You know what I would have loved? I would have loved to have been part of the Brill Building history between the 1940s and the 1960s – where some of America’s most popular songs were written. If you don’t know the history, check it out on Wikipedia.
Just a taste:
By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses: A musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building.
Or you know what also would be have great? Jingle writing between the 1940s and 1980s. What a sweet time to be a songwriter or a studio musician. Writing songs, recording them, hearing yourself on the radio, collecting big royalty checks – man, that would have been cool.
But, alas, that era was very short-lived and we were not lucky enough to be a part of it. So what do we do?
I’m not satisfied to just throw my hat in and say that it’s too hard to work as a songwriter. There are people out there doing it, and if they can do it so can I.
When I get an idea in my head I go for it. I set goals, I identify unique strategies, and I build tools to help me move forward. Here’s what I’ve come up with to help me with my songwriting career.
The Goal and Strategy
Let me be clear: I don’t want to be a singer-songwriter. I want to be a songwriter. I want other people to perform my songs. I know full well that I have limited skills as an entertainer, and I know my place.
My goal is to have recording artists cover my songs on their albums, secure film and television placements for my songs, and to work professionally as a songwriter. A difficult goal, to be sure.
People don’t know what you want unless you tell them. So that’s what I figured I’d do. I decided I would show people my music, tell them what I want, ask them to help me, and see what happens.
I know about how to build a website, so I started there. I searched for the right URL to purchase and, to my complete surprise, I was lucky enough to secure Songwriter.fm. I can’t believe that URL had not already been taken by a Silicon Valley start up, but I’m glad to have it.
I build a site there using WordPress and a $30 theme from ThemeForest.com. The theme has a nice structure featuring a portfolio, a contact form and a blog. I added an “About” page, found some photos to use and set it all up. The website took me about a day to put together.
In the portfolio section I put all of the songs I want to showcase. For many of them I included a free mp3 download, lyrics, chords and even sheet music. I used Soundcloud players for the recordings – and made sure I used the HTML5 players so that they would work on iPads, iPods and iPhones.
Autoresponder Email List
Next I set up an email list through Mailchimp.com.
I want people to listen to my music, but I can’t expect to just put it on a website and have people listen through it one by one. People are busy.
So I set up an “autoresponder” email list that would help. Everyone on the email list gets one of my songs – complete with a little description, photo, lyrics, chords and sheet music – once a week.
Everyone on the list gets the songs in the same order, one at a time, once a week. It’s a playlist of songs, but doled out in a way that’s not overwhelming to listeners busy schedules. People may not sit on Songwriter.fm and listen to every one of my songs in an afternoon – but, sure, they’ll listen to one of my songs once a week.
In each email I make sure to reiterate my goal. If the reader likes it – consider covering it on your next album. Would it fit in a film or commercial you’re putting together? Great, hit reply. Know anyone that could help place this song? Pass it on.
The strategy won’t work most of the time. But I don’t need it to work most of the time. I just need it to work one time.
Soundcloud, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, RSS feeds
Sure, I’m not an entertainer. Hell, I’m not even a singer. But unless I sing my songs and get them out in the world – no one’s going to ever know about them.
So guess who’s singing now?
When I find a song I like, or a record a new demo of a work-in-progress, I put it up on the Songwriter.fm blog. The blog posts feed to Twitter and Facebook through Twitterfeed.com.
Getting Involved in the Community
The best way to get a gig as a songwriter is to know other people who are gigging as songwriters. I know I need to get involved in the community.
I sang a few weeks ago at the Sunday night singer-songwriter open mic at the Bitter End in NYC. Boy, that made me nervous. For a guy who’s used to performing 8 shows a week on Broadway you’d think I’d be cooler about it, but I was shaking in my boots.
I tried to think of resources that might be helpful to other songwriters. When American Songwriter magazine comes out I like to make a Spotify playlist of all the music mentioned in the issue, then post a link to the playlist on the Songwriter.fm blog.
I put my songwriting friends new songs up on the Songwriter.fm blog – and those posts, too, get sent out through Twitter and Facebook.
Making Quality Recordings
The recordings I have of most of my songs are demo quality. Creating radio quality recordings is much easier today than it was 20 years ago – so much easier that it’s become expected. I know that most of my demos aren’t going to cut it.
So I’ve started reaching out to producers in Chicago, Nashville and New York (to start). I’m hiring them to arrange, produce and record my songs in their studios. I leave the song treatment completely up to them. I tell them only this: Our goal here is to get a film or TV placement. Make me a recording of this song that I can pitch to FTV.
I give them a lump sum upfront and, if the song is placed in FTV, I promise them a higher-than-average percentage of the gross income on the master side. My hope is that it gives the producers a higher-than-average incentive to pitch their recording to their FTV contacts as well.
Submitting Recordings to Placement Services
I’ve submitted music to PumpAudio, YouLicense and similar services. I find the process incredibly tedious and (especially with PumpAudio) painfully slow. It feels a lot like throwing a penny into a well and hoping to one day get your wish.
I have not joined Taxi, and I suspect I never will. Their claims are just too good to be true, and there is too much noise about their service being a complete scam. It’s too expensive of a service to take a chance on. It’s like throwing $300 into the well instead of a penny.
There are better placement services out there, but it will take me some time to garner their attention. I’m hoping that the portfolio I’ve built at Songwriter.fm will help me pitch to them when the time comes.
Submitting to Songwriting Competitions
This is a tough one, because it costs money. Most competitions cost between $15 and $35 to submit a song. It’s difficult to know which songs might work in which competition, so it’s tempting to submit multiple songs to each competition.
This part of the strategy seems like an expensive crap shoot to me. The quality of a song is a really subjective thing, and if I win one of these things it might just be because the gods smiled on me that day. Who knows?
But if I do win…well, that would be great. There’s always a chance – so I do it (sparingly).
A few months ago I submitted a song to the Song of the Year competition. I received the Suggested Artist Award, which I understand puts me in the top 5% of the contest.
But, I ask rhetorically: who cares? Unless you win the top prize on one of these competitions it doesn’t mean much.
Writing for Musical Theatre
The movie Titanic, since it’s release in 1997, has grossed $658 million in box office results. Very impressive.
The musical Mamma Mia, since it’s opening in Toronto in 2000, has grossed over $2 billion worldwide. Much more impressive.
I’m not saying that I can write the next Mamma Mia or Wicked, all I’m saying is that it’s worth trying. I’d settle for 0.1% of the financial success of Mamma Mia ($2 million, for those of you adding it up in your heads).
I’ve worked in musical theatre a long time. I’ve studied the form and tradition. I’ve conducted shows on Broadway. I write music – why not write a musical?
I have two in the works right now. Why not? The best way to fail at writing a musical would be never to try at all.
Songwriting & composition is what I’ve always wanted to do. Nothing compares to the elevated feeling that accompanies creation, and for me that feeling is strongest when I write music.
Becoming a professional songwriter seems like an impossible challenge, but I think with the plan and tools that I’ve described above will help me start the journey.
I hope you’ll visit Songwriter.fm and let me know what you think. If you are a performer or recording artist I hope you’ll check out my songs. If you are a songwriter I hope you’ll get in touch with me.