Money is important, and as songwriters, there are plenty of ways to earn a living. Whether your goal is to go full-time or to produce some extra money on the side, it's useful to know the income streams available to make a living with your art.
The types and viability of the income streams available to songwriters have changed and shifted over the years (mass adoption of the internet, streaming and decreased physical record sales, Telecommunications Act of 1996, etc.). If you're looking to make money as a songwriter today, you've come to the right place.
Though it's not easy, we, as songwriters, can make a good living from our craft if we understand how to leverage our skills in the marketplace and comprehend how the various income streams work.
The lines between certain income streams may become blurry, though I'll do my best to stay on topic.
The top 11 ways to make money as a songwriter are:
- Earn mechanical royalties with your recorded music
- Get your songs placed with other artists
- Become a staff writer
- Perform live
- Work with other artists
- Sync licensing
- Sell your sheet music
- Monetize your music on Youtube
- Enter & win songwriting contests
- Write custom songs
- Teach music & songwriting
Let's break down each of these methods to earn money as songwriter.
1. Earn Mechanical Royalties With Your Recorded Music
As a new songwriter trying to make money, your main goal is probably getting people to listen to your music. To do this, publish your music on streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Sirius XM, Amazon Music, and Pandora.
When you upload music onto these platforms, you earn royalties every time someone listens to your song. While this is a great way to listen to some music, it is difficult to make a lot of money. Take a look at the following table to learn how much you'll make streaming your music.
|Streaming Platform||Royalties Per Stream|
|Pandora||$0.00133 – $0.003|
|Spotify||$0.003 - $0.005|
|Streaming Platform||Royalties per Stream|
|Pandora||$0.00133 – $0.003|
|Spotify||$0.003 – $0.005|
While you could use a third-party platform to upload your music to these platforms, you'll earn more money uploading directly to the site yourself. Third-party aggregators take a percentage of the already minimal pay that streaming platforms give you. However, uploading music yourself will require a bit more work.
When you see that Sirius XM pays the most per stream, you might be tempted to focus all your efforts on that platform; however, this is a series of radio stations. It would be wise to build a following on smaller platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify before hoping to get played on a national radio station.
It's not always a cut-and-dry number of how much you'll get paid streaming your music on each platform. The amount of money you earn monthly from streaming platforms will be inconsistent. Watch the following video to learn more about how Spotify pays artists.
When publishing music on these platforms, promoting your music is the best way to get the most streams. This will require a large social media presence. Use platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to gain streams and earn money!
You can also reach out to your local radio stations. Everybody loves listening to a local artist on their favourite station! Speak with the people at the radio station to learn more about how to earn royalties for your music. Start by offering to let them play your music for free a few times. Once the songs get popular, you can start earning royalties from every play.
2. Get Your Songs Placed With Other Artists
Getting your songs placed with other artists, whether they're famous, up-and-coming, or anything in between, can be a great way to make money from performance royalties. You can write the song, and the artist will perform it live and/or record it. Either way, you'll get paid royalties as the writer when your song is played.
Now, getting your song placed is easier said than done. If you're just starting out with little to no connections, getting placed with major artists will be incredibly difficult. However, you could reach out to any artist or their management to shop your song around.
It's a good idea to record a demo of your work to send around. Make it as polished as you can with your skills and budget. Remember that first impressions are important, so if you can get through to an artist you'd like to have perform your song, it's worth having a good-sounding demo to show them.
You can approach artists in your local scene or online to see if they're interested in performing your song.
3. Become A Staff Writer
Becoming a staff writer is the best way to get consistently paid for songwriting. As a staff writer, you'll work for a publishing company. This company will require you to meet a delivery requirement every month or year. A delivery requirement is a minimum number of songs you must write, and these songs are expected to all be of high quality.
When you join a publishing company, you'll have to sign a contract stating that you won't write for any other companies or artists. Your contract may even prohibit you from writing for yourself.
While this may feel like you're losing your creative freedom, it takes a lot of the work out of the job. You don't have to promote the songs because the company does it for you. Additionally, many companies will pay you in advance to start writing songs for them. Once your songs start getting purchased, the publishing company will collect the royalties they earn. The first chunk of royalties your songs earn will pay the company back for the advancement.
