Be Careful Out There

I was recently contacted by a songwriter who had himself contacted an online Nashville-based company after he saw an ad for them on a music website.  When I checked it out, I saw that this company’s website was pretty straight-forward:  “We find songs for…” and then it proceeded to list a whole bunch of big name country artists.  So they were either a song publisher or song plugging company.  Below the long list of artists, there were three buttons.  The first button was supposed to be a FAQ, but the questions represented weren’t anything like “who we are and what we do”.  No, instead they included questions like “Do my words need to be perfect when I send them to you?” ,  “How long should my song be?” and “Do I need to copyright my songs before I send them to you?”.  All of their answers to these questions raised red flags for me.

The first question was “Do my words need to be perfect when I send them to you?”…any legitimate song publisher or songplugger WANTS A “PERFECT” SONG to pitch.  They don’t want to listen through a bunch of mediocre songs…which is why it is so hard to get that publishing deal in the first place.  Most song publishers listen to about the first :10 or :15 seconds of a song before they decide to turn it off or not.  But what did this company’s website say?  “No.  All songs start with a good idea and that’s all we need.”  Right away, this should tell you that they are taking anything that gets sent their way.  Why?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Second question:  “How long should my song be?”  Now, that’s a rather odd question to put in a FAQ, but nevertheless, they have an answer for that one too!  Their answer is:  “A commercial song…usually has about 24 lines, but may vary.”  This reminds me of an old scam artist/self-proclaimed “hit” writer that I came across a number of years ago on the web.  He actually had it calculated down to the number of syllables in a line!  If you have this many syllables, your song could be a hit!  But all you have to do is check out a bunch of hit songs from anywhere, anytime, to see that numbers of lines and syllables is NOT the most important aspect of being a “hit”, nor is a certain number of them a prerequisite.  Another red flag.

Third question:  “Do I need to copyright my songs before I send them to you?”  Their answer?  No.  That was the biggest red flag for me.  Now, practically speaking, a lot of pro writers do not copyright their songs until they get picked up by an artist.  But they know who they’re dealing with, and they already have a name for themselves.  They are not you, the first time songwriter trying to get your songs to a publisher.  Technically, a copyright ‘exists’ when you finish writing a song.  You always put the copyright symbol on anything you send out.  And if you are really hot on that song, you register a legal copyright first before sending it anywhere.  No question.

Okay, let’s get back to that Nashville company website.  Remember I told you that I’d explain why they would take anything that is sent to them?  Well, this will tell you. The next button says “Read what songwriters are saying about [us].”  I read all of the quotes and every one of them was about the recording of the songwriter’s song.  For example:   “Thank you for making a great recording of my song. You are special people who make a difference.”  None of the quotes had anything to do with getting a song placed, pitching it to artists or getting on the radio, or anything else.  All they want is for you to pay them money to record your song.

When the songwriter who contacted me sent me a copy of the contract, my suspicions were confirmed.  This was all about paying money to get a song recorded.  And not only that, but you get a bonus of $30,000 when you get a number 1 hit!  Wow, so now, let me see…somehow getting a recording of your song done by them, which you pay them for, could be a number 1 hit??  How might that happen?   That’s the other ‘service’ they provide…they’ll send your song to a bunch of radio stations on a compilation CD!  That’s how it will become a hit.  It’s just that you have to pay for being on the compilation CD too.  Oh well, chump change compared to that $30,000 you’re going to make, right?  They’re going to send it out to hundreds of radio stations!  But here’s the twist:  most radio stations pay absolutely no attention to these compilation CDs.  The only CDs they will listen to come from legitimate and big name record labels.  I know…I worked at a radio station.  The CD your song is on gets filed under “G” for garbage.

The ‘contract’ that was sent to this songwriter was, in fact, a glorified invoice.  Please pay us $500+ dollars.  Oh, and your song could be a hit.

Don’t feel stupid if this has happened to you or if it does in the future.  It has happened to many, many songwriters over the years.  Heck, I still get an annual post card from a “big time” producer, gushing about my song (and he always gets the title wrong) and how he can make it a big hit for me down in Nashville.  I’ve received a post card every year for about ten years, and that’s not exaggerating.   I probably sent the song out there to a few places years ago and that’s how he got my address.  I laugh, but then I wonder how many others he does this to every year, and how many of them fall for it just because they really believe in their songs and want it to be true.

These guys are nothing but scam artists pulling at your heartstrings.

If you have any questions about any publishers or song pluggers, send them to me.  I am not a lawyer so if you get a big, long contract with a bunch of legalize in it, I won’t be able to decipher it much more than you will.  However, if it’s anything like the contract this songwriter sent me to look at, I can tell you right away if it’s a scam or not!

In the meantime, be careful out there.


