The person who is purely a career songwriter, with no piece of their own artistry in their career arc, is increasingly a rarer occurrence. It’s not impossible. But it is rare. If you go through all of the big top songwriters out there nowadays, most fall into one of 2 categories.
A – they either are or were their own artist at one point or another in their career.
or B – they are music producers who also write.
The percentage of people who are only a songwriter, with no artist or music producer side, is pretty low – in terms of people who are actually doing it as their full-time career.
If that’s you out there and that’s discouraging to you, there are a couple ways you can take this. First of all, you can consider at some point releasing some of your own music as an artist! Sometimes the best thing a songwriter can do is put the music out and get reactions and feedback from real people. It can help you develop your voice as a writer. The other way that many writers go today, is they develop the increasingly important skill of music production. Lots of writers know that having production chops helps a ton, and can be a big part of the business model nowadays, working with artists and helping them make their records.
I started out as an artist – then turned full-time producer / songwriter. I believe that my time playing live and touring greatly influenced my ability to craft songs that connect with people. You see what works live and what doesn’t. One great piece of advice from John Fields, who is the Uber-producer who produced Switchfoot and the Jonas Brothers, is that when you’re starting out, you should join a cover band. Learn to play the hits. You’ll learn what works, what electrifies a room and what doesn’t. You should actually listen to that whole interview I did with him on the Made it In Music Podcast. It’s all at madeitinmusic.com if you haven’t heard or seen it yet.
One term on this topic that is worth mentioning, is the term TOPLINER. The topliner isn’t the producer, and they aren’t the artist. They are the writer who writes the music and melody. The music and melody are called the TOPLINE. Again, many top liners are or were artists in their own right, but there are a few examples of top liners who have had massive career success without putting the artist hat on.
I mentioned our Made it in Music podcast earlier. We have released close to 200 episodes of the podcast at the time of this video. If you are looking for a free way to really dive in and learn the music industry inside and out, from the minds of Grammy winners, chart-toppers, and movers and shakers behind the scenes, then the Made It In Music Podcast is going to be your one-stop-shop. You can listen to it on any podcast provider, watch the interviews on YOUTUBE, or jump in on the website at Madeitinmusic.com where you can also get exclusive content and access to all the show notes and resources mentioned. For this topic, in particular, speaking to those out there wanting to make a career as a songwriter, I’d start by listening to the episodes with writers Tom Douglas and Tony Wood, early on in the podcast.