Guest post by Evan Zwisler
Songwriters have a special place in our culture. If you’re a songwriter, you’re not simply playing music, you’re imbuing our lives with a soundtrack that is evocative, thought provoking, and deeply meaningful.
Most bands have a songwriter, or several, and most songwriters have been in a band before. But being a songwriter can be a more feasible career choice in the long run.
Here’s a look at some of the different types of job opportunities that are available to songwriters.
1. Performing songwriter
This is someone who writes and performs their own music. Although it’s one of the easiest ways to start playing music, it can be difficult to monetize. Everyone wants to know: How do I make money with my music?
People need to be passionate about your music and be willing to spend money on you. You need to build a following that is excited and invested in what you’re doing. This is easier said than done.
Having robust Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts is a good start. Have people sign up for a mailing list at your shows. It may seem old school, but the people who sign up are taking a deliberate action to be a part of what you’re doing.
Touring can be a great way to grow your following. It’s tough, but there are a lot of good resources online to help you. There are DIY Facebook groups for just about every major US city teeming with helpful people.
2. Songwriter in a band
This is very similar to being a performing songwriter, except you’re working within a band. In addition to working out creative roles in the band, you’ll need to work out how you’re splitting up the publishing credits and royalties.
A clear, sober conversation should take place early on so no one gets confused. Just because you bring in a skeleton of a song, doesn’t mean you own all of the fleshed out final product.
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3. Songwriter for other artists
This is a more reliable way of making money as a songwriter, because often you’re working with an artist who already has an audience. You’ll be writing with someone else in mind which can be difficult at first, but many of music's greatest success stories are between a pop star and a songwriter.
Max Martin has written dozens of number one hits from The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, to contemporary hits such as “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd and “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. Songwriters don’t always enjoy the same level of fame as stars, but often have more longevity in the music industry.
4. Freelance songwriter/work-for-hire contracts
This is very similar to being a basic songwriter, but you’re often working on a one-off basis. In this case, instead of being paid in publishing and royalties, you’ll get paid an hourly rate or a flat fee. There are many online resources that you can use, such as Upwork, that will let you find one-off songwriting jobs.
5. Staff writer
Staff Writer is a bit of a misnomer. A staff-writer is neither an employee nor a staff member of a publishing company, but a songwriter who has entered into a legal agreement to publish all of his or her songs exclusively with one music publisher. This can help you gain financial stability, but you also potentially lose some freedom with these agreements.
This is similar to being a songwriter, except you’re working exclusively on lyrics. This is a great fit for someone who was really into writing poetry, but needed help putting those words to music.
7. Composer for film/TV
To be a composer, you’ll need a fairly solid knowledge of music theory and composition. Composing for film and television involves weaving emotion into the narrative, and that can be difficult to do well. Interning or apprenticing with someone who is already working as a composer in the industry is a good place to get your foot in the door.
8. Jingle writer
Do you think you can write a catchy, memorable song that’s only 12 seconds long? Jingle writers need to be adept at using melody in short catchy spurts. This means creating a memorable song with only three or four notes sometimes!
You’ll need to work closely with the creative team behind the ad campaign to write something that creates instant, memorable awareness around a product or brand.
9. Children’s songwriter
You might think that a children’s songwriter would operate much like a typical singer songwriter, but that’s not the case. Children’s songwriters can have a much more steady income because they’re often playing in front of large groups of potential clients who will hire them to play birthday parties, holiday events, etc.
You’ll need to know your audience as well. What works for a four or five year old, won't necessarily work for a group of six or seven year olds. Most people don’t dream of being a children’s songwriter, but it can be a great way to supplement your income.
10. Musical writer
If you’re already inclined to work in theater, working as the musical director and composer for a musical or opera can be very rewarding. You’ll need to have good interpersonal skills, because you’ll be working consistently with the director and other creatives to bring the musical to fruition.
Despite what your parents might say, being a songwriter can be a viable career. Some songwriting jobs have a high barrier to entry, such as being a composer for movies, and some aren’t what everyone pictures, like being jingle writer or a children’s performer. But thousands of people make money by writing and sharing their music with the world every day.
Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI): The largest not for profit songwriters trade association.
Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC): A community of Canadian songwriters who support and advise each other. SAC also advocates on behalf of songwriters to protect the value of their work.
Songsalive!: They provide a membership organization offering social community, connection, support, opportunities, and education for songwriters and composers.
West Coast Songwriters (WCS): WCS provides a space for members to establish important relationships, both professionally and personally, that enhance and accelerate their development.
SongwriterLink: Works similarly to dating websites, but it's strictly for songwriting collaboration.
TAXI: An online marketplace for songwriters to find employers who need music written for a wide variety of projects.
Evan Zwisler is a NYC-based musician who is most notably known for his work with The Values as a songwriter and guitarist, and is an active member of the Brooklyn music scene.
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