Last time we chatted (The Truth – Music Careers Part 1: Performance), we learned that friends and family don’t often know the truth about what you can do with a music career. We also learned that you could have a very successful career as a performer. A little known fact is that the songwriters behind the songs that performers belt out on stage often make the most money. In this blog, we are first going to give you the basics of songwriting and then examine some of the different career options you have if you want to pursue songwriting after graduating music college.
WHAT IS SONGWRITING?
It might come as a shock to you, and I don’t mean to pull back the curtain, but the majority of songs you hear on the radio or watch on YouTube are NOT written by the artist performing them. Pop and Country music, especially, have had a long history of using professional songwriters to compose the lyrics and melodies that the performing artists sing in the studio, on their records, and in concert. It’s not just flavor of the moment artists like Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears, but everybody from Frank Sinatra to The Supremes to Sheryl Crow to Elton John. Almost ALL country musicians make use of professional songwriters who live in Nashville or “music city” and hope a big star will record one of their songs. Most songwriters are musicians who have a knack for putting music and words together and typically stay behind the scenes. The key perk with songwriting is the fact that you get a percentage of publishing money. If you have been reading Billboard lately, you might have noticed that the only people getting rich in music these days are people with publishing because you can earn money in television and movies and not have to rely on the sale of a CD.
Just because you become a songwriter and you spend your days in a studio recording and composing songs doesn’t mean you can’t have a life performing. Brad Paisley and Bob Dylan started off as songwriters with other people performing their songs before their performing and celebrity eclipsed their songwriting. Many songwriters often perform regularly at clubs, similar to how a stand-up comedian trys out jokes in clubs to see if they work, songwriters test out songs. Other musicians pay the bills by songwriting while they have other performance side-projects and bands. Some performers straddle both sides, like David Bowie who famously wrote “All The Young Dudes” for Mott The Hoople or Elliot Smith who gave Mary Lou Lord “I Figured You Out” both at the height of their respective careers.
JINGLE WRITER RADIO & TV
We all know the story about how the NBA on NBC theme came to John Tesh in his head and he left it on his answering machine. You know that theme right? We all do, even if we don’t watch basketball. Check him out performing the song and telling the story here:
You might think he just came up with a ten-second series of notes, but it’s so much more than that! EVERYTIME NBC airs a basketball game, Tesh gets a very nice royalty, and it has entered our culture. This is the power of being a jingle writer for radio and TV. These are musicians who have a key for coming up with very simple and quick catchy music interludes. This is way harder than it looks! Radio was the original creator of jingles; while most stations don’t sound like this anymore, it’s still the same principle:
This is one of the coolest jobs you can have after graduating from music school. The music supervisor handles and supervises the music for television and movies. Not only does he or she oversee all the composers and musicians that might provide the score, but he or she also oversees the soundtrack. This could include all stages of production from a “temp soundtrack,” as the film or TV show is being developed, to actually doing the negotiations with artist managements and publishing companies to get the “sync licenses” for TV and movies. Another aspect of the job could involve picking a performer to sing a particular song, such as Randy Newman with Pixar or Elton John contributing a performance for “The Lion King”.
This is just a very small sampling of the many opportunities you have if you want a career in songwriting. For a bigger list you might want to check out LAMA’s Careers Page Link. Luckily, if you are a student at LAMA already, you can simply ask some of your teachers because LAMA’s faculty is proud to have many successful songwriters who can give you the inside track on a future career. Fellow musicians, next time those lyrics come into your head, or you start humming a tune, grab for a pencil, chalk, anything and get it down on paper, it could be your big break!