How to Become a Songwriter & Write Hit Songs - Careers in Music
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Songwriter

Last updated: Nov 11, 2020
Reads: 628,166

Career Overview

A Songwriter crafts songs for another artist in hopes of creating a hit.

Alternate Titles

Writer

Avg. Salary

$65,2801

Career Description

Songwriters write songs, usually for other artists to perform. To learn how to become a Songwriter, we talked to several Songwriters working in various genres.

In this article, you’ll hear from:

  • Jason Blume, who wrote hits for Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys
  • Emily Warren, Writer for Dua Lipa and The Chainsmokers
  • Dann Gallucci, who has worked with Modest Mouse and Cold War Kids
  • Jean Baptiste, Songwriter for Rihanna, Lil’ Yachty, and The Black Eyed Peas
  • Rick Nowels, who has penned hits for Lana Del Rey, John Legend, and Adele

Often, Songwriters write both the lyrics and melody for a song. Lyricists, on the other hand, exclusively write lyrics and do not write the music for the piece–an important difference between the two roles. (Check out our blog on this subject for a more in-depth explanation.)

What does a Songwriter do?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

The sole job duty is to create hit songs that are geared for the commercial market—and do the business required to get those songs to generate income.

I have a few different types of “typical” days. First, it’s important to understand that songwriting is approached differently in Nashville than it is in other music centers, such as Los Angeles, New York City, and London.

In Nashville, where I’m based now, pro Songwriters typically go to an office to write their songs. They sit with guitars in writing rooms and collaborate with other Songwriters. I did that for more than twelve years and wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs that way.

Outside of Nashville, in many instances, pro Writers have recording studios in their homes. Some do nothing but produce musical backing tracks (i.e., the keyboards, bass, drums, guitars) but rely on other Writers to create the ‘top line’ – the melody and lyric – that the Vocalist sings. When I was in Los Angeles I more often went to a collaborator’s home studio to write.

Some of a Songwriter’s time is also spent producing demos—recordings that are used to demonstrate the potential of their songs, and regardless of where or how you write, a portion of your time will likely be spent taking care of business. This includes having meetings to pitch your songs to record label executives, Producers, and Managers.

So, there’s not really a “typical” day. Some days—or parts of days—are spent writing; some are for having meetings; some are for recording demos.

They typically work with Music Publishers, other Writers, and Musicians. While some might write alone, I typically collaborate with other Writers who bring out the best in me—and with Recording Artists and Record Producers who are looking for songs.

Most professional Songwriters are affiliated with Music Publishers, and interact with other music business professionals, such as Recording Engineers, Record Producers, Recording Artists, and Managers.

Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

There are different levels to this. We’ll start where I am now. I’ve been in the industry for quite a while, I’ve been blessed. I’ve had successes, so that allows me to kind of create a schedule that works for me.

So, I’m usually at the house. My studio sessions are somewhere between 1:00 to 7:00pm. I go to the studio either by myself with my Engineer, or I’ll go to collaborate with a circle of a few friends that I love to work with. That’s the creative process of it and then I go home. I try to treat it like a job. I know that my brain is fresh in the morning so I feel like I get my best ideas during the day.

Now, when I was younger, I started off in a band. That whole life is a completely different, slightly chaotic thing. That was number one for me, touring and all that stuff. But when you’re trying to make it, usually you have a side job—whatever that is—that takes precedence. So whenever I got off my job, I would go straight to a studio situation, or I would just write at home and write songs.

We’re lucky in this day and time where you can get an inexpensive laptop and an inexpensive mic and literally create your own music with a program like FruityLoops and just record your vocals yourself.

Salary

How much do Songwriters make?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

According to Glassdoor.com, the average annual salary is approximately $65,300.


How do Songwriters get paid?

Emily Warren (The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, David Guetta)

There are two MAIN ways a Songwriter is paid. First, a Songwriter can get an advance from a publishing deal, but it is recoupable. What this means is that you could sign to a Publisher who gives you an “advance” that goes with your contract. Once you start making money, part of what you make goes towards paying back that advance.

It’s very similar to taking out a loan from a bank, although a Publisher (differently from a bank) also offers you services along with the money (i.e., booking sessions, placing songs, creating opportunities, etc.). The other way Songwriters are paid is by fees and royalties. This works in a couple of different ways.

If, for example, a song you’ve written gets put in a movie, you are generally paid a fee for the use. Royalties accumulate when your song is played. For example, if your song plays on the radio, you will be paid for each play.

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

Except for the rarest exceptions, 100% of your income comes from royalties earned when people buy digital and tangible recordings of your songs (downloads and CDs) and from streaming, as well as “performance royalties” that are generated when songs are played on the radio, broadcast on television, on the Internet, on airplanes, and in places such as restaurants, nightclubs, and concert halls.

It doesn’t matter how many songs you write or how amazing they are; you only get paid when people buy or stream the songs, and when they are performed or broadcast—such as on TV and the radio.

Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

First of all, you have to sell your song to someone. Your song can get synced in a TV show. It can get synched in a movie. It can get synced in a commercial. That’s one way.

Artists who want to use your song—that’s another way. You’re getting paid off mechanical royalties, you’re getting paid off publishing, which is the actual writing.

So there are physical and mechanical royalties. There are digital downloads, streaming royalties. There are so many ways. Either get your song synced in your favorite show, or in a commercial or try to get your song to an artist and have them buy the song.

You get to participate in your publishing and your royalties. Also, if you sing your own song and put your song on a DSP (digital streaming platform), you get paid per stream. There are so many different ways in which you can maximize your worth.

Dann Gallucci (Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, Murder City Devils)

For the most part, you’re getting paid for your intellectual property. The song is your idea; there are a number of different ways that you can sell your idea. You can license it. Aside from playing live, unless you can gather a ton of interest in the music that you’re making, it’s almost impossible to make money off of a record.

Unfortunately, people don’t get huge advances on publishing anymore. I mean, huge bands do but fewer people do now. Before, if you wanted to get the biggest publishing deal that was available to you so that you could have money in your pocket and just be able to create, then you would give a far bigger percentage of your publishing over.

That’s when my Lawyer started talking to me about admin deals and how I could give away ten percent of my publishing as opposed to a far bigger number, and get an admin deal, where they’re still working for you. If you can get someone who is going to help you, someone that is actually explaining the process to you, and they’re giving you honest answers of what’s possible, seek those people out.

My main advice is to care about what you’re doing. An eighteen to twenty-three-year-old who is being told that they’re so special that someone wants to work with them, and is being told that they’re going to make money, will take basically any advance that you give them, you know?

There are a lot of people who are very comfortable with manipulating kids in that situation, at that age. They’ll step in, and they’ll offer you approval that you maybe have never gotten before, and recognition, and all that. If they tell you that you’re going to get five thousand dollars, which is more money than you’ve ever seen before, but you have to give away fifty percent publishing on the first six songs that you write or whatever, it’s hard at that point to say no.

Even the most hardened eighteen-year-old who believes that they have more integrity than anyone that’s ever walked the Earth will sign away so much for so little. It’s just so hard not to. So many adults, sadly, are just capable and comfortable with manipulating people, especially young people.

It’s really hard to make money. If you can do it on your own, then you have to because there’s no one else that cares about your idea except for you and the people who’ve heard it that really like it. The more that you control it, then the more money you actually stand to make.

It’s not bajillions of dollars, but it could be a steady income. Learn how to market yourself, learn how to make the connections that you need to make, put out really creative and interesting output.

The more you can control how many views you get or how many downloads or listens you get, or how many people are following you—[that] gives you a way to reach more people and your income streams could be coming from anywhere. The more you have, and the more you control it, the better off you’re always gonna be.


Do Songwriters own their songs?

Rick Nowels (Lana Del Rey, Adele, John Legend)

Songwriters own their songs unless you sell a portion to a publisher when your song is released.


Does a Songwriter need a Publisher?

Rick Nowels (Lana Del Rey, Adele, John Legend)

A Songwriter needs an advocate. If you can get a Publisher interested in helping you that is a good thing.

Career Outlook

Is songwriting a good career?

Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

It’s not a career that I would put the house on. It’s something you have to love. If I didn’t make a penny off music, I’d still be doing music. It’s in my spirit, you know? Some of us are afflicted with that thing where we’re able to receive that. It’s that gift.

Here’s the thing: if you love doing something, there’s not a day of it that’s work to you. But we’re in a business of rejection and there are a lot of people trying to make it. You have to believe. You have to have an insane belief in yourself, and you have to have a good network and a bit of luck.

Emily Warren (The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, David Guetta)

The BEST! For so many reasons. First of all, you really get to make your own schedule. When I started off I did double (sometimes triple) sessions 7 days a week. I did it because it was so much fun, I was learning so much, and writing was what I wanted to do 1 million percent of the time.

As I’ve gotten a bit older and expanded my interests, my schedule has changed completely — I now factor in time for absorbing other things that interest me or even just experiencing things that ultimately inspire me. It comes in waves and it’s nice to be fortunate enough to be able to choose when to go really hard or to scale it back a bit.

The other amazing thing about songwriting (which I believe is true about any creative career) is that it gives life a lot of meaning. What I mean by that is that no matter what happens, good or bad, the outlet of songwriting, of being able to turn thoughts or experiences into a tangible thing, means that no matter what happens to me, however big or small, it is valuable.

This has helped me look at the world in a totally different way. It has made me a better listener, a more eager learner, and someone who really values daily life because there is something to learn from everything and everyone, and the more open my ears and eyes are, the more ideas I have to work with.

Dann Gallucci (Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, Murder City Devils)

No, it’s not. It’s a terrible, hard career full of constant frustrations and occasional really high highs. If you are doing it because you’re looking for a career, I would recommend a bunch of things before songwriting. But I think most people that really want to be Songwriters are compelled in some form or some way. For those people, you have to do it.

