Advice for songwriters & lyricists! Tips to improve your songwriting...

Blog by Louise Dodgson under Music Publishing

A few weeks ago we hosted an hour long live Q&A session with songwriter to the stars, Martin Sutton of The Songwriting Academy. If you missed out at the time, then fear not! We've summarised all the songwriting questions that were posed to Martin and his really helpful and insightful answers below to bring you up to speed!

How do you get started on a new song? As a songwriter do you write the musical arrangement AND lyrics?
I always like to start with a lyrical idea that speaks to me and creates a plot in my mind. That way I can map out what the song is going to say and where it’s going to say it. Usually once I know what the song is going to be about, I’ll have a good idea of what the music should be too. Some songwriters just write lyrics, some just music and others like me are all-rounders but that could be because I’m a bit of a control freak! Preparation is everything in songwriting so having a stack of ideas before you start, either musical or lyrical is always worth it.

How do you know when something is ready to put out there?
It's always really hard to know if your song is ready or good enough to put out there and we all love our last song right? I always play my songs to as many people as I can to get their thoughts. I can't trust myself to be as objective as them. So if most people give you the thumbs up, you're good to go but if you get several suggestions for improvement, swallow your pride and re-work it. You can always got back to the original if that doesn't work so nothing lost!

I'm an unknown songwriter. Most of my songs are piano and vocals. I would love to pitch my songs to major records labels. What’s the best advice you can give me on the best chance of my music being listens to and selected for a major artist?
It's an age old question about getting music out there... At The Songwriting Academy we teach writers about the three step approach to getting your music out there: Engage, Invest and Focus. This involves engaging with and helping out other writers, publishers and managers etc, investing your time and money on travel, equipment demos and key areas of focus so you stay on track. Most people don’t get their songs 'out there’ because they don’t get themselves 'out there’! The best way to stand out in the industry is through creating great songs with great demos and following through with showing up at every event you can where there are music business people. Even if you can't get through personally to a majorlabel/artist you might meet someone who can! Trust me though, talent is never enough. Killer songs + killer demos + great connections = success.

I've hit a wall with songwriting, do you have any suggestions on how to get over this?
Do you mean you can’t write any more or that you get stuck half way through a song? There are many ways to cure writers block, most of which come down to preparation before a songwriting session. If you can't think of any new ideas start looking and listening around you at billboards, adverts on TV, great movie lines and personal conversations. There are ideas EVERYWHERE waiting to be found and written. If you're getting stuck half way through a song, stop what you're doing, don't think about lyrics or rhyming, just ask yourself exactly what you're trying to say. And say that!

When you write a song, do you have someone in particular in mind that you would like the song to be sung by?
I find it really helpful to have an artist or artists in mind when I write so I can stay focussed on the song, but I never paint myself into a corner so the song would only ever be good for one artist. It's great for me as a guideline though, because songs have a tendency of stylistically going from pillar to post if you let them!

How do you feel about writing songs and OTHER people performing them and not you?
I LOVE it!! Being an artist is a full time job and there is never any guarantee that an artist, no matter how good, is going to 'make it' and KEEP making it. At The Songwriting Academy we always encourage aspirant artists to welcome other people singing their songs, especially when the other artist is signed to a major label. This will increase your reputation and standing in the business and will also make you money. And money is nice smile emoticon Money helps you pursue your own artist career! Besides which I sound like a bad Cliff Richard when I record so that's not an option...

I am a songwriter looking to pitch my songs to publishers. In your experience what is the best way to present the songs? Just as a bare vocal and acoustic or a full band recording?
If you're pitching songs to publishers to get them cut by major label artists, think about who you believe could record your songs. If it's an artist who releases bare vocal/acoustic records then do that in your demos...but do it REALLY well. That means a great vocal and acoustic sound and performance. If however you'd like to get cuts with One Direction or Jess Glynne then MAKE THE RECORD. Record label A&R's are used to hearing full on recordings so that's what you have to give them. If you can't do those kind of pop productions, find someone who can and get it done really well.

How can I turn songwriting from a hobby into a paid job? Do I need qualifications to become a professional songwriter?No qualifications needed thankfully (I can't read music!) You turn it from a hobby into a paid job by learning how to do it really well. That means hard work, lots of writing, getting out there and meeting people in the business, educating yourself and all the time loving every minute of it. There are no guarantees in this business except the feeling of complete elation the first time you hear one of your songs on the radio or see it on the cover of a CD! We've helped loads of songwriters fast-track up to the next level at The Songwriting Academy by sharing decades of experience. Do get in touch if you think we can help you - [email protected]

Do you ever copywrite your music and lyrics? If so how do you do it?
In the old days people used to send songs to themselves registered post so there was a time stamp on the envelope showing when you did it. With current technology, the moment something is recorded on a computer or uploaded/emailed to someone there is a digital timestamp on it as the same kind of proof. That's what I would bring as evidence to court if I ever needed to. As a matter of course you should also register your works with PRS, although this deoesn't act as a copyright device.

I have about 60 of my own songs on my website & a couple of albums with CDBaby but if someone was to say "Can I use your music?" I would have no idea how to proceed. I had someone once ask me what I would charge if they were to sing one of my songs at gigs with a view to recording it. How does it work? What should I say if someone asks me again?
Artists don’t pay writers to use their music. If you allow them to record and release your song then you’ll get paid via PRS/MCPS if and when the public buy that recording, or when the song is performed live. Just make sure you become a member of PRS and register your songs correctly and you’ll get paid. If someone asks you if they can use your music you have to make a call on whether you want that particular artist to represent your song. If the artist is signed to a record label (especially a major label) and it looks like it would be an official release…personally I’d say yes every time!

I write lyrics, do I need a manager? Are there any specialists for this area?
If you write lyrics only, my advice would be to find musicians to bring your lyrics to life. Networking is key here. Most songwriters like to collaborate with people they’ve actually met so I would say get out to any events where songwriters are likely to be and start introducing yourself around. Find writers who are into the same kind of music as you and get the sort of lyrics you write, and that you get on with. Get in a room with them and work through the music AND lyrics together, that way you can guide each other.

Can you register draft copies of your work, i.e. demo with PRS or does it have to be fully mastered and air played before you can register it? 
You don't send in your music to PRS, just register the title, length and co-writers involved (if any)

How can you be sure that a song is finished? I often find that it's difficult to be entirely satisfied with a song and I am constantly changing bits, often to the point where I bore of the song. What advice would you give in that situation?
I believe it was Da Vinci who said "A painting is never finished, only abandoned" and this is partially true of songwriting too. One of the cornerstones of The Songwriting Academy teachings is that of being courageous enough to revisit your song and craft it so it is as good as it can be. But of course there has to be a point where you "let it go". What I do is play my song to as many writers and punters alike when I think the song is done. If I get the sense there is still more work to be done, I'll dive back in. If not I'll send it out into the world and see what the industry says.

How can I make money from songs I've written? Do I have to sell them exclusively?
Each song is a lottery ticket and has individual worth. To make money from your songs the ideal scenario is to get the biggest artist possible to record and release your song and sell records/downloads. When that happens you make money. You don’t 'sell' songs to artists although a music publisher may be interested in your work if they think it’s good enough, and may offer you an advance payment on future earnings. If you’d like to find out more about making money from your music we conducted a two day seminar last year, now available as online videos here.

 
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MCPS Explained In Simple Terms


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songwriting help advice tips, advice for songwriters, the songwriting academy, martin sutton

 

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