So you want to be a songwriter. You have something inside of you that drives you to write lyrics, or you constantly have tunes running through your head that are screaming to get out, but you aren’t sure how to get it down on paper, or you don’t have the recording equipment to produce a slick, fully-produced piece of musical art. You don’t really care about singing your own material, but would love to get it “out there” where someone who makes a living in the music industry finds it and maybe will decide to record it. What does one do with these aspirations?
Here are some tips to at least get you started in the right direction.
1. First of all, keep writing. Even if it’s only a line or two of a rhyme, or just ideas that strike you as interesting topics to write about…..keep writing. You may crank out two or three lyrics if the inspiration hits just right, or you might struggle to get even one single line you like. The main thing is to write something on a regular basis.
If you get stuck on something, put it away for awhile. It might be weeks, months, even years before something clicks and you finish a specific lyric or song. That’s just the way it goes! Do not get discouraged if it all does not come together right away. Move on to something else in the meantime.
2. If you are more on the music side of composing but don’t have much training, take some basic piano lessons, or get some books from the music store, and teach yourself about chord construction, musical scales and keys, and basic music theory. Having at least a basic knowledge of music theory is important in knowing how to construct a song. I have a book of scales and chords, and the information on chords is especially helpful when figuring out a lead sheet. Another book that is valuable is the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory by Michael Miller. If you are like me and totally disliked learning music theory in your younger, piano lesson-taking years, this is worth having in your library.
3. Make connections with other songwriters and musicians. Talk to your music director at your place of worship; talk to the music instructors at your local school. Put ads up at music stores, in the local paper, or on online musician sites such as Musician’s Junction or Bandmix.com, advertising for collaborators. Go to concerts by local groups; get to know them, and network with them. Have samples of your work available to show them. However, be careful about giving your material to just anybody, and don’t just give it to someone without meeting with them and having a thorough discussion about what you are looking for first. Make sure you have several copies of your work in your possession, and make sure you write the copyright year (the year of creation) with your name and contact info on it. I would also give copies to trusted family or friends for safekeeping before sharing with people you don’t really know, in case a situation comes up where someone tries to claim they wrote it instead. (This is where registering with the U.S. Copyright office is a good idea. More on this in a moment.)
There is also an online songwriter’s organization called TAXI that you can join; there is a membership fee to join, but if you can swing it, you get a lot of access to ads from actual A&R and publishing people looking for material for specific artists. You can also submit material for critique by those in the business. Even if you don’t become a member, you can subscribe for free to articles by professionals in the business and learn a lot while you continue to create. Go to www.taxi.com for more information.
4. Read some books on the subject. One very informative source is The Craft and Business of Songwriting by John Braheny. This book covers all aspects of songwriting, from the different lyrical formats used, to chords and harmonics, publishing, copyright, demos, marketing your material, and much more. It is well worth buying and reading. Again, the TAXI newsletter also provides a wealth of information.
5. Record a simple demo using a tape player, if that is all the equipment you have. Singing a capella or with a simple guitar or keyboard arrangement is all you need, really. Just make sure you do the very best you can. What is important is that you get the song down in some form, and if you are not good at putting it on paper, this is the best way to do it. Or, if you know someone who knows how to transcribe music, ask them if they could arrange your songs in just a simple melody line with some guitar chords so you have a lead sheet for your songs. Make sure you put a copyright date on all material, with your name on it. For printed material, it’s the standard “C” in a circle with the year, and for recorded material it’s a “P” in a circle with the year.
6. Register with the U.S. Copyright office if you are serious about putting your songs in the marketplace. Go to www.loc.gov/copyright for information on the copyright process, forms and fees necessary, and other information on copyright law.
7. Bloom where you are planted. Maybe you like writing praise and worship music or hymns; talk to your church’s music director or praise band leader and see if they would be willing to use your compositions in the worship services. Maybe your school or workplace is putting on a talent show, or maybe your community is; get involved and audition for a spot in the show, and sing your own original work. Or maybe you have friends who are involved in music, and they would like to sing your material. Check out coffeehouses in your area and see if they have openings for you to come and sing your songs.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started on fulfilling your dream of being a songwriter. Something to remember…..even if you never hit the “big time” and make the charts, if you have the talent to craft a song that touches someone’s heart, do it anyway. It doesn’t matter if your song reaches twenty people or twenty million……what matters is that you use the gifts you are given and touch however many people with it as you are able. There is great satisfaction in knowing that what you do made a difference in even one person’s life.
So get writing, and enjoy it!
References: Personal experience, and references included in this article.