The Business of Songwriting – 101

Beyond understanding why my heart burns for songwriting, there lies a need for me to understand the beginnings of songwriting administration. The separate business of Songwriting Administration that is performed by a publisher is also crucial, but that lies separately from what I need to understand as the songwriter.

As a songwriter, I need to begin to ‘dot my i’s and cross my t’s’ by being organized. Not everyone is going to feel the need to be so tidy as another might, but what I mean is so that you have a listing of your songs available so that at a moment’s notice you can be prepared to pitch a song. Creating a spreadsheet with items such as title, song form, musical style, copyright registration in hand/application sent, PRO registration and contract status are some important items. I’ll break out some of these items below.

Why have a column for song form? Not only is it a good way for you to understand the different types of song forms, but it might be a catalyst for you to intentionally write songs in certain song forms. Just another way for you to sharpen that tool for the craft tool box.

Musical style column? No matter what genre(s) or sub-genre styles you write, you’ll be prepared to pitch certain songs when a music manager calls for certain styles or feelings in a song.

A column for copyright registration explains itself. This is a great way to remind yourself that protecting your work before any submissions are made is vital.

PRO registration. Performance Rights Organization. In the US, these companies are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Don’t forget about registering your songs with CCLI. These companies collect royalty monies for any works that are made public, whether that’s radio/tv/satellite or other digital transmissions. Bars, clubs, restaurants, broadcast companies and websites that allow copyrighted material to be publicly played are required to pay license fees to the PROs and the PROs distribute money directly to you, the writer. This revenue is called performance royalties. This is how the basic revenue stream is set up, depending on the agreement you have with your publisher: The PRO will distribute 50% directly to the writer, if you have registered the song with them, and 50% to the publisher. Traditionally, the PROs only paid performance royalties to the songwriter and publisher, but due to the digital act of 1995 added to copyright law, artists now also receive a share of ‘digitally transmitted’ royalties.

Contract status. It will be good for you to keep track of whether or not a song is currently under contract, the type and length of contract and whether or not the contract has granted any exclusive exploitation. Unless you really want to have a column for all of these separate considerations, at least the easy visual of a check mark will lead you to discover the rest of the details in a specific file folder or computer folder somewhere.

As your musical catalog grows, the more you’ll find the need for organization. But only you can dedide that, and whether or not songwriting is a serious business consideration! But let me say that the more you treat it professionally at home, the more professionally you’ll be treated when pitching your wares 🙂

The actual method of pitching will probably vary, depending on your personal or other contact. I guess it’s best to say that being prepared to pitch your songs in a variety of ways might be the best thing. For example: mp3s at the ready, the ability to burn CDs or even inexpensive thumb drives with your personal information. Creating relationships with those who might be willing to listen to your work is a great consideration. Deciding on what type of package to create for pitching is up to your creative genius. The more professional the package and your willingness to make contacts or follow the rules of submission, the more receptive music managers and publishing agents will be with your works.

It’s all about relationships!