All you can do is work as hard as you can and try to take the opportunities that might be in front of you…no matter how hard it is to find them. It would be hard to say that it’s a good career when there are so few people that can even make a basic living doing it.


Is being a Songwriter hard?

Rick Nowels (Lana Del Rey, Adele, John Legend)

It’s very difficult to make money with songwriting. You have to write hit songs or have a big fan base.

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

The potential for earnings is almost limitless. The top Writers—those who consistently write or co-write hit singles for superstar artists—earn tens of millions of dollars. But the cold hard reality is that only the tiniest fraction of a percent ever reaches that level.

In fact, the overwhelming majority never earn any significant income from their work and work “day jobs” to support themselves while they pursue their dream. There are no guarantees of ever earning a penny—but some of those who are exceptionally talented, persistent, and good at promoting themselves do manage to breakthrough.

I had a fantasy that Songwriters lay out by their pool, sipping a drink, and waiting for a brilliant song to strike them. HA! The successful Writers I know work incredibly long hours.

When they’re not busy writing songs, they’re doing demos, having business meetings, and hanging out with people who can advance their careers. While it’s true that you are essentially your own boss—and can set your own hours—the successful ones I know are driven and are almost always either working—or thinking about their work.

Slide Do You *Really Have What it Takes? Do You *Really
Have What it Takes?
Let's See Let's See

Career Path

Can anyone be a Songwriter?

Dann Gallucci (Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, Murder City Devils)

Yes, I think so. There are two basic ways to go about it. There are people who study songwriting and theory. They may study an instrument very specifically.

My path to songwriting didn’t go that direction; I don’t know how to write music or anything like that. I got a guitar when I was young. I found it very difficult to play other people’s songs, so I just started making up my own, and I had more fun doing that. I realized I could string three notes together and it could be a song as long as the lyrics and the melody were good. You could actually make something really fun and play it. So, that was enough to make me want to pursue that basically for the rest of my life (or close to it).

If you don’t learn how to songwrite, you’re just learning by listening to other people, finding what you like, keeping your ears open. If you don’t go the more traditional composition route, the only thing that I think that people really need is those songs, whether it’s a three-note song or a really complex song that they worked out on their own. I’ve met people that would say that they didn’t know how to play an instrument, could be in a band with three different people, and they all play in a tuning that no one’s ever even heard of before. But they’re making the most interesting music and beautiful music.

From what I’ve seen traveling around the world, there are just a massive amount of extremely talented, not just musicians, but Songwriters, that no one will ever know about. [There are] traditional biases against women and people of color. I’m a white guy, so it’s inherently easier for me, or it has been.

You have to believe in it. I think it can be really hard, depending on where you are, to believe that something can actually come from what’s making you feel the way you do when you write something you’re proud of. It’s not all just in learning composition. It’s hard work in the sense that it kind of has to be your focus. You can’t stop.

Emily Warren (The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, David Guetta)

I do think so — I think if you put enough time into anything you can do it, right? The first probably 100 songs I wrote were garbage that no one should ever hear, but the more I write the more I am able to identify what works and what doesn’t for me.

I think another really good exercise is studying the music that you love. For me, John Mayer was a huge influence, so once I started to write I started to try and dissect his music and try to understand what about it was so captivating to me. I think something he does really well is that he is able to tell such a good story that evolves and develops over the course of the song.

He does this with imagery, detail, pairing the emotion of a lyric with the emotion of its melody, and giving each section purpose. I often find in his songs that there are no fillers — every line seems intentional and shapes how the ideas are communicated. He is just one example for me, but I think listening actively to the music you love and trying to figure out WHY you love it can be a really great tool in shaping your own writing.

Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

I think that anyone who has the passion for songwriting can be a Songwriter. If you love it, you’re gonna enjoy every bit of the process. As long as you have the passion for the idea of storytelling, you have the passion for music, then yes, you can.


How can I become a Songwriter?

Emily Warren (The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, David Guetta)

Practice, practice, practice!! Like I said, I have written so many bad songs, many of which I think are great at the time. Not every song should get released or cut, but every song has value because it is practice that leads you towards the one that DOES! I started writing when I was 11 years old and didn’t have a single cut until I was 21 (and I can assure you, it’s a song you’ve never heard of).

That was 10 years of practice, virtually every day, but it was a blast. I learned so much and continue to learn every time I write and collaborate. If you have the love for it, you will put in the hours without noticing.

Another great way to learn is to collaborate. I was resistant to collaboration for such a long time, but once I gave it a fair shot I realized it is just another way to access parts of your brain (and someone else’s) that you can’t necessarily get to on your own. Plus, like I said, you can learn something from everyone. Collaborating is a great way to see how people work firsthand and learn ways of writing that can open doors in your mind.

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

In almost all instances, one doesn’t really get a ‘job’ as a Songwriter. The extremely rare exceptions are when someone might be hired and paid a salary to create songs for a TV show, an advertising agency, or a theme park. But this would probably be less than 1% of all professional Songwriters.

