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Lyric Writing Lessons - Lyric Writing & Songwriting Career

Building a Successful Lyric Writing or Songwriting Career
"Reach your goal of becoming a Professional Lyrics Writer."

Detailing career paths open to professional lyrics writers & Songwriters, including potential income, possible problems and creative solutions.

Earning a Professional Living in the Music Industry

There are many ways to earn a living by writing lyrics & songs, but competition is very tough, especially in the information age.

Here are some careers you should consider.

Since these aren't typical '9-to-5' jobs, I can't give specific estimate of yearly earnings.

So instead, incomes will be represented as percentages.

 

Singer/Songwriter

As a Singer/Songwriter, you write lyrics, sing and compose your melody, and look to find financial success as a performer.

This career option is probably the most popularly pursued of all, and yet traditionally it's been most difficult to achieve.

Income - Contract Based on Sales & Performance:

  • Sales (10-15% profit, before taxes)
  • Live Performances (up to 70% profit, before taxes)

Simple Example:

  • 250,000 units sold = $3,000,000
    You take approx. $36,000
     
  • Tour Income = $50,000
    You take approx. $35,000

...$71,000 for solo artist before taxes. If you're a band, divide this number by the number of members in your group.

There's also lyric writing profit...usually split between you and publishing company.

  • Royalty Agreement (average)
    50% Mechanical Royalties - Whenever your CD is copied for distribution
    50% Performance Royalties - Each time anyone sings your lyrics

Possible Problems:

'The A&R Gateway' is your biggest obstacle - "Artists & Repertoire" (A&R) is a department in record companies that scouts for new artist - usually this job is given to former (or existing) artists or industry professionals. They're the bridge between you and a record company until you sign a recording deal.

The A&R judges your talent as a creative artist and potential performer.

Solution:

Your value must be built as someone who can sell records in the eyes of the A&R before companies will invest in you, so start writing lyrics and building your fan base, and label relationships.

  1. Learn to make great songs and put together a great demo to give to these companies. Get my Lyric Writing strategy below to continue writing lyrics, composing & recording your songs.

    If this website doesn't have what you need, visit Amazon.com and pick up a great songwriter's book. Or visit celebrated songwriter, Jason Blume's website.
     
  2. Follow Marketing articles written by experienced music entrepreneur Bob Baker: Free Music Promotion, Marketing & Success Articles (bookmark this website)
     
  3. When you have a collection of songs - and a growing fan base who listen to them - start with  Taxi: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company (bookmark this website)

 

Staff Writer

Staff writers are people hired by publishing companies, record companies or other groups.

This career option is also highly competitive.

Income - Weekly Salary & Royalties:

  • Employee Agreement
    “Work-for-hire” or paid weekly salary
     
  • Royalty Agreement (average)
    50% Mechanical Royalties - Whenever CD is copied for distribution
    50% Performance Royalties - Each time anyone sings your lyrics

Negotiations are made in advance. And if you're also paid a weekly salary your royalties wouldn't be anywhere near 50%.

Possible Problems:

You have to get hired...so the same rules apply as with any job. And all your work is exclusive to the company that hires you.

Solution:

You need a resume, references and body of work to offer as a portfolio.

  1. You need to make 10-20 good lyrics neither leased nor sold. There's always the potential that the company may want to use 1 or 2 of your existing lyrics.

    Get my Lyric Writing strategy below to continue writing lyrics.
     
  2. Research record companies and labels in your area. In my Song Development document I give you source links to access contact info for publishing companies near you.

 

Freelance Songwriter

The only difference between a freelancer and a staff writer is the freedom to take outside contracts from other employers.

 

Jingle Writer

A jingle writer is someone who specializes in writing brief, catchy tune for television commercials and/or radio spots. The customer usually is a commercial business and the idea for jingle comes from the specific product, it's features and benefits.

Income - Negotiated:

  • Standard Employee Salary - From Advertising or Marketing Company
    Company owns all all artistic rights jingle
     
  • Specialist Contract - From Advertising or Marketing Company
    Company owns all artistic rights to jingle
     
  • Self-Employed - Find businesses who need jingles and setup a contract with them
    You own artistic rights to the jingle

Possible Problems:

  • Experience - Jingle writers must be experts at creating powerful, catchy slogans strong enough to affect an audience in 30-60 seconds.
     
  • Credibility - Successful commercial businesses have preexisting relationships with ad agencies & marketing companies, and will be skeptical about paying top dollar for you abilities.

Solution:

  1. Master writing hooks. The hook is the basis of all catchy jingles.
    (See Lyrics Structure page for better explanation of Hooks)
     
  2. Start with small, independent product companies. You need to build your portfolio with successful jingles...or at least start building a list of short ditties using any product within your reach. Pick anything you've recently purchased and try to make a jingle for it.
     
  3. Get hired at an advertising agency, one that has a department to write jingles

 

Lyricist

A lyricist specializes in ghostwriting for singers, creating lyrics to old or new melodies.

A lyricist can choose to team-up a composer or work as a contracted freelancer. Lyricists can also be hired as part of a staff (see Staff Writer).

A lyricist can also be a singer/lyricist - someone who writes and sings their lyrics (which is different from a singer/songwriter who also composes their melody).

Income - Publishing Royalties from Composition :

  • Royalty Agreement (average)
    up to 25% Mechanical Royalties - Whenever CD is copied for distribution
    up to 25% Performance Royalties - Each time anyone (including you) sings your lyrics

Income can be paid directly by a band contracting your services or by publishing companies through performance & sales. Income is divided between you (25%), the co-composer (25%) and the publishing company (50%).

