hi Steve, I have a question about the ownership of a piece of music. Some bands like Exit North are joint owner (except for the lyrics), but with Japan it’s only one person usually your brother. I am curious what a tipping point and the boundary is. If you invented the drums yourself why aren’t you the co-composer? I personally think that what makes Japan specific is the uniqueness of the drums and bass. For example Methods of dance would sound very different if Ringo Starr played it. I am convinced that if you perform solo I would have a fantastic night. Mick also had such a specific sound. I am curious how something like this goes. Did David also specifically indicated how to play the drums or bass? Regards Frank. The Netherlands. See you in Helmond next year.

Hi Frank. So you want to know what justifies being the composer and thereby claiming ownership of the music, (not ownership of the recorded music, which is very different).

The traditional, recognised elements of song composition are made up of chord structures, vocal melody and lyrics. David Sylvian was responsible for all of these with the group JAPAN and therefore it didn’t seem unreasonable when our manager (being particularly ‘old-school’) at the very beginning of the bands career determined DS as the sole composer. This wasn’t uncommon at the time and it went unchallenged in our band as we felt it must surely be correct due to the way that JAPAN songs were conceived. But bands evolved over time to understand there isn’t always the same emphasis on one person being responsible for developing and crafting the work to the finished sound which creates the bands success. Bands also recognised that each member needs incentive to dedicate their time and energy, as well as their particular skillset and interaction as musicians in arranging and structuring songs, and that the best way of achieving this is to divide a share of the compositional rights with them so that in the event the band are successful there is some publishing revenue for all concerned. Regrettably this was never addressed with JAPAN therefore no provision was set aside for band members. So whereas a session musician would be paid by the hour (or track), the band members worked without pay, which is all well and good if you own a part of the composition because you are building a repertoire, but without that you are simply applying your craft to someone else’s repertoire and this doesn’t bode too well over the long term as publishing is essentially like a pension if a band were to become successful. With EXIT NORTH we go to more the other extreme because no single member wishes to earn more than the other, therefore we divide the composition rights equally between all four members regardless of how the songs are conceived both in terms of the music and the lyrics. I don’t think that could have worked for JAPAN but it would have perhaps been fairer to have allocated a small writers share to the band members in order that they were at least ultimately being paid for their time and creativity for their years spent developing the band, rather than having nothing much to show for it. I doubt everyone would agree but that’s my own view.

5 thoughts on “hi Steve, I have a question about the ownership of a piece of music. Some bands like Exit North are joint owner (except for the lyrics), but with Japan it’s only one person usually your brother. I am curious what a tipping point and the boundary is. If you invented the drums yourself why aren’t you the co-composer? I personally think that what makes Japan specific is the uniqueness of the drums and bass. For example Methods of dance would sound very different if Ringo Starr played it. I am convinced that if you perform solo I would have a fantastic night. Mick also had such a specific sound. I am curious how something like this goes. Did David also specifically indicated how to play the drums or bass? Regards Frank. The Netherlands. See you in Helmond next year.

  1. wow that is very old school. Ive seen situations where they split the songwriter with performers 50/50. From each 50% would come the total the writer would earn. Seems more fair, though ultimately the band later decided to change to equal share splits, to hold together the happiness of the band, and to see that people would be more motivated to stay on. I suppose that things could be changed in this new era if David was the type to see it that way. I agree with the comments that you , Mick, Richard all provided such unique talents to the music. ❤

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  2. Your restraint in your answer is commendable Sir… it’s blatantly wrong and unfair (the music industry isn’t fair) The bands that have made a decent living have all shared equally the credit for songwriting. I read that the great late MK was struggling financially which is so sad when others (labels, management, (other) im sure had made millions.

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  3. It’s a difficult situation as song composition is different to how it is played on a recording. If a band does a cover version in a drastically different way they cannot claim composition rights. However there must be a way of dividing up the royalties if sales between band members because as the original question says the Japan sound is because of the different skills of the players.

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  4. Hi Steve,
    Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question. Because of your explanation, I now know a bit how something like this works. Everyone has an opinion about it, but I will not comment on that. I leave that to the musicians themselves. Thank you again Frank.

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