How to Become a Professional Songwriter

First of all, let’s get clear about a crucial point: there is no ready-made formula or recipe to become a successful songwriter.

By successful, I mean able to make a living out of the craft of songwriting. You don’t have to make millions and hit the charts. When you can pay the bills and feed your family without needing a side job, you can consider yourself pretty successful.

“Is it possible to do that?” the people around you may wonder.

The short answer is yes. Knowing how to do that, however, requires a lot of studies, experiments, and failures.

To become a full-time songwriter, you’ll have to master a chunky set of skills. Of course, you’ll have to be a proficient musician, but you will also have to understand the rudiments of business, marketing, I.T.

There will be a lot on your plate, so, if songwriting is your dream job, get ready for some hard work!

What to expect

Some people have no clue about what being a songwriter means. Our society tends to offer a romanticized image of musicians and artists, but their everyday life is not that different from any other working person out there.

Unless you make it big, for example by writing a very fortunate Christmas song that will generate millions in royalties, you will have to juggle among different jobs. You will often work with tight deadlines and clients coming back last-minute to ask for revisions and adjustments. You will be pretty lonely, sitting at your piano, in your home studio, or by your laptop, busy with the transcription of your ideas.

As exciting and enriching it is to be paid to create, too much work can lead to burn-outs and stress, as it happens with any corporate employee.

On the other hand, your songwriting work might generate steady sources of income that can last for a lifetime: royalties.

It can also offer you the flexibility of a self-employed career, doing what you love: writing songs.

If this premise didn’t stop your dream of becoming a songwriter, here’s a little guide on what steps to take to make it a reality.

Never stop learning

You might have received formal musical training. Or maybe not. It doesn’t really matter if you are willing to learn new stuff every day.

In case you haven’t studied music with qualified teachers, start from the basis.

The songwriting process seems so simple nowadays, with all the help provided by technology, but a good songwriter always knows better than the tools used.

You don’t have to become an expert at Music Theory or Harmony, but you should have a broad knowledge of the rudiments.

It is important, on the other hand, to master the field you choose to work in.

For example, writing scores for movies is different than writing Christmas songs for record labels. In the first case, you’ll have to adapt your ideas to what you see on the screen. In the other case, you’ll have to write something appealing commercially, but also fairly easy to sing.

Never stop learning the tricks useful for your market.

Singer and songwriters

Most of you, readers will probably identify with the singer and songwriter persona. You don’t want to write songs for other people to sing. You don’t want to write scores for movies. You don’t want to write jingles for commercials. You want to hit the biggest stages in the world singing your song to worshiping crowds.

This kind of career is slightly different, although it is quite common for aspiring rockstars to make some side money with commissioned songwriting gigs.

If you are committed to your rockstar dream, you can still follow some of the advice highlighted here, but you will also have to learn how to get on stages, how to promote your music, and a lot more.

How can songwriters find work?

As mentioned before, there are different songwriting jobs available out there. For example, you could:

  • compose melodies for lyricists
  • write jingles for commercials
  • write scores for movies
  • produce beats for rappers
  • write songs for record labels or performers
  • arrange songs for fellow songwriters who can’t do that.

There are plenty of more opportunities, but these are the most common ones.

Now, you might wonder: “Where do I find this kind of work?”

There is no fixed answer here.

The most sensible way is probably to build a portfolio to present to potential clients.

First of all, write something! Then find a way to record it.

Once you have a good quality recording of your work, make a list of people potentially interested in it.

Independent filmmakers? Independent record labels? Performers, you know or admire? Local companies needing a commercial? Brainstorm a few ideas, research the right contacts, and get in touch with them.

Prepare a nice cover letter to accompany your material, highlighting how you think your music could suit their needs.

“What if nobody replies?”

Well, that’s a possibility. But worry not: there is another road you can take.

The Internet is full of music libraries. These are platforms used by people needing music. Their functioning is similar to search engines, so, if you decide to upload your music there, make sure to label it with the correct keywords or you won’t get found!

A songwriter’s income

Now you might wonder: “How can I get paid?”

There are two main sources of income for songwriters.

You can get paid a fixed fee for your work and/or you can collect the royalties generated by the usage of your work.

Most of the time you will get both sources of income but sometimes, when your work is considered work for hire, you might only get a fixed fee. Some other times, instead, the client won’t have a budget to pay you upfront, so you will only get royalties.

There are loads of possibilities on this matter, so make sure to negotiate the terms of your salary before you start working.

Last, but not least: never surrender.

Becoming a songwriter is a tough choice, but it can also be enriching and remunerative. Always learn from your mistakes, be willing to challenge yourself…and good luck!

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