Every songwriter will get to the point where they feel the need to share their works with the world. And nothing is easier than that! With digital platforms such as Youtube, Instagram, Soundcloud and the likes you may well reach tens of thousands of people in literally no time.
Now, whether you are a performer yourself or a writer, who is trying to get your songs cut by other artists, your songs are meant to be heard! No doubt about that! BUT, you may feel rather protective of your little “jewels”. What if people steal your ideas, e.g. change your lyrics in tiny ways, allowing them to get away with it? And what if an artist would have loved to cut your song, but now that it´s already out there, that is no longer on the table?
It is crucial to pose these questions and to search for the answers. For YOUR answers that is! There really is no right or wrong! Depending on your goals, you may want to publish some songs early on and hold others back for a while longer!
Here´s some facts you should know, to base your decicions on:
With plenty of copyright lawsuits popping on the news regularly, you might feel unsure or maybe even slightly terrified to put out your own music, as it might unknowingly turn out to cause a copyright infringement to someone else´s work. Likewise you might worry about your own songs and wonder how to protect those against such infringements from third parties.
First of: The creator of a song (a “song” being typically defined as a distinct melody and lyrics (unless it´s a song without lyrics)), you automatically own full copyright. Nobody can take that away from you, unless your music isn´t as original as you thought. If you accidentially stole musical themes from other songs you´ve heard, than you might not be the originator after all! However, that means, your song would have to be very similar to an existing song and contain various bars that are actually alike. So, personally I would not worry all too much about it.
What´s more important though is, how do you potect your songs from being stolen?
Interestingly, this is where Youtube or Instagram might actually come in handy. Once you upload a song, it automatically has a timestamp and is visible and audible to anyone. So if someone copies your tunes and puts those out, your video or soundfile is already in existence and might already have received comments from people, which proves that you came first!
If your goal is to write for other artists, then holding your best songs back for a while might make sense. There is a certain right, referred to as “first use”. This describes the right of any originator to put their own music out first. Or to sell this exclusive right (of first publication) to someone else. And by selling I mean, taking money in trade of the exclusive permission to be the first to record and publish your song!
A lot of A-listed artists might be interested in cutting songs, nobody has heard before. So, if you plan to work with established record labels and publishers, it might make sense to hold your songs back for a while, pitch them and see if you can gain some extra cash.
Now, let´s look at the topic from another angle. All legal issues aside, sharing your music online could actually help you gain fans and draw attention to your work. This is especially helpful, if you plan to perform your own songs and establish yourself as an artist!
Digital services make it very easy for you to target the exact audience you wish to attract, and allow you to evalute data, such as: where do your fans live, how old are they, how often do they return to listen to your media etc. It is a great tool to help you find out which songs perform well, and which might not hit home! If you invest a little money and push ads, you may be able to build up a solid fanbase rather quick and create momentum! So in this sense, I´d say, give it a go!
If you want to make money as a songwriter, there are two things to consider, when publishing your work online.
First off, yes it is possible to make money from Youtube and other platforms. But it takes a lot of work to get there. You first need to gain a decent amount of subscibers and plenty of views on your videos, before the advertisements Youtube places before your videos, grant you an actual income. But if you are determined and stick to posting videos on a very regular basis, you might have a chance!
If you still prefer to pitch songs to publishers and labels, so that other artists might cut them on their albums, then you might wonder, whether publishing a raw version of your song online, might degrade your song´s value / exclusivity. This touches on the “first use” topic.
Keep in mind though, that first use isn´t always the most important thing, labels look for. Several A&R Managers have told me that it isn´t all too relevant if a song has been published before. If a song has a certain potential and is what they are looking for, the song might be a winner, even if it has been publihed before! Just keep in mind, that most A-listed artists will indeed prefer cutting brand new songs. But yes, A&R Managers do scroll through Youtube as well! So, this might be a great place to show up for you!
All in all, think about where you want to take your songs, what you expect out of them and then base your decision (one by one) on that! Let me know your experiences, too! I´d love to hear how things worked or didn´t work out for you and how you handle that!
Disclaimer: Please note, that none of the above information are to be mistaken for legal advice. These are just industry tips taken from literature and personal experience.