Songwriting and producing - Free or Fee??

Here is something that everybody I know struggles with in their career. You start writing songs for fun, you start producing for fun, and at some point you have put in your 10.000 hours of "learning time" and you are ready to compete with the big boys and girls out there.

You are trying to manage your writing and production career around your (part-time) job and you are realizing that you are maybe writing/producing 20+ hours a week and not making any money. How can you be able to quit your job if you are years away from your first royalty check?


Traditionally publishing companies pay for their writers by providing them with a draw. A draw is essentially and advance on future income as a writer and it allows you to be a fulltime writer. However, these days, publishing deals are few and far in between and the average draw is no more than a part time job.


Here are some tips and tricks to get started. .


1. Additional Catalog Value.

So here you are, finally working with some cool indie artists who are looking for songs for their EP release and their upcoming tour. You are writing in someone's bedroom or living room and at the end of the session you record your brand new song on your iPhone voice memos. Obviously you are a 50% writer on this song, but there is no additional value. The chances of the artist recording, performing, releasing this song are small and are totally out of your control. However, if you would have written the song with a producer in the room, or if you are the producer in the room you would also be able to argue a piece of the master. This means that even if the artist doesn't cut the song on their record, you can still use that master to secure yourself a sync placement, you can use it to shop your skills as a writer and/or producer to other possible clients and you can put it up on your Soundcloud. Obviously you need to discuss the boundaries and percentages before you do all these things (remember, do it all right before or after you are done with your session) and put it all in a simple group email or split sheet so you are all aware of the terms.


If you are a producer, you can consider doing instrumental tracks for libraries. There are several libraries where you can upload your tracks for micro-use or you can contact a library and offer to create an exclusive album with specific instrumentals for them. (think Holiday music, piano instrumentals, classical guitar etc.)


2. Project base writing.

When you write with your friends, of course you can't suddenly start charging them for the time you spend with them.

However, you can create a network of songwriting/production friends around you and find artists who are looking for a team. Offer a package-deal where you charge for 3 or 5 days in a row that you only work on this artists project and you pull in your writing friends to really hone in on the sound of the artist.

In this scenario you are not charging for the writing, but you are charging for the service you offer. This could be considered development and for a starting artist that could be very valuable.


3. Add more tools to your toolbox.

This sounds counterintuitive, You just spend 10.000 hours learning how to write pop songs and now you gotta focus on becoming a better guitarist, singer, you gotta write an urban top-line or learn how to record yourself.

Guess what, it's never gonna end. In order to keep up you gotta keep moving and growing. You can't call yourself a songwriter and only do 1 genre, you gotta be able to be flexible and eager to pick up new things. This is how you keep getting into better writing rooms. Show that you can adapt and each time, bring something new to the table.


4. Say no.

At some point, you gotta start saying no to things that you don't think could bring in anything in the future. If you work with a friend for 2 years and they still haven't released an EP, they are still not touring, it might be time to stop writing and spend that time on someone who is as eager as you to succeed.


Like attracts like, if you start surrounding yourself with people who think like you and are as excited to turn their musical dream into a career you will suddenly find yourself in a much better position to succeed.


5. Find a direct example.

There are people around you who are 3 or 4 steps ahead of you. They might not be babyface or Sia, but they have crossed a few more bridges than you and they might be willing to share their experiences with you. Find someone in your environment and ask them out on a coffee date. If you create a bond with a peer who is growing a little faster than you are, they might pull you into a session one day when they can't make it.

Remember, you are peers, never competition, so stop being threatened by someone else's success, but use it as an example.


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