When people ask the question, “How do I become a songwriter?” They first need to clarify what kind of songwriter they mean. Making songwriting your career and life for five days a week is the first kind of songwriter.
The other kind of songwriter is the one who simply writes songs. It’s similar to how you can be a poet without being a career poet, or how you can be a skilled painter without making your living from painting things. In a similar sense to being an artist or a poet, songwriting is an art form.
Most people who ask how to become a songwriter want to become a songwriter who really does this for their career, but if you just want to learn how to write great songs, then it’s not too complicated!
Three Keys to Success
Regardless of which kind of aspiring songwriter you are, we would encourage you to do some research by getting songwriting books, reading more songwriting blogs, watching YouTube videos, and most importantly, writing more songs! Whether you’re brand new or simply want to get better, there are a lot of educational materials out there. As you dive into the resources available to you, also consider these keys to success!
Practice Make Perfect
If you want songwriting to be your career, there are a lot of things to consider. The first thing I 1000% recommend is to practice! When learning to play an instrument, we understand that we need to practice for many, many hours to get really good. A lot of people could be amateurish after a year of taking some lessons here and there, but to be a professional, you need an insane amount of practice!
There’s a rule that you need 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert (although the truth of this is questionable), but many pro musicians have definitely practiced for over 10,000 hours. In our musical culture, a lot of people understand that when it comes to playing, you have to practice a lot, but for some reason when it comes to songwriting, many assume that if they have a great song idea and just play it a little bit, they can say, “I just wrote the next radio hit! Someone work with me!”
The reality is that although songwriting is occasionally inspiration-based, and you could just happen to write a great poem on your very first poem, when you think of the great poets of our time and past times, the reality is that they’ve written a lot of poems in order to get to their level of fame and skill. The same thing is true for songwriters! Professionals in this industry have often written LOTS of songs!
It’s not just about getting through a whole bunch of failures in order to get to the successes but more so just about learning from the process and practice of songwriting. If you want to be a professional in the film industry, then hopefully you’ve made an absurd amount of videos on your own. It doesn’t really matter what happens with those videos; it’s all just about learning how to take different shots and different angles, figuring out lighting, how to deal with the actors, and all those things involved in film-making. In the same way, the best way to get better at songwriting is to write songs, which means you have to practice!
Although there are exceptions, almost universally every professional songwriter either has an insane musical background or has written literally HUNDREDS of songs! Oftentimes, they’ve written hundreds of songs before they ever even get their first publishing deal, major cut, or a song on radio.
A lot of songs can take several hours to craft, so more than anything, if you want to be a songwriter, treat it just like if you wanted to be a professional musician. Practice the craft of songwriting with that same kind of ferocity as pro musicians practicing their instruments.
What’s beautiful about this too is that when you actually do have professional opportunities like getting to co-write with A-list songwriters, they’ll like you because you’ll really know what you’re doing – and that matters a lot!
So write a lot of songs, practice, and if you really want to be a professional songwriter, also find out if you are good at melody, lyrics, or building the track in a writing room. Specialize in one of those areas, but also be versatile.
The Importance of Versatility
Can you write a song by yourself?
In Nashville, New York, and LA, professional songwriting is a co-writing culture, so sometimes people get it in their heads that it’s okay to just be good at one thing because they’ll be able to get in writing rooms with other co-writers where they can just worry about their main skill instead of all of the other elements that make up a song.
That can work, and some people in the industry operate like that, but at the same time, people who specialize in lyrics, for instance, almost all play an instrument really well. People who are awesome at writing melodies are typically really good at something like playing piano, guitar, or can work a session in Logic like it’s nobody’s business, even though they’re “melody specialists.”
Oftentimes roles in a writing room can change around because, yes, professional songwriting really is about co-writing, but you’ll also be a better songwriter if you are capable of writing amazing songs totally by yourself. Don’t put yourself in a writing room where you have to be reliant on others because you can’t write a song because you don’t have a lyricist, or someone building the track, or because you don’t have good hooks or melodies. Don’t limit yourself and your abilities. If you feel these struggles, then the answer is to get better. You should specialize, but if you have weaknesses, shore up those weaknesses.
If you learn to write songs on your own, you’ll have these three main advantages:
- When you get in a writing room, if you specialize in something like tracks, and the other person is better at melody, then you can communicate and talk shop more easily, because you understand their role.
- If a song ever ends up complete in the co-writing session and you need to be the one to finish it on the back end, you can finish it up on your own, which can be a really big deal because sometimes it’s difficult to schedule another session with your co-writers, depending on who they are.
- If you have all the skills to write songs on your own, when a person who specializes in an area couldn’t make it that day, you can be adaptable and the songwriting session doesn’t have to fall apart because you know how to take over all the different roles in a co-write.
Overall, get really good at having the capability and know-how to be able to write songs on your own. Don’t let a weakness overtake and keep you from being able to take on any role in a songwriting situation.
Find a Publisher
When it comes to having a career as a songwriter, for the most part you’re going to want to have a publisher. If you don’t, a lot of things down the road will be tricky. To get a publisher, you of course need to attract a publisher, or make a publisher interested in you and have to be good enough for that.
