How do I make money off of songwriting?
August 28, 2006 10:28 AM   Subscribe

How do I make a (portion of a) living as a songwriter?

Basic facts:

1. I like to write songs, and people seem to like listening to them. It is something I can reasonably say I'm good at.
2. There are people who are called "songwriters" in a professional sense—they write songs, and people use those songs, and money changes hands accordingly.
3. I'd prefer to make money—even if it's only a portion of my total income—doing something I enjoy and have an aptitude for, rather than solely doing something I don't particularly care about

So the great big hand-wavey complicated question is, from those assumptions, how do I make money as a writer-of-songs, a bard for hire as it were? I don't have fame or connections to industry folk; I'm just some guy. Where do I start?
posted by cortex to Work & Money (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
you rock hardcore indeed.

This website is useful seeming:
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2006

I was just listening to a few of your tracks this morning. Your guitar work and voice are very complementary, don't discount being a singer/songwriter.

I would encourage you to read All You Need to Know About the Music Business.

And basically just get out there man, network, network; network. South by Southwest etc. Start doing some shows.
posted by bigmusic at 10:46 AM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: don't discount being a singer/songwriter

Yeah, disclaimer I should have provided: I may very well make other independent musical efforts—I love performing, and intend to put together at least a couple different albums in the next while.

I consider this to be a sort of mission aside from whatever else I might or might not do musically, for profit or otherwise.
posted by cortex at 10:51 AM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: Also, is there a good guide to/tao of networking for people who hate, hate, hate networking? Who cringe when the answer is "networking"? Who don't get out much?
posted by cortex at 10:55 AM on August 28, 2006

The thing about the business is that either you do it full time with everything you've got (and do something else to make the rent while you're doing the songwriter thing, but don't put too much of your heart in it) or, basically, give up.

Even then, you're facing the steepest of odds. There are a zillion super songwriters out there toiling away in obscurity, all thinking pretty much the same thought. There are also a few thousand pros with the skills, the connections, and the time and knowledge to make sure they get first dibs on any opportunity to make money selling a song. There are also few genres where songwriting is separate from performing entirely.

I spent a few years in the game. I wrote good songs. People recorded them. I made a few bucks. I didn't have the drive to go to the mat with it. The odds were simply too daunting. Voice of reality here: if you write good songs and people like to hear them, keep doing what you're doing to put those songs in peoples' ears and relax about making money from it. If you're really good, really lucky, make great connections (a crucial part of this, and any other, creative business) and work really hard it may happen anyway. You're best off singing your own songs and marketing the whole package. But don't think of it as a rational enterprise with a clear meritocracy and a career path. It ain't so.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:09 AM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, is there a good guide to/tao of networking for people who hate, hate, hate networking? Who cringe when the answer is "networking"? Who don't get out much?

Love is the Killer App has an interesting take on networking. It's only like $2.50 used and it's a decent quick read.
posted by bigmusic at 11:26 AM on August 28, 2006

Go independent.

The business will suck the life and soul out of you. People will tamper with your songs, and then claim part of the song credit (and part of the money.)

If you are still set on it, it's all about who you know.

If you consider yourself a true artist, consider doing it without the conscious aim of making money. The art will be better. I am not saying making money off your art is bad, but it will, I repeat, WILL have an effect on your creativity.
posted by konolia at 1:36 PM on August 28, 2006

Stop hanging out on MeFi 24/7 and get out and make music! But first, finish up the MeFiComp CD ;)

Start with friends who have bands and offer to write songs for them. Check ads in the local rags for peopel putting together bands, and post your own ad offering to write songs for serious musicians.

Good luck. You do have a talent, mate.
posted by terrapin at 4:52 PM on August 28, 2006

Check out Nashville Songwriters Association International. Lots of resources there - they do workshops on "get your foot in the door" type stuff.
posted by peppermint22 at 9:19 PM on August 28, 2006

Hey man, I just found your question, and I once read something that might be interesting for you to check out: about a year ago there was an article in the Guardian on Imogen Heap. It said she was broke, desperate and trying to make one last effort when one agency picked up one of her songs for the finale of a TV series that was very famous in the states.

The article said that apparently there is a new generation of people in TV and media that are beginning to seek fresh new music; they are people who would be more interested in great songs than in songs by very famous people, so people like us stand a better chance. These "new people" apparently set up intermediary agencies that focus on finding guys like you (very talented), hooking up their songs in TV shows and movies and they get a percentage. They do not care about how not famous you are, how unwilling to mingle at parties and all that, they just want your songs.

This sounds to me like the best option, as it brings you decent amounts of money and gives you the freedom to work on your own without a lot of the nasty aspects of the industry. It sounds specially right for a guy like you, who can craft songs very quickly and successfully try different styles.

Unfortunately the article seems to have been lost, I only found shorter versions in the Guardian's website, and they don't seem to mention the agency that used her song (the other one did) neither Imogen's case in detail.

I know I could have emailed you about this, but, in the spirit of community sharing, this might be of interest to someone else who has the same question sometime in the future, so here it is. Also, the book bigmusic recommended is very good, but I think it focuses in how to legally defend from the sharks and the very complicated procedures of the record companies, so while it is a must, might not help you with this particular question.

If you have any questions, email is in my profile. Good luck with it, you certainly have all the talent for it.
posted by micayetoca at 8:22 AM on November 17, 2006

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