“Wouldn’t it be fun to be a professional songwriter?”
If you love making music, I’m sure that thought has crossed your mind.
And, I’ve had guitar students in the past that managed to work their way into the songwriting game, just by applying themselves to the task.
It’s not about skill level – it’s about a good song. In a way, the music industry has always been about a good song!
Now, we need to be realistic in the sense that I don’t think anyone is going to be taking Max Martin and Dr. Luke’s place any time soon.
If you don’t know who they are, look them up. They are responsible for more top 40 hits than you can even imagine (e.g. Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Usher, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and others).
What we can all do is find our niche within the music industry. Let’s look at how you can sell your songs to known artists.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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First Things First – You Won’t Be Selling Your Songs
“Selling” is kind of a general term that gets thrown around in this discussion.
But you probably won’t be selling your songs. You’ll either be securing a contract/license, or you’ll be working for hire.
And, you likely won’t be talking directly to artists (unless you're talking to new artists). You’ll be pitching to publishers, labels and libraries. If you're taking a grass roots approach, you might be pitching to recording artists too.
I know it may seem like we’re talking semantics here, but this is an important distinction to make. In most cases, you won’t be selling your songs directly to recording artists.
Consider: Is Your Music Ready For The Mainstream?
Professional songwriters are generally looking for opportunities to work with their favorite popular artists. And, that means your music should be ready for a mainstream audience.
Now, you can always work your way up to that point and I would even argue that this is necessary.
You could write and release your own songs, write for your friends and local artists, co-write and even write for artists that are a little more known within a specific region.
You can’t put a price on an extensive portfolio and proven track record.
But if you want your songs heard by larger audiences and pitch your songs to artists like the ones already mentioned, you need to ensure that your music is as radio friendly as possible.
This is always a moving target. Merely listening to the latest top 40 hits could set you several months behind in your approach, because the next hits are already in the works.
So, it’s impossible to boil it down to a formula.
What we know for sure is that recording artists are looking for their next hits. These hits must have memorable lyrics, unforgettable hooks and choruses that are easy to sing along to.
You might have great music already. Maybe you can envision your favorite singer performing it. In that case, you’re ready.
But if you aren’t at that point yet, know that songwriting is a muscle that you can (and should) workout daily. You’ll improve through ongoing practice.
Please take this point seriously if you're serious about your songwriting career.
How To Prepare For The Pitch Of Your Song
There are a few things you should take care of before you start pitching your music.
The first step is to know the artist you’ll be pitching to inside and out (i.e. you should have a good idea of who their audience is).
Some artists appeal to 14-year-old girls. Others appeal to a wider demographic.
Knowing this allows you to write music that’s appropriate for the artist’s audience. You can tap into themes and slang that people in their demographic get.
The second step is to copyright your songs. We’ve talked at length how this works in other guides, but essentially you can register your songs with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyrighting one song at a time can be more costly than copyrighting several as group, so keep this in mind.
The third step is to record quality demos.
There are a mix of opinions out there on what exactly “demo” means.
It used to mean “rough cuts”. Today, however, expectations are considerably higher.
Now, recording from home is cheaper and easier than ever and you can even put together a quality product from a home studio. So, you need not be intimidated.
But I would suggest that you should put together the best recording possible. Most importantly, it needs to carry with it all the emotion, energy and feel that the final recording should have.
The completed track doesn’t need to sound like it was recorded at the world’s most expensive studio. But there shouldn’t be any major flaws with the performance.
If recording and playing all the instruments isn’t something you want to do or if it’s not something you can pull off, you’ll likely want to call upon session players to help you out.
Now, producers are generally good at identifying great songs and don’t necessarily need help dreaming up how the song could be put together in the studio.
With that in mind, if your recording doesn’t get across the value of the song, it will not be used.
Fundamentally, producing music would be a good skill for a songwriter to develop either way.
If you have no intention of building your skills as a producer and would prefer to focus on writing, then ensure that you have a few close allies you can work on your demos with.
Who Will You Be Pitching To? A Singer? Rapper? Other?
With few exceptions, it’s fair to say that most popular artists are looking for their next big hit.
Speaking of which, do you know who has the top hits of today? It’s worth knowing if you’re planning to write for them.
As of this writing, artists with top 40 hits include: Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, Lizzo, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Khalid, Jonas Brothers, Post Malone, Young Thug, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Social House, Lewis Capaldi, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Panic! At The Disco and others.
I’m not saying that these are the exact artists you’ll be pitching to. But I think you get the idea.
If there are specific artists you’re looking to work with (although you probably won’t be working directly with them), then you should spend plenty of time listening to and analyzing their music.
Now we're going to examine how to pitch to new artists as well as established artists.
New and up and coming artists are always looking for songs to record, so your best bet is to pitch directly to them.
The process for established artists is a little different. We'll be looking at how that works, too.
How To Pitch To New Artists
The tricky part about new artists is they aren’t necessarily known.
This doesn’t mean they don’t have a track record of sorts. But it does mean that you have your work cut out for you. You'll need to do your research.
You could, for instance, watch shows like The Voice, observe the competitors and watch the ones that rise through the ranks.
