Being so new to the field of songwriting – only a few years into it, and a little over a year taking it seriously – I’m finding that, like any serious career choice, there’s a huge learning curve. I educate myself on both the craft and the business of songwriting by watching discussions with the pros on YouTube for the most part, but I’ve also hired not one, but two mentors that I talk with on the phone once a month. I’ve had one meeting with each so far. One of them specializes in writing radio hits, the other specializes in film and TV licensing. Both are highly successful in their respective fields.
The guy that’s in the hit song writing business says the only way to make a living as a songwriter these days is to write hit songs. The downside is there are armies of amazing songwriters who are already entrenched in the business that I’ll have to compete with. The upside is that all I have to do is keep writing songs. I don’t have to produce radio-quality recordings because someone else is going to record them. I can be anywhere in the world and all I need in order to do my job is a guitar or small keyboard and a laptop. But until a publishing company decides I’m worth their financial investment, I won’t make a dime. And it could be years before I write a song that actually gets on the radio if I’m fortunate and talented enough to do so.
The film and TV guy claims it’s too hard to get onto radio unless you’re in the inner circles. There are only a few hundred staff songwriters in Nashville today where there used to be thousands. The only way you can get your foot in the door, he claims, is to get to collaborate with someone who’s already doing it. Getting songs into TV and movies is a lot easier. The downside is that you have to have CD quality masters ready to go, so there’s substantial production time and/or cost involved. And while you’re working on paying for and producing your first recordings you can’t be working on writing songs.
As a side note, writing hit songs requires writing detailed lyrics that provide lots of information in a small space. On the other hand, lyrics can get in the way of dialog in a film, and therefore they often need to be much more general and less detailed. Two totally different heads. Of course there’s some overlap.
Another way to make money as a songwriter is to record your own music and travel around doing performances and selling music either on your own or through a label. This option is obviously the most costly option in terms of effort and financial resources involved – not to mention the strain that constant traveling can put on your health. And fame – even in small doses – can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
The question is, “where do I fit into this puzzle?”
The one thing all three options have in common is this: If you don’t write great songs, you’re sunk no matter what you do. If you DO write great songs, the rest falls into place. So regardless of which path I end up taking, the beginning of the journey is the same – write, write, write, and write some more. I’ll be trying my hand at all three to see where my strengths lie.
People seem to like the songs I’ve written and recorded so far, and they’ve gotten me radio airplay and afforded me the opportunity to tour, but they wouldn’t fly in Nashville or LA. (They say the best songs aren’t written, they are re-written.)
A lot of this information is fairly new to me, so anyone that’s been following what I’ve been doing will see a shift in my songwriting and production styles over the next year. For one thing I’m using professional engineers instead of doing it myself at home as I have in the past. I’ll also be creating tracks targeted at pop and country artists that are just basic demos. I’ll continue to write for my own enjoyment and artistic expression while I work on learning the craft of hit songwriting and writing for film and TV.