Essential Advice for Songwriters in the New Music Business
High impact activities to gain success and grow your creative business
One theme running through nearly all my creative clients and my own creative pursuits is the never ending struggle to make time to do the creative work you need and want to do.
So many “have-to”s on the to do list, so much pushed upon you in the moment that requires your attention.
The next thing you know, exhausted, at the end of the day, you crawl into bed or wake up on the sofa, without having written.
What is that about?
Over the years, I have cycled through an ever changing realm of challenges when it comes to creative entrepreneurship, and I can honestly say that nearly all of them are directly rooted in time management and specifically, effective prioritization of important tasks.
As an arts entrepreneur (the artist formerly known as a songwriter) I have had to balance a lot of things – from family / work balance to balancing creative expression versus commercial viability.
PRIORITY – Time Management
It’s not just simply finding time to do your creative work that’s the hard part of effective time management, but prioritizing the high impact activities that will help you the most, and make everything else easier.
For songwriters, there are lots of avenues for helpful activity presented to us from helpful suggestions, but mainly the advice given to us from every angle is to:
1. Write the most commercial song you can for the radio artists or film / television libraries, and
2. Pitch it to all the artists and producers and record labels and publishers you can, and
3. If that’s not working fast enough, enter contests.
What’s wrong with this advice?
At face value, nothing.
In fact, those are good steps to take and have resulted in many success stories over time.
However, is there something more specific that you can be doing to increase your chances?
What do you win?
One of the biggest challenges with songwriting success is that even when you achieve it, you are sometimes left wondering:
What did I win?
For example, when you enter some contests, you “win” the opportunity to give away your song’s copyright to the publisher who sponsored the contest.
So in essence, you, and all your fellow hopeful songwriters, “win” the chance to pay the organization and sponsor for taking your song’s ownership and hopefully doing something with it that you couldn’t do without them. It’s a great way to raise money for the organization and drum up a lot of free publicity among the songwriter hopeful crowd, and if you’re thinking along those lines when you enter, good for you.
If you win, the greatest part is that if you are also a recording artist who later wants to record and release your winning song to the buying public, you get to pay royalty to the publisher who now owns your winning song.
Yay! You won!
Not quite what you had in mind when you dreamed of songwriter success?
Sure, there are examples of people who won contests as part of their climb to superstardom, and this is why hopeful songwriters try these contests every year.
But is there another way?
What if you don’t really like the “commercial” sound that’s winning all the contests right now?
Does that mean that you’re dated and washed up as a songwriter before you even get a chance?
If you listen to the syllable counting critics, it can mean the end of your dream.
You can make your own win
Instead of looking at the success markers that others dangle in your face, you can look to your own thoughts of what songwriting success means to you.
What is important to you? What songs resonate with you, and what life experiences are you uniquely expressing in your original music?
And most importantly now, WHO are the people who respond to THAT music?
You see the shift in thinking here?
Now it’s not about playing some game of chance with your songs, or pleasing some industry taste maker with the make or break power over your career.
It’s about pleasing yourself and your chosen audience with your authentic, original voice as a songwriter.
Your stuff is bound to sound different, because your writing motivation comes from a different place than all those folks chasing the commercial brass ring.
Of course, your songs have to be quality, and that’s the real reason we study song craft and structure as new and developing writers.
But we don’t let faceless, nameless “experts” discourage or dissuade us from writing the songs that are laid on our hearts to write.
We still have to find reliable pitch outlets, but instead of sending our song babies into a black box where we have no control or guidance on what is actually happening, we can target the audience we know responds to our kind of music.
It’s hard work, sure, but so is planting and cultivating a garden. At the end of the season, you are sustained by your own efforts and are not standing in line waiting for your box of food.
When you make this shift of thinking from hopeful songwriter to active creative business entrepreneur, you naturally need to add more skills to your set.
Some of the old guard, threatened by this shift, will discourage you from moving forward along these lines.
They will play on your insecurity and fear and inexperience.
They’ll tell you that there’s no way you can do all that needs doing by yourself.
Focus on writing songs and leave all that complicated business stuff to other people, they’ll say.
They don’t want you to pull back the curtain and see how the sausage is really made in the music business, because maybe, many of them don’t really understand either. Or maybe they don’t want you leading the way away from the cliff for fear that the other lemmings will notice.
At the end of the day, one single success in the songwriting world can be the equivalent of kicking the door open for your career.
Whether it comes from a lightning strike of luck, or your own self initiated hard work, your songwriter success depends on the success of your song.
As a songwriter, your quality work is your inventory.
Each time you make a quality song available to the public (even as a soft release / demonstration only form) you have taken a small step toward career sustainability.
What happens if you keep throwing your songs into that pitch bucket at the songwriting group, and nothing ever happens?
Can you live with that?
What is holding you back from being a working songwriter?
Is it fear? Inertia?
Is it lack of money?
Because if it’s that, you’re not going to make that money chasing “traditional” songwriter success – even if you get a cut on a major label hit artist.
Right now, one million streams will earn the average songwriter about $1000.
So money can't be the motivation.
If it is, quit now and do something else.
No, as a successful songwriter in this new digital age of music business with its long winded modernization measures and copyright “reforms” – the songwriter as a stand alone profession is dead.
You will not make a living as a songwriter only right now, even with major cuts.
What’s the point then? What’s the hope? Why try?
The Real Win
Songwriting is more important than all that.
Those of us who are compelled to do it enough to call ourselves a master (that is having written more than 10,000 hours) know this.
As an arts entrepreneur, you can successfully use your creativity, including your songwriting, to earn a supplemental income for yourself and establish a legacy for future generations.
Even though our songs’ copyrights are undeniably undervalued right now in the current age of digital streaming mechanical rates, history shows us that music has intrinsic value that cannot be denied.
Eventually the market and lawmakers will come to this rational conclusion and will begin to set correct and sustainable practices for the commerce related to the distribution and consumption of our creative works.
In the meantime…
Write down every idea. Write every day. Log your 10K hours.
And for Goodness’s sake and your own:
Pick one song
Put it out yourself.
Have a written plan.
You can thank me later.
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