You should also analyze what kinds of songs they choose for their performances to get a sense of what they like and what their style is.
That should give you an idea of what kind of song to write. You’ll want to play to the artist’s strength as much as possible, as that will make them look good. That will make them want to choose your song.
Next, you’re going to need to reach out to the artist. Of course, first, you’re going to need to find their contact information, which could be a daunting task all its own.
On the upside, you have Google, social media sites, email finders and a mix of other tools to help you with the process.
Once you find their email address, you can send them an email with a link to your song and lyrics (use Dropbox or a private SoundCloud track – don’t use email attachments).
Ensure that your email gets straight to the point. Up and coming artists are sure to be busy and may not have a lot of time to check their messages.
It’s important to understand that this can be a hard way to get your foot in the door.
You may not receive replies to your emails. You may get rejected. Anything can happen.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. There are always other artists you can write for, and there might be someone else who wants your song.
Also note that if you can’t get in the front door, there’s always a backdoor to enter through.
For example, you could put together a SoundCloud track or YouTube video of your song and share it with the artist’s fans (yes, with their fans, not with the artist).
If your song gets a good response, the artist may have no other choice but to take notice.
Similarly, it is possible to work your way “up the chain” by doing your research and networking with key decision makers.
If you’re friends with the artist’s closest colleagues, guess what? There’s a chance you’ll come up in conversation.
You can get creative with your “backdoor” approach assuming it’s not creepy or offensive in any way.
How To Pitch To Established Artists
As I’ve already pointed out, good songs are the lifeblood of the music industry. Artists are almost always looking for new songs to record.
So, if you’d like to pitch to established artists, you should go through a music publisher.
Now, there’s a good chance you won’t have much luck reaching out directly to music publishers.
So, you’ll probably want to take advantage of services like TAXI or go to conferences (TAXI has one called the Road Rally, and Performance Rights Organizations tend to sponsor events too).
Songwriting contests can also help you gain visibility in a relatively insular world.
Additionally, you can find contact info for plenty of publishers by searching the ASCAP and BMI websites.
Just in case you’re wondering, joining a PRO is optional unless you’re planning to pitch your music to libraries or publishers connected to TV and film licensing.
So, the first step is to find the publisher’s contact information, by any means necessary.
Once you have their contact information, you’ll want to ask them if they’d be willing to listen to your song.
Be sure to ask first, as unsolicited material will be ignored, deleted, thrown in the trash bin or otherwise.
You can send along any credits you already have, which can help you get your foot in the door.
Also note: If these steps don’t get you anywhere you can still find ways in through the “backdoor”.
Treat Your Career Like A Business
Artists and music entrepreneurs come to me with questions all the time:
- How can I be a better session player?
- How do I stand out in a crowded market?
- How do I get better gigs?
And, my answer to most questions come down to just a few things. These principles are just as applicable to building a professional songwriting career.
The first thing is to keep at it. Don’t give up.
You’re silly if you think you have unique or special circumstances preventing you from accomplishing what you want to accomplish.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, none of us are perfect and we all have bad days.
Sometimes, what separates those who make it from those who don’t is a willingness to stick with it for longer.
Most “overnight” successes are 10 years in the making.
The second thing is to build your portfolio, preferably “out loud”.
“But I want my independent label to have national exposure within three months.”
Have you heard of the internet? You’re using it right now.
It offers you the opportunity to get your face and ideas out into the world every single day.
You can record song snippets, write blog posts, send emails, record podcasts or shoot videos and share them with the world. I don’t care which medium you choose.
As Seth Godin, James Altucher, Austin Kleon and others have pointed out, the practice of publishing daily can benefit anyone and everyone.
It’s not easy, because there will be days when you don’t feel like creating anything. But it’s simple, because it only needs to take an hour of your time daily.
As a songwriter, your credits are everything. And, if no one’s knocking on your door yet, you need to release a bunch of music.
Then, ask if you can write a song for your friends. Beg if you must.
Then, keep building on it. Co-write. Network and get to know popular artists in your region. Ask YouTubers if you can write something for them.
As your songs get more exposure, you’ll be able to land better opportunities.
I’ve touched briefly on the final thing already, which is get connected and build relationships.
Forget traditional networking events. Go to open mics, workshops and conferences. This is where some of my best professional relationships have come from.
You don’t need to know everyone either. Knowing a few key people can supply with you plenty of opportunities for years and even decades to come. Seriously!
If there was a poster child for someone who knew a few people that led him to most of the gigs he’s ever gotten, it would be me.
Can you see how these three principles support your career in songwriting?
Truly, it doesn’t matter what you’re hoping to accomplish with your music. The same three tips can help you achieve the success you desire.
How To Sell A Song To A Singer Or An Artist, Final Thoughts
We’ve taken a good surface level view on how to sell your songs. But this conversation doesn’t stop here. We could go a lot deeper into each of the points I’ve covered.
So, your next step is to read through the other guides we have covering each of these subtopics. This will help you identify more of the nuances that make a songwriting career possible.
If you’re passionate about writing and seeing popular artists performing your songs, then stick with the process and don’t give up. Keep getting more credits and experience.
And, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!