If you want hit songs on the radio it’s not as if you fill out a job application and someone hires you to write songs. Unless you’re in a band, writing with a successful artist, or you’re an artist writing for your own projects, your goal will probably be to become a Staff Writer.

Although that sounds like a ‘job,’ what it really means is that you’ve signed an exclusive song publishing agreement with a music publishing company. Everything you write during the term of your contract is published by that company. You don’t have any set hours or go to an office.

You just have to deliver a quota of songs each year—and in many instances (especially outside of Nashville) only songs that are commercially released by artists on major labels count toward your quota. But regardless of how many songs you write, you will only remain under contract if your songs are earning money, or the company believes you are delivering potential hits.

When you sign a staff-writing deal you are advanced money—as if they are lending you your own future royalties. In most instances, unless you already have a track record of hits, your advance will be just enough to survive. But it’s not a salary; when you have success, the money you were advanced will be recouped by the Publisher before you see additional royalties.

The big advantage of being a Staff Writer is that your Publisher has a vested interest in promoting you and your songs in ways that few developing Songwriters could ever do on their own. Ideally, your Publisher should have access to the Producers, record labels executives, Managers, and Recording Artists who have the power to say, “Yes.”

They should also be able to set up collaborations for you with Recording Artists and Producers. In many instances, this is how Songwriters get their work recorded.

One typically gets a staff-writing deal by networking, collaborating with Staff Writers, and meeting Publishers at music industry events. It rarely works to send unsolicited material to companies. Publishers are very selective about who they sign—and seek writers who they believe have exceptional material—“HITS” that are geared to the current market.

I wrote my first songs when I was twelve by strumming my father’s mandolin. I performed in coffee houses and nightclubs, mixing my original songs with well-known songs. After college, I moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to pursue my songwriting dream. I knew there would be more classes, serious collaborators, and opportunities to make business connections in a major music center.

When I wasn’t working my day job I wrote songs, recorded demos, networked at music industry events, and took classes every spare moment. I wrote hundreds of lousy songs—although I didn’t know that at the time! But as I studied my craft and the market, received professional feedback from teachers, and rewrote my songs to make them as strong as possible, my songs improved and became more geared to the commercial market—meaning the songs that were on the radio.

I met with a Music Publisher who suggested I rewrite a country song I played for him. After seven rewrites—and seven new demos—he sent the song to his Nashville office. It was recorded by a new artist and became a single. Although it earned very little money, it opened up doors that led to my collaborating with professionals who were signed to a publishing company. That was seven-and-a-half years after I’d moved to L.A. to become an “overnight sensation!”

While my song was on the charts I went to Nashville to collaborate and make connections. One of the songs I wrote with a Pro Writer was recorded by a superstar group 3-1/2 years after we wrote it. It happened because my Cowriter’s Publisher pitched the song. That changed my life.

Suddenly, every door was open to me and I signed a staff-writing deal. That was more than 11 years after I made the decision to move to L.A. and become a professional Songwriter.

  • Identify your weaknesses and address them. For example, are you a strong lyricist, but not such a great melody writer? If so, block out time on your calendar to do melody rewriting exercises—or seek collaborators.
  • Study what works. Analyze the melodies and lyrics of the songs you love. Put them under the microscope and study the chord changes; structures; lyric approach; and melodies.
  • But, if you are writing for artists other than yourself or your own band, be sure you study songs that artists did not write for themselves. Similarly, study the songs that are currently having success; writing in styles that are no longer in vogue (i.e., the songs you loved in high school) will not get you commercial success.
  • Write, write, write. Don’t expect the first songs you write to be your best. It’s like developing a muscle; you need to keep working on your craft to get better at it. Some say, “Your first fifty songs are for practice.”
  • Plan to attend an event where you can network with other writers on the same path—a song camp; writing retreat; Taxi’s annual Road Rally; the West Coast Songwriters’ annual conference; the Hawaii Songwriting Festival; or one of my BMI Workshops (FYI, they’re free and open to anyone. Registration info is on my website.)
  • And of course, read my books, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success and This Business of Songwriting—and listen to all my instructional audio CDs ;-).
Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

I started off by being in a band. I was writing before the band and I was writing a lot of things. I was writing poetry and things of that nature and that segued into me writing songs. I kind of feel like I was always that way—music was always the thing for me.

I would say the best way to start is by doing some research on the artists that you like, on how they started, and then starting on your own. Whether you’ve got a piano, or a keyboard, or a guitar, or you might just wanna do topline, which is writing lyrics and melodies. You might write on some instrumentals that are all free online.

In this world that we live in, that seems so scary, and a lot of people are telling you what you can and can’t do—everything starts with you. As long as you believe in yourself and believe in your talent, just keep doing it.

You have to convince yourself that you’re a Songwriter first, and then eventually, if you stick with it and things line up for you, you’ll convince the world. But it starts with you.

Dann Gallucci (Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, Murder City Devils)

If you want to take the way that people used to think about songwriting, there are high schools that focus on the arts. If you’re somehow lucky enough to get into one of those, that’s helpful. There are community colleges with great composition and theory programs.

