid on songs.

Is there an industry kind of standard that artist refer to? Here is my scenario:

I am featured on a song with a singer who has asked me to do a 16 bar verse, I wrote it and performed it for the final SR. If that song is sold as a download for say $1.00 what would the featured artist royalty rate be?

Do you mind giving me a proper break down of the numbers for a single iTunes record sold?

Here is my idea based on $1.00

  • ITunes- 30 cents
  • Label/Administrator-70 cents
  • Writers- 4.55 cents, divided by 4. (2) Lyric (2) Melody
  • Publishers- 4.55 cents, divided by 2. Only 2 publishers involved. Owner 1 =40%, Owner 2 =60%
  • Main Artist- 14% of the 70 cents (net) or 14% of the $1.00 (gross)
  • Featured Artist- How do you calculate this number?
  • Producer-?? Same as melody writers 4%

Now after the digital distributor gets paid its 30% and the money goes to the label, do they pay the artist and producer based on 70 cents or on 60.9 cents which would be left over after the 9.1 cents for publishers and writers have been taken out first? So out of the below scenarios which one is correct so far without determining the featured artist rate, and how do I determine that?

  • Digital Distributor= 30cents
  • Label=48.3 cents
  • Writers/Publishers=9.1 cents
  • Main Artist & Producer=12.6 cents
  • Featured Artist=?


  • Digital Distributor= 30 cents
  • Label=49.938
  • Writers=9.1
  • Main Artist & Producer= 10.962
  • Featured Artist= ?

Also, here is how the writers/publishing shares are split


1) 20% (Lyrics) Main
2) 10% (Lyrics) Featured
3) 10% (Melody)
4) 10% (Melody)


1) 20%
2) 0%
3&4) Same publisher 30%

Hope you find time to read this. Would love to get your expertise and feedback.


23 Responses

  1. Me

    If your agreed upon publishing rate is 10%, then you should be getting whatever 10% of the total publishing revenues are.

    Harry Fox has a royalty rate calculator you can use. https://secure.harryfox.com/

  2. Marcus

    I am also interested in this answer, from the other side of the equation. I am a producer/artist releasing mainly instrumental music, but want to feature vocalists on some tracks. I’ll co-write the tracks with the singers.

    I was thinking to split the writing and publishing 50/50 but would like to own the recording (master). What’s a fair and simple way to handle this? Assuming the singers are also their own publishers, how to handle payments of income?

    A summary of what I should pay and how would be very helpful. Is a buy-out fee best to own the master? Or just a simple release form it singer is a friend and agrees to it (or we do exchange of services, such as I record or produce something for them).

    Do I need to pay out then based on sales, streams, compilation and sync placements? Or do the PROs, SoundExchange, etc handle that automatically as needed?

    I have not found a good summary of this scenario online even though it is surely quite common.

    A sample contract would be very helpful.

    • Phil

      It reads as if the vocalists will be working for you. A work-for-hire arrangement would simplify many of the issues you raise in your post.

      • Marcus

        Thank you…so it’s a “buy-out” then essentially of the recorded vocal.

        This isn’t just about money (as there may not be much, but one can hope) would also like to minimize my administration duties later on.

        So assuming that both I (as “artist”) and the featured artist both have their own publishing companies registered with their PROs, and we agree to split both writing and publishing 50/50, what payments do I owe them down the line, if I own the masters?

        If anyone has found a clear breakdown of such a scenario and its payments, please do advise. It’s become very confusing with all the different modes of music distribution now.

        I am registered with ASCAP, SoundExchange, and SongTrust (which also takes care of Harry Fox).

        • Marcus

          P.S. Initially I would be self-releasing this on my own “vanity” label, but then will seek licensing to other labels’ compilations, sync to film, TV, etc.

    • GGG

      Yea, what Phil said. Pay them for their time, they get some publishing if they write their parts, but don’t give them any master. UNLESS they are some artist who’s involvement will directly lead to more sales. Then you can entice them with some points on sales.

      • Marcus

        GGG –
        Thank you; that makes sense. I hope the simple buy-out/work-for-hire fee will be acceptable to most of the singers with whom I would be working. Especially when the income will be small, points on the masters would just be one more administrative headache to pay all the singers. It becomes difficult to split that 1/8 of a penny windfall from Spotify.

  3. VP, BA, Indie Music Publisher

    $1.00 comes in.
    $0.30 to distributor.
    Remaining $0.70 SHOULD be split 50/50 master and publishing. That would be
    $0.35 to Master/Record Company
    $0.35 to songwriters and their affiliated music publishers

    That $0.35 that goes to the songwriters and their music publishers SHOULD get split 50/50 between the track and the topline writers. So:

    $0.175 to writer of the track (producer)
    $0.175 to top line writers.

    Custom is that a verse, a hook and a chorus are all worth different percentages. If you are the primary featured recording artist who does most of the verses you get a bigger percentage. If you are a guest artist who drops in for a verse feature, you get less (e.g., 10-16.67%, depending on stature of other writers and portion of whole song your verse constitutes). Writing a hook is worth a relatively bigger percent as is chorus (these being important parts). If song includes a sample or an interpolation, person who included it probably has to absorb shares given to clear that – unless all agree to take it off the top – all as sorted based on relative leverage and relationship of the writers.

