If you are a songwriter trying to market your songs, then I’m sure you’ve encountered endless marketing programs and ideas for selling “your songs”.
Typically, however, when you look more closely, these efforts end up focusing on selling recordings of your songs—ways you can sell downloads or videos. If you are a songwriter, and not a performer, then this can be frustrating.
Even if you perform, you might be the kind of songwriter who does great material for film and television, such as niche pieces (world music, or rock from the 60’s). You might find a retro audience, but that isn’t what you are about.
Yet, there is a world for songwriters.
Pure songwriting, where you write songs or compositions intended for someone else to record, and are not a singer/songwriter or in a band, or create songs and instrumentals for media, such as film or television, differs remarkably from the performance world.
Pure songwriting is often behind the scenes work. In the business world, this type of activity is called business-to-business, which is much different than retail sales. You are pitching within the industry, to industry professionals, not to consumers.
So, in general (there are exceptions), a fan base won’t help you. A strong online presence is largely irrelevant. What you do need is a good business model, a niche (if you can develop one), a thick skin, patience, and a well developed sense of humor.
Why is it so different? Well, first of all, you are not actually selling something. Movies, television, and singers, don’t buy songs—they license them. So your goal is to do what publishers call “exploiting” your songs. You want to get them used. That means you need to know about the various kinds of licenses, how they might be valued, and their long and short term benefits for you. This is serious stuff, and not simple. Granting some licenses precludes granting others. As a friend of mine suggests, it isn’t for the weak.
Much of the available information is out of date. That doesn’t reflect badly on the authors, but does indicate how rapidly the market has changed and is changing.
It is practically a cliché to say that the market is increasingly competitive, and the chances of having a single recorded and selling enough copies to send your kids to college is much slimmer in the era of downloads, a growing online catalog, and a growing Indie presence.
Not that there isn’t money to be made, but you need several strategies to be successful.
Part of successfully defining a strategy is determining where you fit into the music business—writing songs for recording artists, writing music for music libraries, and writing for videos or games are, in some ways, quite different businesses.
Although they are not mutually exclusive, deciding early on where you want to focus will help you build the specialized skill set and marketing acumen to make progress. We will examine each of these businesses (more, if we can ferret them out), and look at ways to gain a foothold. We will look at making and maintaining contacts, and understanding the basics of doing business in these fields.
In the course of this blog we will look at the changing world of the contemporary songwriter, and take a stroll down some of the paths you might choose to take.
Through the eyes of people who might be your customers, library owners, artists and producers, we will try to see what their expectations are, and how you can learn to meet them.
We will look at the way things have gone for some successful composers and songwriters, to see what can be learned from their diverse experiences.
And a word of caution: In a world of downloads and royalty free music, it is tough to know where you stand.
Songwriting is (and pretty much has been for a long time) a business. Irving Berlin was known to check constantly to see that he was getting paid for recordings of his songs. If you see it only as an art (and it is that too), that is certainly your choice, but bear in mind that you are going to be competing against some talented people who are both artistic and businesslike.
You will even suffer in competition with people who are more businesslike than you and less talented. Such is the life. We will look at the variety of business models appropriate for songwriters, the kinds of music being used today (and where), and some ways of getting it into the right hands—hands that will do that business alchemy of turning music into gold. If not gold records, at least some income for you.
This exploration will be open ended and will try to incorporate changes in the songwriting world as they happen. I hope the information is useful to you, and that you not only succeed, but maybe even change the songwriting world a bit more.