If you’re interested in composition for soundtrack work, or commercial work, or that type of thing, I think that can probably be a very helpful path for you—to go the more traditional composition route.

Otherwise, you decide when you’re a songwriter, you know? It’s entirely up to you. If you want other people to recognize you as a Songwriter, or just listen to your music, that will kind of overcome you and there’s nothing else that you’ll want. You just want an instrument, even if you don’t know how to play it, because you can pluck a few notes.

You’re a Songwriter because you decided you’re a Songwriter, and then it’s just a lot of work. You’ve got to get out there and play.

There’s a lot of people who do a hybrid of that. They come from songwriting in a more self-taught way and then work their way through music in a number of different ways and end up working on commercials, soundtracks, those kinds of compositions. I think a lot of the more interesting modern soundtrack music is coming a lot more from people who are self-taught.

I can definitely say it is the most frustrating and difficult thing I’ve ever done in music, and I’ve done quite a few different types of things in music. You have to be willing to basically try to claw your way into an industry whose doors are mostly shut. You have to keep clawing and keep clawing.

You have to meet people, know the right people, be in the right place— luck is a combination of being in the right place and doing something with it. Your eyes have to be wide open every day for anything that you can find. It’s unreal how competitive it is.

It’s a ton of work if you want to write songs because you feel in your heart you’re an artist, that there is art within you, and you don’t have a choice but to get it out. If you want to do that, and the path you want to take is more of the [being in a] band, recording music at your house and just getting it as out there as you can, just do it.

Don’t stop doing it. Find every opportunity to do it and never stop writing. If you have a chance to go play in front of people, you have to do it. Go wherever you get the chance so that you can experience the very limited opportunities that are out there.

You really have to believe that there’s a reason that you do it—not even because you want to have fun and all that kind of stuff, but because it’s really in you. You hear it every day in your head, so you can either try to make it, or it’ll just frustrate you. Then you have to just hustle.

Experience & Skills

What skills do you need to be a Songwriter?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

It’s not mandatory that you play an instrument—but it definitely helps. So study guitar or keyboards if you’re so inclined. It’s also helpful to understand the business of songwriting.

Being a Songwriter requires unending perseverance and a willingness to keep pursuing your goal no matter how long it takes. You have to be able to deal with years of rejection, frustration, and disappointment, and still believe in yourself enough to keep writing songs, networking, and working on your craft.

Also, you need to be someone who can handle not having a guaranteed, steady income, and you need to be able to cope with the pressure of needing to consistently produce “hits.”

Emily Warren (The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, David Guetta)

I think if you want to write songs for other people, you have to be interested in listening and finding empathy in other people’s stories, and I think that regardless if you’re writing for yourself or others, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. In my opinion, good songwriting comes from framing common thoughts in new ways.

How can you say something that has been said a million times in a new way, or how can you articulate a feeling everybody has felt but might not know how to put into words? I think the best way to access these things is to allow yourself to be completely vulnerable and exposed. If you hit that nerve within yourself, you will hit that nerve for your listener as well. Songwriting can be uncomfortable, and painful, but the harder it is to do, the more rewarding the result.

Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

You need some musicality. You don’t need music theory, per se, but you need to understand the notes so that when you’re writing you can make sure you’re using the right notes. You also need the ability to write, to capture an emotion, capture a story.

I think Songwriters are a bit emotional. I find that people who are a bit emotional are able to harness that. You also have to be attentive. You have to be able to pay attention to what’s going on around because sometimes you can write about things that happened to you, or happened to someone in a situation that’s either adjacent to you or not.

Dann Gallucci (Modest Mouse, Cold War Kids, Murder City Devils)

You have to love music, obviously, and you have to love listening to it and watching it. One of the most important things to me is to be around other people who do different things than you do, whether it’s the way they play their instrument, or whether it’s that they just have a very unique perspective on the way that they would write a song. You have to experiment.

I think a lot of people disagree with me on this, but I like Songwriters who want to know a little bit about the recording process because it’s so much a part of modern songwriting.

There’s such a more broad array of instruments and ways of creating sound these days than even in the mid-‘90s people were creating those weird sounds and finding a melody by using, you know, a 4-track cassette recorder and creating really insane sounds just from the knobs on that 4-track. Or creating their own reverbs and effects so that they can get the inspiration from a sound that they haven’t heard before.

I would say it’s constantly seeking new ways to become excited about sound. With lyric writing, I think wordplay can be really interesting but if it strays too far from the story you want to tell or who you are then it becomes just wordplay. If you can, create a way of using some abstraction while still throwing enough into a lyrical composition to make people have to figure out a little bit what you’re talking about [and] once they get it, they realize how emotional that is.

People want to hear something, I think people want emotion in music, whether from beautiful melodies or from lyrics that might stop you in your tracks with their honesty.

Education & Training

Do you need a degree to be a Songwriter?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

Music Publishers don’t care whether or not you have a degree in songwriting, or what else you’ve done. It’s a business, and they care about one thing: whether you can deliver songs that they believe will earn you—and them—lots of money.