PS…I occasionally receive emails from so-called song pluggers or people who want to collaborate and who claim they have written hits for certain artists, etc.   I usually research them first to see if they are legitimate by simply searching for their names in the ASCAP and BMI databases (or check with the PRO from whatever country they reside in).  If I can’t find their names registered anywhere, I’ll simply reply to their email and ask them what name they register their songs under.  If they are legitimate, they’ll tell you, if they don’t answer back, you’ve learned that either they are scammers or that they are not willing to share their info, which makes them highly suspicious.  As I always say, arm yourself with knowledge! ~ IJ

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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Results of My Survey

© I.Woloshen

For the past several months, I have had a survey up on my main songwriting tips page with some basic questions on your experience, preferences, goals and others. The survey brought some surprising results, at least to me! What I want to do here is go through the questions and responses and evaluate them! The company that provided the poll changed around and as a result, the poll is no longer valid. However, I’ll be creating new polls in future so stay tuned! As for the results I received from the last one, here are the results:

The length of time most of you have been writing surprised me a little. I usually hear from people who have only been writing for a short period of time…but according to the survey, MOST of you (36%) have been writing longer than 10 years, followed by 2-5 years (32%), less than one year (19%) and 5-10 years (13%). What is interesting to me is that although I started 32 years ago, I realize that it is only the last 10 years that counts to me. Why? Because I don’t think I really studied the craft until then. Before that, I could have cared less to do any rewriting or to step outside of myself and think about what an audience response to my song would be. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the length of time we’ve been writing is probably not all that relevant! Have we spent that amount of time REALLY studying songwriting? I have read some great lyrics by people who have only been writing for a short while…and some equally weak lyrics from some who’ve been at it for some time!

Most of you who responded write both lyrics and music (67%), more write just lyrics (25%) than just music (8%). This was a newer question on the survey and therefore has fewer responses than some of the others, but seems to confirm my suspicion that MOST songwriters aim to do both.

The majority of you are what I call “sporadic” writers (42%)…I include myself in that category. I can go a long time without writing, and then suddenly spew out a long list of songs. This is why I don’t believe in “writers’ block”, at least for me! Because there’s a time that I’m in the songwriting “mode” and a time I’m not…sometimes I have nothing to express! 25% of you write daily! I wonder if you have written daily for all of your songwriting life? My guess is that there are probably some who responded this way because you THINK you should write daily 🙂 25% write weekly. This seems fairly reasonable. 8% of you write monthly.

The next question is one I took particular interest in…”What do you feel is your biggest weakness in your songwriting?” My guess would have been lyrics, since the majority of songwriters I hear from seem to find difficulty in coming up with fresh and original lyrics. But most of you (24%) responded that “structure” was your biggest weakness! I’m wondering if this is because the definition of structure isn’t all that clear? What I call ‘structure’ is also defined in songwriting terms as ‘form’. This is the ABABCB (or any combination of those) that you always hear about, where A=verse, B=chorus and C=bridge. There does seem to be some confusion by newer writers about what a “bridge” is, or a “pre-chorus”, and where they belong. But considering that most of you have been writing for more than 10 years, the confusion about structure does come as a surprise! 19% find melodies the biggest challenge and the same number say that “conveying a message” is their biggest weakness. I DID say to pick more than one if necessary, so the demo may be a little skewed by that. Another big surprise…only 1% of you said that uniqueness is your biggest weakness…now that’s a shock! For the most part, many of the songs I listen to or lyrics I read from newer writers really lack the uniqueness quality! Nobody thought rhyming was their biggest problem…this is also very interesting. Is that because it’s easy to rhyme words, or because you practise rhyming more than anything else? 🙂 14% thought your lyrics were your biggest weakness, and 10% music.

None of you have successfully found a songwriting collaborator on the internet. Whether that’s because you aren’t looking for one, or just haven’t had any luck, is another question. Considering that the internet has become a great tool for interacting with other songwriters, this also comes as a surprise to me!

The majority of you are interested in seeing more articles on lyrics (27%) or just more of anything (27%). Articles on performing (14%) and music (16%) and the business (16%) are pretty even. I do take this question pretty seriously…but it is curious to me in comparison to the question above about your biggest weakness, where only 14% of you thought it was your lyrics. I also like the fact that a good number of you will leave the choice of article topics up to me 🙂

In terms of songwriting goals, I’m also very fascinated to know that most of you (41%) are interested in becoming a performing songwriter! Practically speaking, it IS an easier way (if you can say that!) to get your songs heard by others. The trend in major music centers like Nashville these days is for a songwriter to be self-contained. In other words, less and less signed artists look outside for material and more write their own. 36% of you are in search of a publishing deal, 14% write purely for fun, and 9% haven’t quite made up their minds what they’d like to do yet.

