Artist developmentMusic Business

How to build a career as a songwriter

Dear Songbirds,

in today´s blogpost I want to give you a quick outline on how to build up a career as a songwriter, that might actually earn you a living.

Now, to get this clear, I don´t think of songwriting as being a mere job or a hobby. I don´t think making money from songwriting makes you more professional or “better at your craft”. Being a songwriter, like being an artist is so much more. It is a part of your identity!

However, you may still have the desire to not work any other job other than songwriting, and therefor this article might be of use to you.

First, we need to look into your situation and define your goals.

Are you a songwriter who wants to write for other artists, or maybe also for Motion Picture?  Or are you a singer/songwriter who also wants to cut it as a performing artist in the industry?

It is very important to determine your goal with respect to that differenciation early on. I say this, because both paths require you to take different actions!

The songwriter, who wants to focus on writing and staying in the background (which totally doesn´t mean you can´t perform at all, but maybe not as a main thing), should direct all their efforts into contacting publishers.

A singer/songwriter who wants to be a performing act as well, need to focus on getting in touch with labels or found a label of their own.

To understand the difference, I have created the little graphic below:

A Record Label takes care of performing artists and their catalogue (the songs published through the Label) and generally makes money from shares in the artist´s generated income. Labels will often pay their new artists advances for music production, Marketing and image building, which will later be deducted from the actual record sales, as well as any other income such as tour revenues, merchandise or even brand ambassador deals.

If you decide to go with a record label, make sure to get a lawyer in, to help you avoid any traps in the contract. The standard recording deals are often 360 degree contracts, meaning the label controls any income you generate. This includes products in the future and if you aren´t careful, they may subtract expenses you generate, that you weren´t aware of. So, always wise to double check before you sign! Generally speaking though, Major and Indie Labels can both help you boost your career by bringing in some money to help you gain momentum!

A Music Publisher on the other hand, is the entity that scouts songwriters. Some publishers hire songwriters to write continuously for them. This is called a writer´s deal. A lot of publishers will license single songs that songwriters pitch them, if they feel that the song has potential.

The publisher has an interest in building a catalogue of songs that might make it big in the charts, or in movies, ads and the like.

They are the ones to reach out to label A&Rs or brands, offering them that perfect song to meet the label´s current needs!

A publisher lives of the so called “publisher´s share” that grants them song royalties. Any song you write has two kind of royalty shares. For one, the songwriter´s share (which can be split into various writer´s shares, if it was a cowriting project) and the publisher´s share. The song always splits in a 50/50 perentage rate.

If you are a songwriter and you are not working with a publisher yet, you own both the songwriter´s and the publisher´s share. If you decide to self-publish the song, you earn 100% of the income.

If you decide to hire a publisher to take care of placements and collecting royalties, you automatically give away 50% income by passing on the publisher´s share to them.

Please note:

If you are a singer/songwriter, you may have both a contract with a publisher and a label.  You don´t necessarily need to chose either one!

In any case, before you start out publishing your songs or pitching to labels or publishers, make sure to understand the basic copyright regulations. I recommend getting legal advice or calling up your local performing rights organization for counseling!

Let me know if this short overview was helpful!

It is crucial to know your target group, that you want to pitch your material to. So, hopefully you see more clearly now!

Good luck to you!

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