How to Become a Songwriter
Songwriter Job Details
Skills and Qualities of a Songwriter
Songwriter Salaries
Influential Professional Songwriters
Leading Organizations for Songwriters
Top Cities for Songwriting Jobs
Other Careers of Interest

How to become a Songwriter

Most songwriters learn the various skills of the craft through a combination of self-study, listening to and analyzing other composer's work and reading material. In a sense, songwriting can be said to be a lifelong craft and many songwriters started from an early age and may continue to study the discipline throughout their careers.

Virtually all songwriters started out by playing one or more musical instruments and they may have even joined a band or orchestra at some point in their lives. Indeed, they often continue to do so while engaged in their songwriting career. Many employment opportunities typically require applicants to have a bachelor degree, either in music composition or a related field.

Formal training can be gained from specialized courses offered by colleges, universities or other learning institutions. Depending on the position applied for, a songwriter may also be required to possess practical experience from working in music related jobs.

What does a Songwriter do?

Songwriters typically work on their own or with a partner, although it is not uncommon for them to work in teams comprised of three or more people. The actual act of songwriting can either be done with the whole group being present in the same room or studio space, or they may be located in different cities. They may even be in different parts of the world, for that matter, and collaborate on the material through mail or the Internet.

Most songwriters are also expected to be able to play one or more musical instruments, in addition to singing and arranging the music they compose. Songwriters can be called upon to compose original music for a wide variety of applications and clients, among them symphony orchestras, opera companies, radio, television, cinema and for other performers. Oftentimes, they are also expected to be able to write down their compositions in notation form. While the use of pen and paper continues to be a popular method for getting ideas down, more and more songwriters are relying on computer software, both for editing and composing music.

What skills or qualities do I need to become a Songwriter?

Songwriters will have to be well versed in a wide variety of musical styles, in addition to their own area of specialization. This is an important capability for them to develop if they hope to be able to accept a wide range of employment opportunities and projects. In some cases, voice training and lessons in certain instruments can also be beneficial in enhancing a songwriter's musical capability and vocabulary.

Of course talent and creativity is a must and songwriters who are interested in performing will also need to develop stage presence and have the stamina to travel to different locations and perform on demand. Since it is important to be able to write in a wide variety of styles, very often on a deadline, self-discipline is crucial. To a certain degree, songwriters also have to be prepared to face the prospect of lack of employment opportunities and the rejection of their work.

How much does a Songwriter make?

It is a bit difficult to determine the average salary that a songwriter can make since it is a) a fairly specialized field, b) many songwriters work on a per project basis and c) many of them are employed in other areas as well, either music related or otherwise. Nevertheless the average yearly salary of a songwriter was estimated at being around $40,000 in 2006. Of this group, the middle half made anywhere from $23,600 to $60,400, with the lowest 10% making less than $15,200. The highest 10% of this group made more than $110,900.

Another factor to consider is that earnings are generally dependent on whether or not they are self-employed and it therefore depends on the number of projects that they can work on. Songwriters who are also performers could expect a higher income, derived from public performances such as concerts. In addition, songwriters that are involved in recording projects can earn a substantial income from publishing fees.

Who are some influential professionals in this field?

Some of the most in demand songwriters in the industry are quite famous names in the field of entertainment in their own right. People such as Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Prince, "Babyface" Edmonds and numerous other figures have made names for themselves, both with songs written for other artists, as well as for their own recordings. However, many of the busiest and most successful songwriters in the business tend to stay largely behind the scenes and only a few people within the industry know of them.

What are some leading organizations in this field?

There are actually well over a hundred different songwriters organizations scattered all over the United States, providing a variety of services, including holding showcases and instructional workshops that feature some of the top names in the songwriting industry. Among the biggest local songwriting organizations in the country are the Northern California Songwriters Association, the Austin Songwriters Group, Songwriters Association of Washington and the Arizona Songwriters Association.

Nashville, being a particularly fertile area for songwriters, has its own organization, called the Songwriters Association International or NSAI. It was established in 1967 and mainly focuses on country music, although they do feature other types of music as well. The NSAI currently holds almost 100 workshops all over the United States and offers both professional and general membership. The NSAI is also involved in producing numerous educational meets throughout the year, with 'Song Camps' and a yearly Summer Seminar being amongst the most widely attended.

The United States is also home to one of the first songwriters' organizations in the world. Called the Songwriters Guild of America or SGA, it currently has offices in New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles.

The SGA is primarily responsible for the development of the standard song contract used by many songwriters to this day. Among its roles are assisting songwriters in collecting royalties and the administration of publishing catalogs of its songwriters and publishers. The SGA also has a not for profit department called The Songwriters Guild Foundation, which offers, among other services, consultations, seminars and workshops for members.

What are the top cities for Songwriting jobs?

Of the 264,000 jobs held by various musicians and singers in 2006, only a small percentage was held by songwriters. Many of these jobs could be found in cities that have a high number of entertainment and recording opportunities, among them New York, Los Angeles and Nashville.

Songwriters can actually be found working in a wide variety of settings, ranging from religious organizations to orchestras, chamber music groups, opera companies, theater groups and ballet. They can also find careers writing for musicians and singers who perform in entertainment spots. Further employment opportunities can also be found in radio and television.

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