Make Money Songwriting
Everyone asks for songwriting tips. I recently bought a book about songwriting tips and it had some great advice. You know what the best songwriting tip is? It's from an ad jingle.....just do it. Just write songs. I know it sounds simple, but the best thing you can do is just write. In fact writing songs is no greater than imitating what you hear. A really good songwriter is the person who is able to HEAR a great song and THEN imitate it. 90% of songs on the radio don't qualify as 'good' songs. You must first understand what makes a good song. However, if you're after the cash and not the credit then you'll quickly learn to 1) give in and write mediocre songs (and be a GREAT salesman), 2) carefully balance musical greatness with commercial music, or 3) just become a great song writer. Of course you will always continue working on your songwriting technique as you grow. Consider taking various songwriting classes, attending songwriting workshops and songwriting camp.
Now that you know the greatest songwriting tip (just write songs), one question remains. How do you make money with music and songwriting?
Royalties are your songwriting money. You get paid from the use of your song. There are four types of royalties earned from songs - mechanical, performance, synchronization and print. The publisher of your song (whether it's you or someone else) collects the mechanical, synchronization and print royalties, and the performing rights organizations such as BMI, ASCAP and SESAC (or SOCAN in Canada) distribute royalty checks for performances a few times a year.
Mechanical royalties are what you call the money you make from sales of physical records, tapes, CDs, DVD's, etc. There is a fixed rate per song that you will get paid. For example, at the time of writing the rate is 8 cents. Let's say you have one song on a CD and it sells 100,000 copies then you'll make $8000. If you wrote 10 songs on that CD, you would have $80,000. Unless you self publish it is traditional to split that 50% with the publisher. So quickly learn about publishing and become your own publisher!
Now let's say you wrote one song on an album that sold a million copies - $80,000 in mechanical royalties. Then they released a CD single of your song and it sold 100,000 copies (not to mention hit the airwaves for performance royalties - discussed below). The CD single contained the original version of the song plus 4 dance remixes. That's 8 cents for every remix version of that song on every album sold - another 8 cents times by 5 versions = 40 cents x 100,000 copies = $40,000. You can see how this can add up fast. It's compounded for each song you have on that album or single and this continues as long as the song is selling albums, years down the road. At the end of the year some merchandiser like Time Life does a 'Best of 200x' CD, advertises it all over television and in comes more money. Five years down the line someone covers your song, or it crosses over to country, or it winds up on a tv show or ad commercial. Big money my friend. It is to your advantage to work on your songwriting technique and introduce yourself into the songwriting market fast. Check out some of the recommended books found on this site.
Here's another big one. This is a major source of money for any writer. This typically pertains to the money you will earn from radio airplay, television, jukeboxes, music services and live performances.
Radio and television stations pay yearly license fees to the performing rights organizations and are typically negotiated as a percentage of their advertising revenue. Performance royalties can include cable tv, concerts, health clubs, museums, airlines, music on hold, restaurants, trade shows, internet radio, and anyone else required to pay fees to play music.
So how do they know when your song is played? It varies based on the performing rights society. I used to work in radio and every three months we were asked to log every song we played for a certain period of time, usually one week. Luckily we were already computer generated so we just printed off the play list hour by hour, marked songs they were interested in, noted the song, artist and society responsible for the copyright, and then fill in by hand any information that got played manually, like request shows. The performing rights society then used this information as a 'sampling' of what was being played in similar markets. Then they apply statistical formulas to determine how much money each songwriter that was played during that period received. Keep in mind that this assumes what was played during that sampling week was the same thing played for the entire 3 month quarter!
As an artist, a good thing to do after writing your own songs, working on your songwriting technique, and getting a good understanding of the music business, is becoming friendly with the music directors at some radio stations, and make sure your song is getting played in regular rotation during a reporting period. It's not unheard of for a nobody artist with two turntables and a microphone to get a $300 check from airplay at one college station during a reporting period. That money can buy a fancy new microphone.....and the publicity gained is probably enough to capture a few gigs. Multiply that by a few songs over time, a few radio stations, bigger markets that pay more fees to the performing rights societies, etc.
Live 'in studio' appearances for local radio shows during a reporting period is another great earner. Let's say you know a DJ who features local bands. You've got a CD. Find out when the reporting period is and have him interview you during his 60 min show and play a few cuts off your CD. Maybe he will go on vacation and replay that interview tape during the next reporting period. Money in the bank.
As time goes on, there are systems being put into place that will capture each song played and therefore give a more accurate royalty payout for those artists that deserve it, instead of just those getting aired during the sampling period. In which case ANY airplay you get is as good as cash.
Synch royalties can be substantial but they are a little different from the others. Synch typically means licensing the right to record the music or songs in synch with the pictures of film or TV movies. How much you get for this is usually negotiated between the publisher and the producer of the flick.
If cranking out instrumental music is your thing then this may be a market for you to break into. Background music in a movie would be a good example (not necessarily film scoring). Unless you have a previously popular song there's a good chance that you'll work for a flat fee plus screen credit, foregoing the synch royalties for the chance to do it again.
Even if you only intend on being a singer or band member, by participating in songwriting and getting your name at least as a co-writer you will increase the money you make in music. If you are seeking a record deal this information will help you in negotiating rights to your music.
To delve further into how to get paid for songwriting, or other lucrative career options that we won't go into here (like print music options, religious music or children's music), I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Craft and Business of Songwriting, Third Edition by John Braheny. That's my songwriting tip to you. The book is FULL of great songwriting tips, and is split about 50/50 on songwriting technique and the business of songwriting. I don't think any other book covers as much pertinent information to your songwriting success as this one. He also has some great stories and examples from his friends in the industry and from his time spent in the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase. Although I have many music books on my shelf, this is the one that I refer to most and I recommend it as the book you both start and finish with.
Lastly, sign up to join our EMAIL LIST. We periodically come across good resources like songwriting books, coupons and deals, online songwriting courses and songwriting contests that we send out emails for. Staying in touch will get you to start working on your skills and provide you with some opportunities you may otherwise miss. The stronger your skills, the quicker you work, the more diverse your talents, and the more valuable your become. Enjoy!