I’m not saying that classes and workshops can’t improve your songwriting skills; they can be very helpful, and good ones can provide you with inspiration, tools, and techniques. Education is great.

I teach that there are no “rules” in songwriting—but there are “tools” that are consistently found in successful songs. As a Teacher, I explore what works—then encourage my students to use techniques that have proven successful—while adding their own unique flavor to it.

We’re not born with knowledge such as the popular song forms and structures, how to craft the most effective chords, or where to place rhymes. These are things we can learn in classes and songwriting workshops, as well as from reading books on the topic. The radio stations playing the current hits are our best teachers—but it helps to have a professional give direction and point out what’s working in our songs.

Jean Baptiste (Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna)

I’m a huge proponent of higher education; let’s never get that twisted. But it’s like saying, “Do I need to go to college to be in a band?”

It’s something that you need to be working on every single day. If you love something, you just work on it a little bit every day. So, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary, but I’ll tell you what, when I went to college, I was able to build a network of individuals that helped me all the way up to my present-day in music.

So for the talent of it you don’t, but you never know who you’ll meet in college. You can find your people in college, and you guys can help each other and be a ladder for each other towards your future.

Additional Resources

Blume is a big believer in networking opportunities. He says, “Research your local songwriting organizations; they provide both educational and networking opportunities. Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) has chapters in more than 110 cities, and Songsalive meets in multiple cities, as well.

New England to Nashville (NETN) has excellent events for those in New England who are focused on the Nashville music market, and the West Coast Songwriters organization provides opportunities for those in that part of the country. Taxi also provides pitching opportunities for writers who are writing material that is competitive.

An extensive listing of songwriting organizations can be found in my book This Business of Songwriting, Revised 2nd Edition.” For other books that teach valuable business and creative skills, check out our related blog post.

FAQ

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

“Get professional feedback — until you are writing songs that are amazing enough to beat out your competition. Note: your mother, spouse or best friend are not qualified to assess your material – unless they are professional Music Publishers ;-).

“If you want to earn a living, push the creative envelope and write songs that separate themselves from the pack. You’ve got to give artists a reason to choose your song over the thousands of others they’ll be considering.

“Create the next big thing—but at the same time, realize that it has to find a place in the current commercial market—or it won’t earn you any income. And … be prepared for a long haul and years and years of rejection.”

What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

“It’s a tie. Underestimating the amount of time it will take to break in and over-hyping their songs.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

“How can I improve my songs to make them undeniable? So many people think their songs are amazing; that they have nothing to learn; and that all they need to do is get them heard by the right people. That is rarely the case.

“The reality is that it’s incredibly tough to write songs that millions of people love, and can’t get out of their brains. If it were easy, we’d all be raking in millions of dollars!”

What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

“These were GREAT questions—and that’s another great one. How about: ‘How long should a person continue to write if they’re not earning a living from their songs?’

“There are no guarantees that you will ever earn money from your songs. I’ve been teaching and writing books and producing instructional CDs about songwriting for more than twenty years, and I’ve had thousands of songwriting students. Five of them have had #1 singles; some have had significant successes.

“But the vast majority of them continue to work day jobs. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect success in less than five years—and I think ten is more realistic.

“My suggestion is that if you are passionate about writing, give yourself 100 years to become successful. It’s only natural to feel discouraged at times, but if you lose faith in yourself; are focused solely on the money; and stop enjoying the process … then look for another goal.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

“Perseverance.”

Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Jason Blume (Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys)

“I love them both … but based on the extraordinary songwriting it’s got to be the Beatles. They produced an astounding number of classics in such a short period of time and pushed the creative envelope to places most artists would have never dreamed of.

“When I taught at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney—in the building where he went to high school) I was given a tour of every imaginable Beatles site—including where some of the iconic songs were written. It was like walking on sacred ground!!!”

Jason Blume
Jason Blume

Jason Blume is one of the few songwriters to have hit songs on the R&B, country, and pop charts simultaneously. His songs have been recorded by Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, and many other artists around the world. His work has appeared in movies and TV shows such as Scrubs, Friday Night Lights, Dangerous Minds and Disney’s Kim Possible. He has served as a judge for many songwriting competitions, including SongDoor.

Blume is the author of the best-sellers 6 Steps to Songwriting Success: The Comprehensive Guide to WritingInside Songwriting: Getting to the Heart of Creativity, and This Business of Songwriting (reviews via Goodreads). He has been featured in American Songwriter, The Music Row Show, Taxi Independent A&R Radio’s Taxi TV, McSweeney’s, The Irish News, Northamptonshire Telegraph, Belfast Live, The Ringer, West Hawaii Today, Ethan Freckleton’s blog, and Music Row.

He also teaches the business and craft of songwriting at industry conferences, colleges, and universities around the globe, including the annual BMI conference and Nashville School of Music. Check out his bibliography via Amazon and his discography via Discogs. His work has been covered by several artists; check out Secondhand Songs to learn more.