It can be difficult for a lot of publishers to see “raw potential,” which many people feel they have, but if a publisher sees that you’ve gotten cuts on other people’s records and been on a lot of projects, then that’s definitely something that a publisher can take more seriously.
You can start to do this by releasing your own songs (this can be especially good if you’re a songwriter and an artist), get with other people to co-write, or maybe you can start something in your community where you’re mentoring young people and helping them write and release songs since a lot of young people want to get into music.
The more you network, go to industry events, hang out in Nashville, connect with people online, and get better at the craft of songwriting yourself, the more other songwriters there will be that you will meet who are going to want to write with you. A lot of the time people don’t get in songwriting rooms with other people because their skill sets just don’t match up. That’s just the unfortunate reality of it. The way to fix that is simply to improve your skill set, and then keep co-writing. Even if you’re writing with a bunch of independent artists and working on smaller projects at first, that’s totally fine. Jump on those.
Sometimes independent artists who don’t have publishers can be pretty standoffish about co-writing because when you’re splitting the royalties, or the share percentage, of the song between two writers (that means each of you get a 50/50 split of that song), there’s more paperwork and headaches to deal with. So, if you run into cases like that, then offer to have a no-royalty share of the song. Say that you would love to keep your name on the song, but that the other writer can have all the publishing for it. That way they don’t need to worry about any tracking or paying you, and lots of independent artists will be more welcoming to that idea, because the reality is, especially if they’re a smaller artist who isn’t going to have massive radio success, they’re not going to make a lot of money from their songs anyway, so if you’re giving up your “publishing rights,” then you’re not losing a lot of money anyway.
Money is not the goal at this stage. Your goal is to get a publishing deal, and then hopefully after the publishing deal (and it’ll take a while after the deal), you can build up to a point that you are having major releases that are bringing in real money, but prior to that, worrying about money and splits isn’t worth it. You want to attach your name to songs because that’s what publishers will pay attention to, so the most solid strategy is to get some cuts. The important thing in this stage is to focus on that and get your name out there. At the point when you feel you’ve established yourself and have some cuts under your belt, some solid releases, and some songs you’ve been a part of in demos or on Spotify, then you have a story and some real credibility that you can bring to publishing companies.
Occasionally, it works to try cold-emailing publishers, but I wouldn’t recommend this overall. The best option is to meet publishers in person at an industry event or something similar. Another good strategy for meeting publishers, especially if you’re establishing yourself and getting in writing rooms and being a part of the whole songwriting scene, is to hopefully co-write with people who are published songwriters with publishing deals. If you’re doing that, the publisher will see your name just because you’ll be attached to the songs the other songwriters have turned in!
You can even ask the songwriter that you’re co-writing with if they can introduce you to their publisher, especially if you both have a good vibe, are becoming friends, and they believe in what you’re doing and really like you. 100% of the time, the best way to have a shot with a publisher is if you get referred by someone to them. If someone else believes in you and they put their neck out on the line to bring you to that publisher, that’s going to speak volumes more to publishers than a cold email.
If you aren’t able to get in a co-writing room with a professional, then other options include becoming friends and getting mentorship from industry professionals in whatever way you can! The artist Jordan St. Cyr says that if you don’t have other things you can bring to the table, like clout and credibility, or this notoriety that makes other people want to work with you, then maybe what you can bring to the table is money!
Money is just a form of value and in this kind of relationship, it’s all about exchanging value. If you don’t have value that you can bring to a publisher, another co-writer, or a music-industry mentor on another level, then maybe you can bring monetary value by paying for mentorship, etc.
At Full Circle Music, we deal with a lot of songwriters and there are lots of people who move to Nashville and cross paths with us who just “want to be a songwriter,” and it is hard to help them because there’s a lot of things that are intertwined in the path to becoming a songwriter.
One of the most important things in becoming a songwriter is truly the skill set, and if you are really good at writing songs, then that’s step one, and there are steps after that, but just getting absurdly good at the art and craft of songwriting is the first thing that you’ve got to do if you want to be a pro songwriter!
We have a lot of songwriters come to us who say, “Man, I don’t know how to get my songwriting to the next level,” or, “There’s all these things I’m missing, could you help me out?” And so decided to do something and create a full, robust, complete, absurdly holistic songwriting course!
If songwriting really is your dream, that is the absolute best resource we can offer you. We spent an insane amount of time and energy creating this course. Songwriting Mastery is over 15 hours long, analyzes and features about 150 different songs, and covers all the bases of becoming a pro songwriter.
The mission of the course is to empower songwriters and allow them to pursue a songwriting career. Whatever weaknesses or mysteries in the art of songwriting you face, we want this course to clear those up and make the path and the skillsets you need clear. Again, there are a lot of other ways to do research and learn songwriting, so there is absolutely no pressure, but we do think this course is the most powerful and efficient resource we’ve ever seen on the internet, so if you want to check it out here!
This week only we also have a special deal on the course! If you’re interested in learning more, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to tell you more!