Is it possible to be a successful songwriter today?

By Tutor Matthew Humphrys

Many songwriters have this thought. It seems that the same elite few write most of the songs in the charts and therefore “how can I as an unsigned songwriter ever compete with that and get my songs heard to be a successful songwriter?”

First of all it is important to realise that every elite songwriter (and by that term I mean those few that are earning mega bucks off of their work) started out just like you. They are normal people like you and most will have suffered the same problems as you, to initially get their songs heard.  What you should do first of all is define regular, achievable goals so that you can measure your successes.  It’s no good setting your sights on writing for Madonna and then forever feeling like a failure if you don’t make it that far.  Let’s look at a list of achievable targets:

Becoming a Successful Songwriter

  1. Make sure your skills are comparable with the best. If you aren’t fantastic, then you hinder your chances from the offset.
    1. Learn about songwriting through blogs, online videos, courses, listening and analysing songs in the genre you write in to get ideas etc.
    2. Write and re-write until you have hit records jumping out at you.  To get your songs heard they must be worth hearing!
    3. This is essential these days because as a ‘successful songwriter’ you will be expected to write with others, so get used to it now!
    4. Test your songs out on others to see what they think and listen to their feedback. If you want to sell your songs, you need to do some market research.
  2. Find local artists that are looking for songs (and even those that aren’t). Get to know their music, their style, range of vocalist etc. and then present some songs to them.  Even if you don’t charge the band; your songs will be getting promoted for free everywhere they perform, you can claim royalty payments by registering performances with your local royalty collection society and if the band makes it you may have publishing companies calling  

You could also contact artist development companies and offer your songs to them.  As long as you’ve followed point 3, you may save them a job of doing it themselves and you’ll spread your work even further without having to do much!

How to sell your songs and get your songs heard

  1. Record high quality demos of your songs. These days so many people have access to technology that demos are becoming almost release quality and if you don’t compete sonically, you are hindering your chances.  Remember that to be a successful songwriter, you don’t have to record everything with your voice on – find artists that suit your songs the best. It will pay dividends when publishing companies assess your music.   If you can’t record, then consider using a song production company.  There are discounts on our student offers page for this;  However, many people have been discovered by being in a studio at the time when someone else (important) is there…this is clearly pot luck but it does happen!
  2. Advertise yourself online showing off your best Nobody looks at a shop window full of junk and thinks ‘there might be some gems inside hidden in the back!’ You need them to hear your best music and think ‘wow! I like this writer’. Equally you will attract the best collaboration talent when you do this, which could lead you to being a team to be reckoned with!
  3. Get to know people. Human nature is such that we contact those whom we Do you think that when the A&R person at Sony Music wants a track for their biggest artist they will call you because you sent them an email once? Or Jacob Smith, whom they’ve known for 20 years and who keeps providing them with hit after hit?  That’s right.  And this is the hardest part for breaking into the big time.  You are going to have to try and get to know people.  Go to events, shows, seminars- anything you can find and always have demos on you.  A&R people are also just normal people doing a normal job.  They are not celebrities and their job is to find great music.  If you have great music then you are a perfect match to them.  You just have to think of creative ways to get your music heard by them and one of these is getting to know people.   On that note, LinkedIn is great because as you meet new people they might be connected to someone you want to know and you can extend your network exponentially.
  4. Enter songwriting competitions. Someone has to win them and if you get your name heard this can bring kudos and phone calls your way.
  5. Research people who work at publishing companies, call them up and ask them if you can send a song to them. Then follow up with them afterwards.  Your song may get played at an A&R meeting by doing this and though you might not be successful, your name will start to get known.  If you haven’t followed point 1 correctly, this could be a bad thing!
  6. Consider joining song placement companies. This could be a bad idea as the leading one only has a 7% success rate, but it does mean that you don’t need to do point 5 to succeed and if you are in the 7% of amazing people, you’ll have a great career ahead of you.
  7. If you are a singer-songwriter then release your music onto iTunes. Promote yourself to local and national press; get radio interviews and get a fanbase following on social media.
  8. Finally, accept that you will get more knockbacks than you will acceptances. That’s life when you are competing with thousands of other writers. You need to invest time in yourself, honing your craft and writing songs that people cannot turn down.

Working down this list will help you to achieve obtainable goals and will get you more known as a writer.  You need to take every opportunity to further your career and having a lacklustre approach to promoting yourself will result in zero gain. We would say that all ten points above are essential for being a successful songwriter – not just doing a few of them but all of them.  What do you think?  Do you have any success stories to share?

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