Professional Songwriter: A Dream Job?
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a professional songwriter… just head wander into my luxuriously equipped home studio each day and create music. Yep. That’d be the life. Or would it? Whilst I love the creative process of churning out a new original once a month, would it be so much fun if your livelihood relied on it? And when you have to be creative every day? I found a few cool articles that give a glimpse into that world – read on to see if the reality is still as appealing as the concept… First comes this cool piece form the Guardian in 2001 – “Write Me A Hit By Teatime: The World Of Professional Songwriters” by Alexis Petridis.
Favourite extract: “…whatever other attributes the job may require, a giant ego and a sense of preciousness aren’t really among them. This may be why songwriting tends to attract so many former performers, who have either tired of the limelight or watched it fade, and are now making some pragmatic decisions about their futures. Among the more improbable credits on recent hits were the three songs on Beyoncé’s last album co-written by Ian Dench, formerly the guitarist of 1990s British indie dance band EMF (big hit: Unbelievable)”
Next up, what seems like the more ruthless world of songwriting sessions in New York with a piece entitled “The Song Machine” by John Seabrook in The New Yorker in 2012.
Favourite extract: “…Most of the songs played on Top Forty radio are collaborations between producers like Stargate and “top line” writers like Ester Dean. The producers compose the chord progressions, program the beats, and arrange the “synths,” or computer-made instrumental sounds; the top-liners come up with primary melodies, lyrics, and the all-important hooks, the ear-friendly musical phrases that lock you into the song. “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore,” Jay Brown, the president of Roc Nation, and Dean’s manager, told me recently. “You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre-chorus, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge.” The reason, he explained, is that “people on average give a song seven seconds on the radio before they change the channel, and you got to hook them.”
Yep, it’s a tough world but so far so good. What about some real hands-on tips? In “Master Class: How To Make A Hit Record, From “Moves Like Jagger” Writer Benny Blanco” by Kristin Hohenadel that ran in Fast Company, you get some great advice from Benny Blanco, a 24-year-old Grammy-nominated songwriter and music producer with a bunch of number one singles that include Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls,” Britney Spears’ “Circus,” Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite,” Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK,” Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Hearts” and Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” (which he co-wrote and co-produced) and “Payphone.”
Favourite extract: “…EDIT THYSELF: With music you have to self-edit a lot. You have to recognize like, okay, not everything I do is gonna be good. And you have to be like that’s not good, let me put that to the side. Right after you make a song you don’t have to be like “Someone has to do this song!” I have songs that are like 3, 4 years old that are just coming out now. Don’t force it, let it happen. Any time I’ve forced something you can hear it in the music.”
And not quite last and not quite least, “The Hitless Songwriter” by Terre Roche in the New York Times earlier this month. A nice touch of reality that suggests giving up your day job might not be the best idea just yet.
Favourite extract: “…Last year, I was invited up to the Berklee College of Music to do a songwriting seminar with the students there. I sat in on an advanced songwriting class … None of the students knew who I was. … A very earnest young man raised his hand. “I hope you’re not offended, ma’am, if I ask you whether you’ve made money from songwriting at all. We’re all here studying and we’ll have student loans to pay off and I’m just wondering if music is a field I can expect to make a living in.” I thought that was a great question! The guy had cut to the chase. “No,” I said. “I mean, I’ve had royalties trickle in, but I haven’t made enough money from songwriting to support myself.”
And finally, because this is all about dreaming, some idea of just how much money you could make if you manage to crack a big hit in “How 10 Major Songwriters Make Big Money” by Steve Knopper in Rolling Stone
Favourite extract: Learning you make about 9.1 cents per track sold. I never knew that…