For more advice from Blume, check out his articles for Songwriting.net and his BMI songwriting workshop. He can be found online at jasonblume.com.

Songwriter Emily Warren
Emily Warren

Singer, Songwriter, and Producer Emily Warren can be heard in nearly every corner of modern pop as well as dance, country, alternative, and Latin. Achieving a GRAMMY® Award, countless multiplatinum and gold certifications, millions of digital sales worldwide, and 5.4 billion streams by 2018, she stands out as the rare talent who can nimbly adapt to any genre.

Her discography encompasses eleven anthems for The Chainsmokers. Among those, “Don’t Let Me Down” (6x-platinum) won the 2017 GRAMMY® in the category of “Best Dance Recording.” Other standouts range from Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” (3x-platinum) to Becky G’s “Mad Love” and Sean Paul’s “No Lie” [feat. Dua Lipa] as well as songs for David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, LANY, Galantis, Sigrid, and Noah Cyrus. Meanwhile, her voice can be heard featuring front and center on FRENSHIP’s platinum-selling “Capsize” and the gold-certified “Until You Were Gone” by The Chainsmokers & Tritonal in addition to The Chainsmokers’ rising 2018 single “Side Effects.”

Forbes touted her among its “30 Under 30 Class of 2018” as further acclaim came from People, Billboard, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Refinery29, V Magazine, Nylon, i-D Magazine, and US.

Warren has also received nods from American Songwriter, Variety, (twice) Rolling Stone (twice), Teen Vogue, W Magazine, Paper, Oprah, Huffington Post UK, The Evening Standard, Pitchfork, Idolator, Popsugar, The New York Times, Stereogum, Songwriter Universe, United by Pop, All Access, Flaunt, Just Jared, Jezebel, Nasty Galaxy, Ones to Watch, Thrive Time Show, USA Today, Forbes, Switched On Pop, Master & Dynamic, Meaww, Mic, Pop Crush, Elite Daily, Lemonade Magazine, One 37PM, And the Writer Is…with Ross Golan, CULTR, Naga Mag, TooFab, Revelist, Atwood Magazine, Girlboss, Wonderland Magazine, C-Heads, Babe, Variance Magazine, Ladygunn, and The Young Folks.

She has also received coverage via ABC News, EDM.com, AM NY, Baeble Music, Ceek VR, MTV, Yahoo! Sports, iHeart Radio, and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Warren was a performer at the 2019 ASCAP Pop Music Awards, which you can watch here. You can also see her performing live via TooFab’s YouTube channel. For more of Warren’s thoughts on songwriting and performing, check her out on LIMPI Music, Sweety High, and her Reddit AMA.

Photo Credit: David O’Donohue

Songwriter & Musician Dann Gallucci
Dann Gallucci

Dann Gallucci started playing in bands in High School. After that, he split time between hardcore bands and Modest Mouse. He was a member of the Murder City Devils in the late nineties (and now). When the band broke up he re-joined Modest Mouse during a period of growth for the band.

“Float On” became a pretty decent-sized hit and then he quit for some reason and went to audio engineering school. He came home from school and did monitor and front of house engineering for bands like Miike Snow, MIA, and the XX. Another band he worked with was Cold War Kids, who he would end up joining as a Songwriter, Guitar Player, Producer, and Engineer.

Cold War Kids had a decent-sized hit as well with “First” which, aside from helping to write and playing guitar, he had also produced and mixed. After realizing he no longer wanted to tour (by this time, he had a little munchkin named Maria), he switched gears, became a Radio Producer and started a podcast production business called Little Everywhere with his partner Jane Marie. He lives in LA with his daughter.

His work has received two Grammy nominations. Check out his discography here.

He has been featured in The LA Times, Today, The New York Times, KCRW, Variety, The Guardian, Brooklyn Vegan, Rolling Stone, NME, American Songwriter, The Boston Globe, Podchaser, Pro Sound News, Consequence of Sound, the I’m Afraid That podcast, the 100 Words or Less podcast, the Tour Stories podcast, The Pitch Kansas City, Vulture, Transverse, New Scientist, The Stranger, DIY Mag, Spin, OC Weekly, Mission Local, Press of Atlantic City, SF Weekly, Bello Collective, Rochester City Newspaper, Impose Magazine, Star Tribune, Seattle Times, Diffuser, Pittsburgh City Paper, Washingtonian, Seattle Weekly, WVAU, The Annenburg Foundation, The Sydney Morning Herald, Business Insider, Daily Utah Chronicle, Lansing State Journal, Boulder Weekly, Ultimate Guitar, Detroit Metro Times, Phoenix New Times, Glide Magazine, Paste Magazine, Dallas Observer, San Antonio Current, The Aquarian, The Telegraph, Pop Matters, San Diego Reader, The Young Folks, the Universal Audio blog, and The Hollywood Reporter.

