How Much Money Does A Songwriter Make?

[This post was originally written in 2006.  Seven years later, it is much, much more difficult for songwriters to make an income from their songs because record labels are going under in, well, record numbers!]


I’m writing this article because I am truly surprised at how many people find my website using exactly those key words “how much does a songwriter make?” Why am I surprised? We are a society hell bent on making money. So why wouldn’t a person who likes writing songs think, at one time or another, that they might actually make money from it?

First words of advice: If you start writing with the idea of making money, it won’t work! Why not? Because you won’t last long enough. The average songwriter in Nashville, for example, has to work at it HARD for an average of seven years before even seeing anything. Most give up before then, especially the ones who ask “How much money does a songwriter make?” :-) You have to love it, that’s the only thing that will help you hang in long enough to see anything come of it.

Okay, you probably didn’t come here for a lecture, you want the cold, hard facts. Here are some facts:

1. Songwriters make some of their income from mechanical royalties. In the US, the royalty used to be 8.5 cents per song per unit (CD) sold. On January 1st, 2006 it became 9.10 cents. An album that sells 500,000 copies in 2006, would give the songwriter $45,500 per song. Sounds like a lot, eh? :-) But…

2. Less than 1% of ALL ALBUM RELEASES (I mean, ALL of them) sell more than 1,000 copies. Less than 1%. That means more than 99% of the albums released in 2006 will sell less than 1000 copies. And, because fewer people are purchasing CD’s, that number might be expected to go even lower.

3. Let’s put this together: It will likely take you at least 7 years to get a cut on an album, which has a 99% chance of selling less than 1000 copies. If it sells 1000 copies, you make $91.



Here are some more statistics:

48,000 = number of writers and artists in Nashville trying to “make it.”

1,350 = number of songs recorded in a year on major labels.

85% = percentage of songs recorded going to “insider” writers, publishers, producers, etc.

75 = number of songwriters getting 1 or more cuts per year in Nashville.

Why am I using Nashville as an example? Because that’s where a lot of the business has been in the last 20 years! And where would you go other than the place where it’s all happening?

The above stats can be attributed to a very interesting thread that happened on my old message board…a kind of blog written by BobbyJoe, someone who just moved to Nashville a short while ago and who has been dealing with the business of songwriting one day at a time.

$91…THAT’S how much songwriters make. To begin with. If that doesn’t take the wind out of your sails, then I refer you to a couple of other articles on this website. The first is a brief Beginner’s Guide to Publishing . This gives you an idea of how song publishing works and what you can expect. Another article covers the steps you should consider taking, everything from performing to getting critiques, creating demos of your songs, books and songwriting organizations. It’s called Your Songwriting Career.

If you found this article because you Googled “how much does a songwriter make”, and you’ve made it this far through the article, you just might have half a chance. Good luck :-)

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6 thoughts on “How Much Money Does A Songwriter Make?

  1. Say thanks for the tips your right. “You really suppose to write for the love of music not the love of money”. I did ask, how much can a songwriter make but you see I have been writing lyrics since my childhood. I started because of how I lived growing up the man who opened my eyes to this is a legend now. I was angry in a lot of ways, and I knew if I wanted to make it in life. Then I would have to learn how to cope through the hard struggles in life. I hear from others all the time besides myself. They say I’m really good. I love music for the fact it has made me stronger and has saved my life more than anyone can imagine. I can write, maybe not spit and if I don’t make all swell my life isn’t over yet. If anything it’s just beginning for me. I appreciate the lecture by the way. You are right my man more
    than you may know, and thanks for the tips later.

  2. Where did you get your statistic for number of songwriters in Nashville trying to make it? I’m doing a research project and I’m interested in a lot of facts like this.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Steve…thanks for your question :-) As I mentioned at the top of the article, it was written quite awhile ago and I suspect that those stats may even have come from some time before that. I believe that I found the stats from a link on an old Usenet group called rec.music.makers.songwriting. Usenet preceeded messageboards, and when I first came on the web in 1996, I joined that group and was a member for a number of years. This group was also frequented by a number of artists and songwriters who were based in Nashville. I’m fairly certain that someone from that group who lived in Nashville posted a link to these stats, and I’m pretty sure I know who it is. This was a guy who was involved in the music business down there, and he still is.

      People have asked me before where the stats came from, and I’ve researched to see if I could find the original post or link, but I haven’t been able to find it. I am quite certain of its legitimacy but it reflects what was happening in Nashville quite some time ago. I think the business has changed considerably since then, and probably the chances of success in Nashville are even worse now than they were then!

      IJ

  3. Just thought you should update your text to say that digital songs are now included in the licensing, so it’s not only the physical album licensing that will pay the songwriters but anysong sold over the net will also pay the same licensing rate to the song writer.

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