Once this portion is paid back, you will start earning money from the royalties. The publishing company will likely take a percentage of the money in exchange for promoting the songs.
Another benefit of working as a staff writer is that you can work on your own schedule. Additionally, you won't be required to work in the studio or a stuffy office. If you feel inspired when sitting outside by a river, write your songs there! You could even write your songs on a city rooftop if it helps you create.
To become a staff writer, you need to make connections. It is difficult to walk into a publishing company and ask for a staff writer position. These companies tend to go with people they know.
Don't try building connections for the sake of business. You will have better results when you make both business and friendship connections.
If you want to make the most money from your songwriting, sign a shorter contract at a publishing company. After a few years, you'll likely have made a big enough name for yourself that you can begin working independently.
4. Perform Live
It might seem cliche to kick off your songwriting career at a coffee shop or some other public venue, but this is an excellent way to gain a following and practice performing in a low-stress environment.
Visit local coffee shops, bars, and farmer's markets. Ask them if they'd be willing to let you play there for a small amount or even for free. If you're streaming your music on platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify, you could use these performances to promote your music.
Get permission from the venue you're playing at to use a tip jar. If you get permission, be sure to label your tip jar. If allowed, you could also sell CDs and other merchandise at the gigs. If you can't perform at coffee shops, you can perform on the streets with your guitar case. It might seem silly, but it is a way to make money. Make sure you check with local ordinances before performing in public spaces.
Beyond the coffee shops, you can always reach out to larger venues in your locality that want live original music and perform there. You can choose to charge cover/entrance to the show or ask for a flat fee from the venue/promoter.
Eventually, you can start booking tours, either yourself or through management. Touring accounts for a huge part of the revenue for many artists and songwriters who perform their own material.
5. Work With Other Artists
As an upcoming songwriter, it makes sense that you should work with an up-and-coming artist. Not only does this make sense, but it will be much easier than working with an artist that already has millions of fans.
Reach out to an up-and-coming artist and ask if they'd like to perform a song you've written. You could also work with them to write and perform a new song.
As you help this artist gain a following, you will gain a following too! This doesn't have to be a one-time thing, either. You and this artist could form a lasting relationship.
You can find up-and-coming artists on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
6. Sync Licensing
Depending on the type of music you write, you may consider licensing it for use in TV shows and Video Games. When you license a song, the person you licensed it to is paying for permission to use it for a certain period of time. If they want to continue using that song, they'll have to pay again and create another contract.
To license your music, you will need to build connections with several higher-up TV and film producers. It is also good to form relationships with music supervisors and game designers.
You can form these connections and relationships by attending movie screenings, premieres, conferences, and many other social events.
You could do the licensing work yourself or work with a licensing company. Since licensing companies already have connections with music supervisors and producers, they will be better suited to promote your music.
7. Sell Your Sheet Music
While you could try and sell hard copies of your sheet music on eBay or at music stores, the easiest way to make money this way is by listing the music on an online sheet music store.
These stores sell digital copies of your sheet music, giving you a percentage of the sale price. Websites such as Score Exchange and Arrange Me allow you to register as a sheet music vendor. These sites then pay you for your sales via PayPal (or another online banking service) once or twice a month.
Another way to sell your sheet music is on your website. Have a sheet music section where fans can purchase a virtual copy. This ensures that you get all the money from your sales and makes it easy for your fans to find your music.
To increase sheet music sales, promote the songs on other platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Spotify.
8. Monetize Your Music On Youtube
Chances are, you're already uploading music to a Youtube channel. If you aren't, you should be. The main reason to use YouTube is to promote your music on other platforms. People are more likely to listen to your music if they can listen to it on multiple platforms. This is why artists release music videos and different versions of the same songs.
Not only is YouTube an excellent way to promote your music, but you can also monetize your videos so that they earn money by themselves! You'll need to have a substantial following to monetize your YouTube channel.