Songwriter & Producer Jean Baptiste
Jean Baptiste

Jean Baptiste stands as one of the music industry’s most prolific and esteemed Producers/Songwriters. He has been the guiding and essential touch on some of pop, rap, and R&B music’s most successful and chart blazing songs and albums. His distinguished talents have earned him credits on numerous platinum-selling records with artists such as Chris Brown (Fortune, F.A.M.E., X, Graffiti, Royalty), Nicki Minaj (Pink Friday, Roman Reloaded: The Re-Up), Rihanna (Rated R), Kid Cudi (Man on The Moon), Kelis (Flesh Tone), and Madonna (MDNA).

Jean Baptiste has established himself as one of the go-to hitmakers for music’s biggest artists. Jean Baptiste collaborated with Chris Brown on F.A.M.E. to create some of his most memorable singles, including “Beautiful People,” “She Ain’t You,” and most famously “Look At Me Now,” which reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and The New York Times called the track the “highlight of the album.” He also produced the hit song “Time For Love” off of Brown’s 6th album X. His work as a Producer on Kid Cudi’s debut studio album Man On The Moon led to the unforgettable tracks “Up Up & Away” and “Heart of A Lion.”

He will forever be recognized for his role in the making of three of The Black Eyed Peas’ most popular albums, Elephunk, Monkey Business, and The E.N.D., which was certified two-times Platinum in the U.S. Jean Baptiste’s production work helped create some of the most recognizable songs from the album, including “Boom Boom Pow” which spent twelve weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and the single “Meet Me Halfway,” which was the tenth best selling single of 2009 in the U.K.

The lasting collaborative relationships he has formed with the group have also carried over to their solo careers, working with Fergie on The Dutchess and will.i.am. on Songs About Girls and apl.de.ap. He also worked with will.iam. as a co-writer on the charted singles “Feelin’ Myself” and “Scream & Shout” from #willpower.

His songwriting and producing made waves with Chris Brown’s album, Royalty, Rudimental’s album, Home, DJ Mustard’s single, “Whole Lotta Lovin,” Sevyn Streeter’s gold single “It Won’t Stop”, Miley Cyrus’ “Do My Thang”, Dr. Dre’s album, Compton, and “Woo” off of Rihanna’s dynamic album, ANTI.

Jean Baptiste’s writing and producing has continued to make waves with his work on “Bring it Back,” “Made of Glass,” “Surrender,” and “Running With A Ghost” on Lil Yachty’s album, Teenage Emotions, and “Lottery” on Kid Ink’s album, 7 Series. He also co-wrote “F.U.” on Little Mix’s smash album Glory Days, which went triple platinum in the U.K.

This past year, he began a new collaboration with up and coming artist, Tommy Genesis, with a co-producing credit on the song, “It’s OK” featured on her debut, self-titled album, while still maintaining old partnerships, as he co-wrote “Ring the Alarm pt.1 pt.2 pt.3” on the Black Eyed Peas’ seventh studio album, Masters of the Sun Vol. 1.

His career has received notice via NME (twice), Los Angeles Times, The Fader, Rolling Stone, The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, The Quietus, Digital Spy, Grammy.com, Madonnarama, Press Party, BMG.com, Pop Crush, and Metro UK.

He is represented by Advanced Alternative Media. Partial discography available via Discogs.

Songwriter Rick Nowels
Rick Nowels

Rick Nowels is a Grammy-winning Songwriter, Record Producer, Instrumentalist, and Arranger who has worked with artists like Lana Del Rey, Adele, Madonna, John Legend, Dua Lipa, Miguel, The Weeknd, ASAP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Dido, Jamie xx, FKA Twigs, Lykke Li, Alessia Cara, Sia, Florence Welch, Joan Jett, Tom Odell, Alec Benjamin, New Radicals, Jewel, CeeLo Green, Marina and the Diamonds, Brandon Flowers, Colbie Caillat, *NSYNC, Celine Dion, Belinda Carlisle, André 3000, Santana, and Tupac.

He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2020. You can check out his discography here or via Discogs. You can see a list of songs he has written here.

He is represented by Sony ATV, Global Music Rights and Spirit Music Group. He has served as a panelist at the ASCAP Expo.

Nowels has been spotlighted by Billboard (again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again), Sound on Sound, New York Times, Rolling Stone (again and again), The Guardian (twice), Pitchfork (twice), Complex, The Fader, ABC News, NBC News, Consequence of Sound (twice), Variety (again and again and again), Harpers Bazaar, Nylon, Spin, Entertainment Weekly (twice), NME (again and again), MTV News, Vice, WZZM 13, Digital Spy, Times Square Chronicles, iHeartRadio, DJ Booth, Music Week, Metro, Out Magazine, Ultimate Classic Rock, Music Row, The Prospector Daily, Far Out Magazine, KUSA 9 News, Nevada Sagebrush, U Discover Music, Idolator (twice), BBC (twice), LanaDelReyFan.com, RecordProduction.com, Songwriter Universe, Knox News, and V Magazine.

  1. 1. "Songwriter Salaries". Glassdoor.com. published: Feb 2, 2017. retrieved on: Dec 20, 2019
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