The majority of you (86%) have never attended a songwriting workshop put on by a songwriting organization! I enthusiastically encourage you to do so! Not only is it a great learning experience, but you will finally meet more of your own “kind” 🙂 A lot of success in the music business, for instance, is based upon who you know. You’ve heard that one before, haven’t you? But who’s going to know you if you don’t get out there and introduce yourself? That’s the biggest side benefit from attending workshops, aside from honing your songwriting skills. Okay, enough preaching 🙂

And last, but certainly not least…favourite songwriting tools! I told you you could pick more than one, of course. Looks like the good ol’ “pencil and paper” method of writing is still valid one (36%), followed by the guitar (24%), micro cassette recorder (11%), keyboard (9%), newspapers/books/magazines (7%), the Internet (7%) and a rhyming dictionary (4%). I didn’t include a thesaurus, which I use all the time, don’t know why I forgot that.

As I said earlier, the poll no longer works, but I will be creating more in future, so stay tuned 🙂

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Rejection – Three Stages of Recovery

© I.Woloshen

Oh, boy…how many of us have had to go through some kind of rejection in our lives? It would be pretty unusual to meet someone who hadn’t! As positive a person as you might be (and I am!), there is nothing that will get you through the pain of rejection other than simply going through it. In the business of music, you are going to face a lot of rejection. And you are probably going to take it pretty personally at first, especially being a creative type, because whatever you write literally feels like it is a part of you, and having someone reject your song, your music, feels like it is a rejection of YOU! A figurative slap in the face. But of course, it isn’t. The person rejecting your music doesn’t know you, and has probably had to reject a thousand other songs/artists in the past, so it becomes a very matter-of-fact process for them. This is the very first step you have to take in recovering from such a rejection: realizing that it isn’t personal.

I remember my first negative review of one of my CDs…while it wasn’t blatantly horrible, it said a few things that made me cringe…that I sounded like everyone else, that I had little originality. The reviewer wished I done more this and less that. At first I felt like someone had just slugged me in the stomach. My thinking got pretty defensive, and I ranted to anyone who would listen 🙂 Eventually I got past the emotional stuff and was able to remind myself that IT IS VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME!! This is a major key, folks. That reviewer was listening for what HE wanted to hear, and didn’t get it. Oddly enough, all of the positive response I got had somehow been overshadowed in my head by that one review…isn’t that stupid? And yet there were lots of people who loved the CD! Once I had settled down, I also realized I had learned something really important. There’s a difference between someone simply not liking what you do, and actually having some problems that need fixing. You’ve got to learn the difference between these two things! If a publisher says your song doesn’t fit the genre they’re looking for…it doesn’t mean your song is bad, it means THE SONG DOESN’T FIT WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR. It’s amazing what we ‘hear’ in a rejection, even if it really isn’t there!! In the beginning you’ll almost always confuse what you hear with what they’re actually saying 🙂

So let’s nail down a few things you are going to need to know. First of all, what you feel is what you feel and it is silly to try to suppress those feelings…so feel ’em. Let yourself be hurt, angry, depressed, whatever. If you deny them, you’ll be asking for trouble. Those feelings will show up unexpectedly in other ways that don’t have anything to do with your songs.

The next stage will be a little easier…the emotions will lessen to some extent. This is when you can start looking at what went wrong and distilling it down to the stuff you can’t do anything about, and the stuff you can. Ever heard the serenity prayer? It talks about having the wisdom to know the difference between what you can’t change and what you can. You can’t change someone else’s taste in music! Duh! They like what they like and that’s it! Later on, I talk about how to handle a critique…but let’s assume you send a song out to a bunch of publishers, and some of them send a kind of report back to you about the song. They all reject it, and have different things to say, but then you notice that several of them say the same thing. THIS is what you pay attention to! For instance, maybe they don’t like the lead vocal. HEY! You could find another vocalist! There’s an idea 🙂

The third stage has to do with taking the steps you need to try again. Some people never make it to this stage or the second. That’s because they’re still stuck in the first one…still ranting about some reviewer or some publisher’s rejection of their songs. If that’s where you want to be, well no one can change that. I have learned, however, that the more you go through the process of rejection, the faster you’ll go through the first stage. You’ll recover more quickly because you’ll KNOW HOW TO. In Nashville, it takes an average of 7 years for a songwriter to get anywhere near having a cut on an artists album. SEVEN YEARS of rejection. Could you handle that? One after another after another?

There is one more type of rejection I want to talk about. It’s called “indifference”. I almost hate that one more than outright rejection. An example of it might be when you’re sitting in a place playing your heart out and nobody’s listening. Nobody. Your head is full of thoughts like “what the hell am I doing this for?”. Or sending out your songs to people and never hearing a THING back. Indifference. It’s a kind of quiet type of rejection that sneaks up on you rather than hitting you suddenly.

My solution to this one is a little different. Keep moving…keep putting one foot in front of the other. Let go of an expected outcome to ANYTHING. The fact is that when you’ve worked long and hard enough at it, the little rewards will start to come from unexpected places. If you are too busy looking for the obvious rewards, you might miss those other ones! They are really important, because they are the little bits of fuel that will keep you going when times are tough!

And one very last thing…remember why you write songs in the first place, and you’ll survive anything! Guaranteed 🙂

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