According to Business Insider, your YouTube channel needs to have collected 4,000 hours of view time in the last year. Additionally, you need to have at least 1,000 subscribers before you can monetize your channel.
Once your channel is monetized, you'll collect some money from the ads that play with your videos. But how do you get 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the first place?
To gain a YouTube following, you'll need to post videos consistently. These could be videos of you writing music, performing music, or even question and answer sessions. To attract the largest audience, these videos should be clean or “family-friendly.”
Another way to attract more viewers is to post videos with other artists. Say you write a song for an upcoming artist. Post the duet on both your channels and watch your subscribers increase! If you just write the song for an artist, have them tag you in the video. Collaborations are an excellent way to gain follower count.
When releasing songs, don't release only one version. Keep your followers interested by releasing acoustic versions, remakes, or group recordings.
Before you release a new song, build anticipation by releasing snippets of the song or videos of you writing it. You should also keep up with social media. As mentioned before, the more viewers can interact, the more likely they will stream your music and watch your videos.
Once you have a big YouTube following, you could start earning money by selling merchandise. This might include clothing with lyrics printed on them or the pick you used to write your biggest hit.
9. Enter & Win Songwriting Contests
While a contest doesn't necessarily require ongoing work, it is a way to make some money as a songwriter. Songwriting contests are happening all the time.
The Annual NSAI Song Contest is a good example. This contest is presented by BlueBird Cafe and CMT. The winners of the contest receive a sizeable cash prize, tickets to the CMT Awards, songwriting sessions, industry meetings, and much more. In other words, winners got more than just money—they got their foot in the door.
Check out this list of songwriting contests you can enter below.
- John Lennon Songwriting Contest
- International Songwriting Competition
- Great American Song Contest
- American Songwriter Lyric Contest
10. Write Custom Songs
As a songwriter, offer your services in as many ways as possible. Offer to write a few songs for friends and family, gain some testimonies, then start marketing yourself to others. You could write songs for birthdays, anniversaries, and many other occasions.
You could even start writing jingles for local companies!
No matter how you choose to market your custom songs, you'll need a place where people can request your services. This could be a website or even just a Facebook or Instagram page.
11. Teach Music & Songwriting
You can pass your musical abilities on to the next generation. If you are skilled at playing an instrument, offer to teach classes. Even if you aren't necessarily skilled with an instrument, many children and adults are willing to pay to learn how to write their own songs.
While it may not be the most glamorous job, it can be a fulfilling opportunity if you have the knack for teaching and helping others.
There's so much that goes into songwriting, and while teaching creativity is a subjective endeavour at best, there is plenty of content worth sharing regarding the art of songwriting. Think of song structure, arrangement, producing, band leading, lyrics writing, and even recording, mixing and mastering.
Teaching is a great way to make money using your songwriting abilities.
Pro Tip: Join A Songwriters Association/Guild
As you've frequently read in this article, building connections is an integral part of becoming a successful songwriter. The best way to make connections is to join songwriting associations or guilds. These communities put you in touch with hundreds of other songwriters and producers.
Even if you don't connect directly with a music producer, you may connect with someone who knows one. Some songwriter associations will even help you deal with copyright issues.
Below are some songwriter associations and guilds you may be interested in joining. Some guilds may require a monthly or yearly membership fee; however, they will be well worth the cost.
- Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.
- Nashville Songwriters Association International
- American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
- International Singer-Songwriter's Association
In addition to joining guilds and associations, some countries offer grants for upcoming songwriters. If you live in the United States, look into some of the following music grants.
- Reel Change Film Fund
- Emergency Grants
- Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation
- The City of Los Angeles Individual Master Artist Project Grant Program
Any amount of money could help get your songwriting career off the ground. Take advantage of connections and grants to start making money as a songwriter.
More My New Microphone Articles On Monetization
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- Top 8 Ways To Make Money As A DJ
- Top 11 Ways To Make Money As An EDM Producer
- Top 11 Ways To Make Money As A Record Label
Have any thoughts, questions or concerns? I invite you to add them to the comment section below! I'd love to hear your insights and inquiries and will do my best to add to the conversation. Thanks!
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