The songwriting process is what allows the artist to bring their musical ideas to life. Arguably the most important part of making music, songwriting is a skill – just like production or engineering – that requires honing and continuous practice. The key to becoming an exceptional songwriter is an open mind, experimentation with writing on your own as well as with others, and practice, practice, practice. To help you get started on your songwriting journey, we’ve sourced and answered some of the most frequently asked introductory songwriting questions from Quora.
How do I become a better songwriter?
A good songwriter has an interesting perspective, a story to tell, a way with words and melody, and gets better by putting those things into practice on a daily basis.
- If you’re having trouble getting started or are experiencing writer’s block, try setting up some songwriting sessions with other songwriters. Co-writing is a great way to learn from others and develop your sound with some guidance from an experienced writer.
- Another thing to try would be journaling. Keeping track of the things that are happening around you and how you are feeling can be a great inspiration for a song.
- If you have a lot of melodic ideas, don’t be shy to record them in your voice memos on your phone if you’re on the go. This can help tremendously when trying to remember catchy melodies and has been a good source of inspiration to listen to when you’re feeling stuck while writing or in sessions with a producer.
- Try writing on top of beats that already exist. Sometimes, inspiration can come from existing production. If you have producer friends, ask them if they have any beats that you could try writing to. You can also buy beats online if you don’t know any producers personally.
Always continue to explore new ideas and think outside the box in terms of lyrics, rhythms, and subject matter.
How much money do singer-songwriters make from a hit song?
This can vary for a variety of reasons. Suppose the song is a hit worldwide and leads to sold-out tours, selling copious amounts of merch, and selling physical CDs. In that case, you could make anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the popularity of the song and how career-making it is.
However, a lot of great songs do not become worldwide hits. Most artists rely on things like local radio play, streaming platforms, selling smaller batches of independently made merch, publishing placements, and royalty payouts to make a living.
There are many ways royalty payouts can go, and there is no set number to be made from a hit song. It will depend on many different things. See the streaming payout breakdown further down in the article.
What is the difference between a songwriter, a lyricist, and a composer?
A songwriter in the contemporary music world is typically in charge of vocal melody and oftentimes lyrics, whereas a lyricist typically writes the lyrics but not necessarily the melody. A composer is in charge of composing the musical aspects of a song relating to rhythm and melodies (vocal and/or instrumental).
How hard is it to be successful as a songwriter?
Like any other full-time job, being a successful songwriter is a lot of consistent hard work. It requires:
- Setting up sessions with other songwriters
- Registering your songs and keeping on top of the royalties that are coming in
- Saving up money to collaborate with producers/mixing/mastering
- Consistently putting yourself out there
- Organizing photo shoots for album art
- And, of course, writing music!
You have to really want it and have either a natural songwriting talent or the dedication to write most days so you can improve. You will most likely need a part- or full-time job while you pursue songwriting full-time because it takes a lot of reputation-building, networking, and experience to be paid for songwriting sessions or to make money in royalties.
The best way to make money as a songwriter is to build a portfolio of your best work and use that to get either a publishing or label deal where they give you an advance to write music. You can also make some money in royalties by co-writing as much as possible and hoping something hits at radio.
What is the best city to live in for a singer/songwriter/musician?
One of the best things about being a songwriter is you can do it from almost anywhere. You can do virtual sessions and work with people from all over the world, or if you’re established enough, some people will fly you out to write with them.
However, if in-person sessions are more your thing, living in a larger artistic city like Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Toronto, etc., is your best bet, as there will be more opportunities for you to walk into bigger rooms, make more connections, and keep your schedule filled with sessions.
What steps should you take to become a successful songwriter?
- Write as many songs as you can
- Practice more
- Write for other people/other genres to familiarize yourself with different genres of songwriting
- Release music you’re proud of and use that to build an online portfolio to
- Pitch yourself to publishing houses, other artists, producers, etc.
- Never stop practicing
How much does the average songwriter get in royalties?
The three main royalty streams are radio, streaming, and live performance.
Make sure your song is registered with Socan, SoundExchange, or whichever royalty distributor you prefer to work with because this is how your song will be tracked every time it plays on-air and how your radio royalty payouts will be determined.
The radio royalty payout amount really depends on the station, making it difficult to estimate payout averages.
The current royalties per stream by platform in 2021 are:
Amazon music: $0.0082
Apple music: $0.00783
Spotify: $0.003 to $0.00318
YouTube Music: $0.0008
SoundCloud: $0.0025 to $0.004
You can use this royalty calculator to get a sense of what your payout might be, depending on how many streams your song gets.
On Spotify, 1 million streams is worth approximately $4,000. So you would need 250 million streams to make one million dollars on one song alone on Spotify. Most of the time, you will be making revenue from not just one but the combination of all the streams you have on various streaming platforms. Another thing to consider is that, most of the time, songwriting credits are split depending on how many songwriters were in the room, and occasionally the producer, depending on the songwriting agreement.
Every time you perform your songs live, you can report and collect live performance royalties. You must first inform your performing rights organization (ASCAP, Socan, BMI, Artisti, etc.) and submit your set lists. Different organizations have different protocols and deadlines for live performance royalty submissions, so it’s best to speak to someone from the organization you are registered with.
Because of all the varying factors and the different streams of income for an independent musician, it would be nearly impossible to provide an average royalty payout. Hopefully, this breakdown provides some insight into how the various streams of royalty distribution work.
Where can I study music to get better at creating my own songs?
The Sound & Music program at RAC is a well-rounded program that covers the basics to intermediate level of all skills required for music production and creation for your next project. All of these skills can and are transferable to other domains in the field of music.
Who are we?
Recording Arts Canada is a sound and music production college that offers an online or onsite program with campuses in downtown Montreal and Toronto. Our program combines essential theory, vital hands-on training, and career support, so you can start landing professional opportunities within a year. You can apply for our next cohort here.
Have a songwriting question? You can request we answer your question on Quora, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
Illustration by Yihong Guo