To Be A Successful Songwriter
its tough to break into the music business these days.
But the news is not all gloom and doom.
truth is there are more opportunities for writers and artists
today to make a living than ever before. You can be well
on the road to becoming a successful songwriter or songwriter-artist
if you follow some simple proven strategies:
SURE YOUR SONGS ARE THE BEST THEY CAN BE
number one reason songs don't make an impact on an audience
or get recorded by outside artists is because they simply
aren't strong enough.
many writers waste thousands of dollars recording or demoing
songs that aren't ready to be recorded or pitched. And some
waste more money hiring independent song pluggers and buying
tip sheets to pitch those same songs. The music business
is hard enough to break into with a killer song, much less
a song that isn't competitive.
of spending all that money on demos, recording studios and
tip sheets, buy a book on songwriting. Take a class. Attend
a songwriter workshop or seminar. Aside from the networking
opportunities you'll encounter, you'll probably learn a
trick or two.
if you already know the basic craft, you can still enhance
your unique voice as a writer and strengthen your writing
skills by incorporating new techniques into your lyrics
and music. As Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning
is old, whether at twenty or eighty."
Play your songs for an audience and see if that humorous
line in the second verse really makes them laugh or if the
bridge has the emotional impact you think it should. And
by all means, have some professionals in the industry evaluate
your song before you spend money on that demo or recording. A few professional insights on the song might save you a
lot of money and heartache.
feel that co-writing might compromise their integrity as
a writer. But like a good marriage, there are also a lot
of advantages to a good collaboration. A collaborator can
bring a new perspective into a song that you never would
have thought of on your own, or bring strengths to an area
where you might not be as strong (e.g., music, playing,
well as the obvious creative collaboration on the song,
a co-writer also brings his or her entire network of friends
and business contacts to the table. For that reason, we
regularly hook-up cowriters at SongU.com in various songwriting
challenges (the current challenge is the blind date
challenge in which we've paired up over 100 writers who
have never met to write long distance together).
year, one of our members from Canada who was paired up with
a writer from Hawaii collaborated on a Blues song. The Canadian
writer then pitched the song to the director of a Blues
Festival that happened to be in town that week. The pair
ended up with their first co-write together getting recorded
on a blues compilation CD alongside several well known Blues
artists like John Lee Hooker. Together they accomplished
what neither could have alone.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT DEMO
you do get around to demoing that great song, choose the
every song needs a full blow-out demo. Every song has its
own life and the best vehicle to showcase the songs really
depends on the song. One of our SongU.com instructors, Cole
Wright, a top Nashville songplugger, does a monthly feature
in our e-Auditorium called Whats Cole Pitching?
in which he plays and discusses several of the demos hes
pitched during the month. You'd be surprised how many guitar/vocal
or piano/vocals he pitches and gets cut.
before you demo the song, give some thought to how to best
let the song convey its message. Regardless of whether you
do a full band demo or a simple piano or guitar/vocal demo,
it needs to be a professional quality (i.e., the vocalist
sounds like they should have a record deal and the guitar
player is flawless).
JOIN THE DIGITAL AGE
you're still recording your songs on that cassette or 8-track
player and don't know how to put them into MP3 format, you're
behind the times and are going to miss out on a lot of pitch
opportunities. For example, when my wife, Sara Light, and
I were writing for the Broadway show Urban Cowboy we got
a call on a Friday afternoon from the director of the show
that they needed us to write a new song for the close of
the first act by Monday mornings rehearsal
they needed lead sheet and worktape in hand at rehearsal.
they were in New York City and we were in Nashville. With
two days to write the song and get them a lead sheet and
recording, there simply wasn't a lot of time. If I didn't
have the skills to do the lead sheet on the computer and
create/record the MP3 to email them at rehearsal, we would've
missed a golden opportunity.
BEYOND THE OBVIOUS WHEN YOU PITCH
the wise monkey, Rafiki, from the movie The Lion King says,
You must look beyond what you see.
many writers make the mistake of trying to only pitch their
song to the top selling artists. You might as well buy a
ticket to the lottery too because you've got just as much
a chance of coming out ahead there. Your song is competing
against the songs and networking power of every other hit
writer and every other professional songwriter and publishing
company around. Heck, that artist is probably writing songs
for the album too and their producer probably runs a publishing
company and has a vested interest in getting songs from
his or her publishing company on the project.
if your song is as good as all those other songs, it would
be tough to compete against the established relationships
and networking power of those other individuals. Instead
of playing the lottery, play the odds.
market is vastly different from what it was ten years ago.
There are many more non-traditional opportunities available
that weren't available to writers before if you just look
for them. For example, we have a regular pitching opportunity
at SongU.com for a company in California that licenses songs
for wedding slideshows, graduation slideshows and more.
Some of our members make several hundred dollars a year
from their songs being licensed in this way.
fact that online organizations like CDBaby.com give indie
artists an opportunity to market and sell their projects
means they can generate an income (and pay out royalties)
without a big record label behind them. There are thousands
of independent artists on MySpace - many of whom look to
outside material when it comes time to record their album
(and have devoted fan bases that buy those albums). With
the help of the Internet, you may find surprising sources.
YOURSELF (well, at least your songs)
Something definitely happens when you don't put your songs
out there in the world for others -- they don't get cut!
So take advantage of every outlet, every possibility, ever
opportunity. You never know which will be the one that pays
off. One of our members received a contract offer from MTV
for use of some of her songs in one of their TV shows because
they stumbled onto her songs on her website. If people can't
hear your song or find it, they can't fall in love with
it and want to license it or record it.
CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Finally, remember that success is an ongoing journey, not
a destination. As soon as you get your first single song
contract, you want a staff deal. You land your first cut
and then you hope for a single. You get a single and then
you set your sights on having that #1 hit. You score a #1
hit and then they tell you that no one takes you seriously
in the business until you have at least three #1 hits. In
other words, this road has no end in sight. So enjoy and
celebrate your achievements along the way.
Whether you are just learning to upload an MP3, a new open
tuning on your guitar, or place in a songwriting contest
you are successful.
of us did not choose this as a career. It chose us. We write
songs simply because we can't imagine life if we didn't.
So as long as you're on this journey, you might as well
buckle up and enjoy the scenery.
~ Danny Arena
Danny Arena / Reprinted by permission
Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and songwriter.
He holds degrees from Rutgers University and serves as an
adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University in
Nashville, TN. He has taught songwriting workshops throughout
the U.S and, as a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music
Publishing, composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy,"
nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical
and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is cofounder
and CEO of SongU.com,
a leading educational resourse for songwriters and composers.