Want to make people laugh? When they ask what you do, tell them you’re a songwriter. The most common response is, “Okay, but what do you really do?” When you repeat that you’re a songwriter, they next thing they ask, usually while chuckling, is “You making any money with that?”

Most songwriters will have to answer that with, “Not yet.” That will probably elicit more laughter. If they make you really mad you can always write a satiric song about them. My own tune, Bite Me – Let’s See if You Can Write a Song, was written in response to negative comments about my choice of career.

A recent survey showed that the average songwriter earns far less than $10,000 a year. Only a select few really make a living. Even fewer get rich. So are we defined buy our earning ability? In today’s world, yes we are. While we can all take pride in our accomplishments in writing songs, something that not many people can do, we have to keep in mind that unless it’s a hobby, the end goal is making money and hopefully walk the Grammy, CMA or other major award ceremony red carpet.

So far this year I have received over 400 rejections from publishers, artists, record companies and song pluggers. The latter category is particularly important, especially for anyone trying to place country songs. Song pluggers are the folks who take your song to an artist.

While two artists have said “yes” this year and each will be covering one of my songs, they aren’t country stars yet. I can always hope that my song on their CD will help to change that. Like my Uncle Ed used to say, “Dream big or wake up.” Although I must admit that statement is open to a lot of interpretation.

Most times a rejection is just a “no” with zero explanation attached. The song plugging service called Taxi does critique songs, but it is most often done by their screeners. This means their screeners have to approve your work before an industry decision maker or song plugger gets the chance to hear it. Even most great songs would have trouble getting to the right ears with that kind of scrutiny. I used Taxi for a year but grew tired of critiques that seemed to me like they were taken from a boiler plate list of criticisms. I have considered having a smart phone app developed that would randomly generate these types of comments. Then I’ll open my own Taxi-like service, maybe call it Uber.

SongU at https://songu.com/ site is an excellent resource. Not only do they allow you to directly submit your songs to music industry professionals, they have comprehensive online educational seminars and special opportunities to write with established hit makers.

The Nashville Songwriters Association site, https://www.nashvillesongwriters.com/, is also a good resource for education and pitching. All these educational and pitching services charge a fee. Most are usually around $300 a year plus a small additional fee (usually a few dollars) for each song that is submitted. Do your homework and see if any of these organizations are right for you.

I will admit it is difficult to go on with over 400 rejections in less than a year, but it’s that kind of industry. The songs of mine that are being covered are among my most rejected songs. Did those people think my songs were bad? I’m sure some did. Others might have thought they weren’t right for the particular artist or project. Most of the educational and pitching services have critique services that will offer good constructive points on simple demos before you spend money making a full blown professional demo.

Do you need a fully produced demo? Until the late 1970’s, the answer was “no.” Today you have a much better chance of getting your song placed if you have a professionally produced demo. Why? Sadly, many of the decisions in music these days are made by non-musically inclined people. A lot of accountants and other non-musical types are deciding what songs get released these days. The better the demo, the less they’ll have to imagine about the final product. Nothing against accountants but most I’ve met are not the most imaginative people I’ve met.

There are many professional demo services around the country. Quite a few are located in Nashville and Atlanta. I have used http://www.tunedesigner.com/ in Atlanta and http://nashvillesongrecording.com/Home_Page.html in Nashville and am very pleased with both. An online search will yield many others.

Do you know what song form is? Do you know the difference between a chorus and a bridge? Does your song tell a complete story? Do you know what a hook is and how to use one effectively? If you didn’t answer “yes” to all of these questions you have some catching up to do.

I recently heard someone who called themselves a songwriter say that she didn’t know what a song was about until after she wrote it. I categorize tunes like this as “painted pony” songs. Simple chordal structure, equally simple melody and lyrics that wander more than Moses and the Israelites did in the desert. As you might expect the song was very long. Songwriting for a person like this is a hobby, nothing more. Nothing wrong with that until you have to sit in an audience at a showcase and endure several songs like this in a row.

Education is extremely important to a songwriter. Learning the craft of songwriting is vital if you want to have success in the industry. Most of the pitching/educational services are good places to start. Many colleges have dedicated songwriting courses. And there are many books about songwriting, even a Songwriting for Dummies book. You can never know enough about the craft.

I once interviewed Tony Bennett and asked him about songwriting. He said that the masters like Gershwin, Porter and Berlin studied the classics in literature, art and music. He noted that by studying and reading the prose and poetry of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Spenser and the like they were able to craft clever and powerful lyrics. Same with their music. Tony also said listening to the works of Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and the other greats helped these composers craft new and exciting melodies.

Do you read? Do you listen to all forms of music on a regular basis? Have you studied music? That last one is extremely important. Even if you can play a mean guitar or keyboard, nothing inspires songwriting creativity like learning new things on your chosen instrument. It’s the same with learning a new instrument. Already play guitar? You’ll be amazed the musical horizons that open up for you when you start learning a new instrument.

Showcases and playing in public are important, but nowhere near as important as continuing to learn and grow as a songwriter. Feedback at most showcases usually consists of the host saying you were good. I have heard hosts say this to people who should have been arrested for the musical crime they just committed. I even was reprimanded by one host when I noted that a young musician’s guitar was horribly out-of-tune. “She’s 9 years old. At her age, that’s not important!” Fine! In a few years she’ll join the ranks of the many teenage musicians who must believe tuning is evil. (Why else would they play that out-of-tune?)

Writing everyday is also important as is writing with other people. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. It’s often said that if you want to get great at anything you have to do it 10,000 times. While even the prolific Steve Allen didn’t attain that in the world of songwriting, he came close. Write, create and keep improving everyday. Get ready for a wheelbarrow full of rejection. Be prepared when other people don’t understand what you’re doing. Of yeah, unless you’ve figured out how to live on less than $10,000 a year, don’t quit your day job…at least not yet!

TV Shopping Host and Coach, Musician, Author, Teacher.

One Comment on “Songwriting in the Real World

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