Possible Problems:

If you want to be hired as part of a publishing staff...the same rules apply as with any job. And all your work is exclusive to the company that hires you.

If you work as a freelancer...you lack clients (artists & bands) who can pay you for your lyrics; most independent artists and bands can't afford to pay you until their CD sells.

Solution:

  1. You need to make 10-20 good lyrics neither leased nor sold. There's always the potential that the publishing company or band may want to use 1 or 2 of your lyrics for their song.

     
  2. Research record companies and labels in your area.
     
  3. Research other lyric writers who are singers or in bands and start forming relationships. Offer to freely write lyrics or co-write lyrics for their melodies - and tell them why (you want to become a professional at writing lyrics and need references).

    Here's a short list of forums you can join to get started:

 

Music Supervisor

Music supervisors (also called coordinators & directors) are hired by film & TV producers. With knowledge in writing lyrics, songwriting and composition, these supervisor oversees the music-side of a show, feature movie or project.

They do EVERYTHING from: selects songs for movie soundtracks, hiring film composers, find & negotiate license deals with performance rights organizations, and arrange background tracks for television and broadcasting themes.

Possible Problems:

You wear numerous hats and have multiples responsibilities. Also, their job revolves around "who" they know as opposed to "what" they know.

Solution:

Whether you're a producer, composer, artist or executive, 'Music Supervisor' positions are normally available only to those who're established as experts in the industry, with connections to other well known experts.

You need years of experience...so start now.

 

Librettist

Moving into the theatre, a Librettist writes the operatic words to theater or the opera, usually side-by-side with the opera's composer.

In this career scenario you're often behind the scenes, sometimes not ever credited with aiding in creating the theater work.

Income - Copyrighted Books & Audio

Librettos are published into text with supporting audio of recorded opera. And while I can't be sure (because I'm not a Librettist), I assume librettists negotiate a distribution deal with a book publishing company for an unknown percent of sales - but again I can't be sure.

Possible Problems:

(Unknown)

Solutions:

(Unknown)

 

Producer/Composer

Lyric writers can grow their repertoire and eventually become skilled at composing and become producers/composers to develop melodies & musical pieces from start to finish.

A Producer/Composer establishes a production business to develop - or a publishing business to distribute - theirs and other's songs.

Income - Production Advances & Royalties:

A producer can earn an upfront compensation (advance) for development plus a publishing royalty.

  • Production Advance/Fee (depending on portfolio & recognition)
    Mainstream = $10K to $500K Advance
    Indie = $100 to $5,000 Advance
     
  • Publishing Royalty (usually inversely related to Advance)
    Mainstream = up to 3% points from sales - minus advance
    Indie = up to 50% points from sales - minus advance

If you're also the owner of the publishing company, you could take 100% mechanical & performance royalties.

Possible Problems:

  • Making unique melodies
  • Finding clients
  • All additional development & publishing costs are your responsibilities.
  • All additional business development costs are your responsibilities.

Solution:

Whether creating a production or publishing company, start small. Set small goals, invest and reinvest profit to grow business.

  • Learn all aspects of the creative process & practice:
    writing lyrics, melody composition, copyrighting, etc.
     
  • Team with other composers:
    Use the Internet to search for indie composer forums
     
  • Start with one customer at a time.

 

Advantages of the Information Age

Traditionally, if was very difficult for new writers & lyricists to plug into the industry and earn even a modest income. But the Internet allows independent artists, musicians, singers and lyric writers to connect directly to consumers and potential fans.

Results:

  • Lower Development Costs
    - More musicians, composers & producers to choose from & compete for your business
     
  • Lower Distribution Costs
    - Third-party distribution companies now exist for independent artists
    - Duplication costs are lowered in world market
     
  • Lower Promotion & Exposure Costs
    - Websites such as Myspace.com, Garageband.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, and digg.com offer free exposure and networking
    - It's affordable to have your own website built
     
  • More Ownership of Royalties & Profit for the Individual Artist
    - Less contracts & middle-men to pay
    - You have access to upload your CDs to online stores along with mainstream artists
    - Fans can purchase directly from you, your website or your distributor

 

Disadvantages of the Information Age

Even though it was difficult to be accepted in the traditional music business model, once accepted you have full access to all resources within the model to reach success. Click thumbnail below to see the "Pre-Internet" industry model:

Traditional Music Business Model

...once you're plugged in the traditional model you become a part of a system as an artistic team, paid for by the business system. But in the information age, no stable business model exists so independent artists have more work to do to develop their own systems & success.

Click thumbnail for "Post-Internet" industry business model:

Information Age Music Business Model

...a new market has been created that's not nurtured or supported by any established business system.

  • Lyric Writers & Composers don't trust each other to conduct honest business
  • Individual development has increased, but quality has decreased
  • Less consumers buy CDs

42.2% of musicians earn only 1% - 19% of their yearly income from music. And 26.2% of musicians earn no significant income.

 

Your Plan...Your Solution

  1. Choose which career path is best for you.
     
  2. Continue to develop your craft by writing more and more lyrics.
     
  3. Use my website and additional resources and make an action plan for your future career.
     
  4. Feel free to suggest any additional ways I can help you.

Final Word:

Don't be intimidate by your career dreams. The difference between someone who reaches their goal and a dreamer is determination & action.

If you have any additional info to add, questions or comments, use my Lyrics Writing Contact link.

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All songs are the intellectual property of their respective owners.
Joshua P. May is an independent music producer & artistic career coach.