    • Anonymous

      …Publishers collect their affiliated writer’s share, except for songwriter’s share of public performance income paid direct to the writer by the PRO the writer’s affiliated with. There is a custom that if a $1.00 of publishing $$ comes in, $0.50 is paid to the publisher and $0.50 is paid to the writer. It’s not that the publisher gets an independent split of the composition – their interest ties to their affiliated writer…

    • GGG

      You’re a VP of an indie publisher and you’re taking 50% of artists sales? I really hope nobody is signed with you with how ridiculously you’re ripping artists off. Do your job and get syncs, don’t steal sales income from them.

    • Marcus

      “$1.00 comes in.
      $0.30 to distributor.
      Remaining $0.70 SHOULD be split 50/50 master and publishing. That would be
      $0.35 to Master/Record Company
      $0.35 to songwriters and their affiliated music publishers”

      Good example. So who is responsible for these splits and payouts? The label? (In my case, I am the “label” for my own self-released projects, so I ask as I want to know what I am getting myself into by featuring other artists. I want to do right by everyone from the get go and preclude problems and disputes down the line).

      I spoke with ASCAP, SoundExchange, and SongTrust about this, and all refused to give any substantive guidance, telling me “it’s all negotiable” and “talk to a lawyer”. But there must at least be some aspects that are not negotiable, whether fixed by law, generally presumed as conventional, or simply understandable as the proverbial right thing to do.. That’s what I am trying to determine.

  4. Rick Shaw

    Whatever you negotiate. Sometimes it’s a flat fee, sometimes points, etc.

  5. Mike C.

    You’ve got most of this correct. From the $1.00 in revenue, there are 2 things that are basically non-negotiable:

    1. 30cents to ITunes/retailer

    2. 9.1 cents to Harry Fox Inc. which then handles the writer/publishers splits. It’s usually split 50% to the publisher, and 50% to the songwriters, as you’ve noted. For “main” and “featured” lyrics, as well as main and featured melodies between the songwriters, the splits are usually dependent on the length of the song, but this part is all negotiable.

    What’s always left is 60.9 cents that goes to the record label, and everything from this 60.9 cents is negotiable. Many times a “Featured” artist gets paid a flat fee, with no points on the record. The 14% royalty to the artist you referred to was based on an older model of selling CDs, and it usually meant the full retail sale price. In your example, it would be 14cents, and any producer points or featured artist points would be taken from this same 14 cents. That’s basically it.

    • Me

      This is pretty much spot on. Honestly, you should always know ahead of time what your split is. It should be in your performer’s agreement and/or publishing agreement. Always come to an understanding ahead of time on how much you will make, whether it’s an up front flat fee w/ no royalties, or if you’re going to get a percentage of publishing or sound recording royalties.

      I will add that there is one thing that most people seem to be forgetting in their breakdowns is the distributor’s percentage. Unless you have a direct deal w/ Apple (or any other service), your distributor/aggregator will be taking a cut of the revenue as well, and what that percentage is depends on the service and your contract with them.

      • Marcus

        Per your second paragraph, if I understand you correctly, you are warning that any splits have to be clearly speficied as dividing the remainder *after* the distributor takes its cut. Right…?

  6. Nicky Knight

    Working with others can bring about complications … it’s true that where there’s a hit, there’s a writ .. because money changes everything…

    If you hire a singer to sing on your track for an agreed rate of say $200 and the track isn’t a hit then no one worries too much … but if the song becomes a monster hit then out comes the lawyers letters… everybody gets a little greedy for the cash .. and it can cause a lot of problems .. Look at The KLF and Wanda Dee over the tracks “What Time Is Love?” and “Last Train To Trancentral”.(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanda_Dee) .

    Even Giorgio Moroder said that it’s so complicated recording with singers nowadays because singers now come with managers, lawyers and contracts and everything takes so much time.

  7. Marcus

    Is it still advisable to do a letter of intent before beginning work with a featured singer/artist? Or do a full on contract right away? Or wait until somewhere later in the process, only having a verbal discussion/agreement early on?

    Legally, it probably makes most sense as a protection to all parties to do an agreement from the get-go, but that seems like raining ice water on the collaboration, rather like a pre-nuptial agreement, and may create a sense of mutual mistrust, hardly the best atmosphere for a good collaboration and vibe.

    So the challenge seems to be to find the right balance between legal protection and clarity of duties and obligations, vs. creating a positive, amicable, trust relationship.

  8. Tamika

    So I need a lil help and I hope one of you can help me…. I did a song with a Artist named Vybzkartel from Jamaica. When we did the song no contracted was signed. 1.6k viewed on the YouTube vid which I put together and the song was put on iTunes and I don’t know what was sold… my question is am I entitled to any royalties as the singer?

  9. Teresa Applegate

    My great 4x grandfather wrote 2 songs I know of and just found out people has recorded them. Would I have any royalties coming to me or my family?

  10. EQHZ

    If a composed the track and wrote and sang the hook to a song what’s my percentage?