The future of music

How to Become a Songwriter: Comprehensive Guide

December 29, 2023
how to become a songwriter

Have you always wanted to learn how to write songs?

You’ve come to the right place – we are here to take you through your first songwriting steps.

Besides the basics of songwriting, our comprehensive guide will introduce you to specific steps on how to become a songwriter.

Whether you want to write songs for fun or you’re ready to start your new career, this guide is a good place to start.

How to Become a Songwriter 

It’s true – being a songwriter sounds great.

It’s creative and exciting, and if you manage to get noticed, it can be quite profitable too.

But most people get into songwriting because they’re passionate about music.

So what does being a songwriter actually entail?

What Do Songwriters Do? 

A songwriter is often defined as a professional musician who composes, writes, or creates musical compositions. 

And in the world of popular music, songwriters aim to write hit songs.

If they’re successful in writing popular hits, they’re most likely to achieve stardom. 

Although many songwriters remain rather anonymous, some successful songwriters become very popular among musicians, producers, and other relevant people from the music industry.

They are responsible for the success of many artists, after all. 

Now, since songwriting entails writing both words and music for songs, many songwriters have a musical background. 

And generally, many songwriters perform their own songs.

After all, some of the greatest songwriters of all time include Bob Dylan, Prince, and John Lennon. All of them are musicians. 

But there are many people in the music industry (especially in popular music) who are solely responsible for songwriting. 

Woman writing and using laptop to write a song.

Songwriters who have a deal with a music publishing company have to deliver a quota of songs each year.

And everything they write during the term of their contract is published by that company.

Regardless of how many songs they write, they will only remain under contract if their songs are earning money.

From that perspective, songwriting is pure business – and someone will hire you only if they believe you’re able to deliver potential hits. 

That being said, songwriters need to be familiar with the process of music production

They need to know how to sell their music too.

More importantly, they need to know what works.

And that’s definitely not easy.

In fact, it’s a real challenge to come up with a song that gets stuck in people’s heads.

But this is true only for people who want to write commercial songs and work with artists who are trending right now.

If you’re interested in songwriting for other reasons, you will automatically approach the songwriting process in a different way.

So, what you’re going to do as a songwriter depends on the type of career path you’re interested in – and that largely depends on your goals.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Songwriter? 

If you want to become a successful songwriter who is responsible for top-charting hits, you’ll have to be very patient and persistent.

It will probably take you somewhere between 5 and 10 years to start earning real money.

It takes time to grow your skills – songwriting is not an easy job.

But it also takes time to make the right connections.

You’ll have to meet fellow songwriters, collaborate with them, and keep an eye out for opportunities.

And with a little luck, your song will get noticed and you’ll experience a breakthrough.

silver microphone with stand

On the other hand, if you want to write songs while doing something else to earn a living, this can happen much sooner.

After all, if you’re already writing songs, you can identify yourself as a songwriter.

However, whether you want to become a skilled songwriter or learn how to write songs for your band or yourself, you’ll have to be patient.

Gaining songwriting skills takes time, regardless of your goals.

Most songwriters spend years taking guitar or piano classes and singing lessons.

If you want to become a professional songwriter, there are many things to learn.

And writing a good original song that millions of people resonate with it’s not easy.

Every songwriter would be earning millions otherwise.

But if you’re passionate about music and writing, you’re already on the right track.

And if you’re worried about not being talented enough, we want to point out that songwriting is a skill more than talent.

Even if you have a natural talent for writing songs (which does make things easier), you’ll have to learn a lot before being able to call yourself a skilled songwriter.

So, it all comes down to your motivation and perseverance. 

How Much Do Songwriters Make?

The thing is, even if you’re motivated and persistent, there are no guarantees that you will earn a ton of money from your songs.

It simply doesn’t work that way.

Just like with making other forms of art, there are many other factors that need to align too.

But if you manage to become a successful songwriter, things will go quite well for you financially.

According to Glassdoor, professional songwriters can earn an annual salary of $65,000.

However, it takes time to build a career as a songwriter.

And the biggest challenge is the competition.

That shouldn’t discourage you though – if you want to become a professional songwriter, there are some steps you can take.

But first, let’s take a look at the main ways you can earn money as a songwriter:

  • Signing with a music publisher and getting an advance
  • Making money off of fees and royalties

And songwriter salaries vary a lot.

The thing is, as a songwriter, you’re not limited to writing songs for albums.

You can create songs for musicals, movies, TV, commercials, and so on.

That said, there are different ways you can earn money; from mechanical royalties (from digital downloads) to sync fees (when a song is licensed for TV shows, commercials, etc) and public performance royalties.

Besides being an employee at a record label, you can be a freelance songwriter working for other artists. 

And many songwriters work out of a home studio, and many of them record the song before sending it to an artist or a publisher.

person typing on laptop

It’s also hard to predict how much a songwriter will make off of a hit song.

And there’s certainly a lot of money in working with famous artists.

But generally speaking, the greatest earning potential is probably related to syncing licensing. 

But there are other ways to earn money from writing songs too – you just need to find what works best for you. 

Once again, it all depends on your goals and skills.

Songwriting as a Career Path 

Before jumping into specific steps on how to become a songwriter for beginners, we want to point out a couple of things.

Firstly, many people want to know if being a songwriter is hard.

Well, as you might assume, there’s no clear answer.

Some of the advantages of being a songwriter include:

  • Working from home (as many songwriters do)
  • Flexible hours (also common among songwriters, especially freelancers)
  • The freedom to be creative
  • The opportunity to collaborate with great musicians

Of course, there are many other highlights of being a songwriter; especially a successful one.

But it can be really challenging in the beginning.

It takes time to hone your skills, but it will also take you a while to learn how to get around in the music industry.

On the other hand, if you want to be a freelancer or perform your own songs, you’ll probably find it hard to get noticed.

Every songwriting career path has its own pros and cons.

But it’s ultimately worth it – if you’re passionate about music, songwriting is very exciting and fulfilling, even if you don’t earn a lot of money. 

So, what does it take to become a songwriter?

What is more important – talent or skills?

And how much do you really need to know about the legal/business side? 

We’ll tackle all of these important questions in a minute. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Songwriting

If you want to become a songwriter, there are several things you can do to get started.

First of all, you should think about acquiring music skills.

1. Learn Basic Music Theory 

If you’ve already been taking guitar or piano lessons, you have a good foundation to build on.

Understanding basic music theory is crucial for songwriters.

And most successful songwriters have a strong musical background.

Now, getting musical training doesn’t mean you have to go to school.

You can choose between taking private lessons or taking online music lessons; online learning programs and apps are great because they’re affordable, flexible, and effective.

There are many ways to learn fundamental music theory, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of all the learning sources you have at your disposal.

With the knowledge of basic music theory, you will be able to approach the songwriting process in a more serious way.

You’ll be able to understand how music works, and you’ll be able to write melodies and chords.

2. Take Singing Lessons 

Another way to build a strong musical foundation is to take singing lessons.

Now, this is not mandatory – and you don’t have to be a good singer to be a songwriter.

However, familiarizing yourself with singing-related terms and learning about singing techniques will help you write vocal melodies. 

And improving your own voice will allow you to record songs, which is useful even if you don’t plan to perform them. 

condenser microphone

If you’re writing a song for a human voice, you need to understand how the human voice works.

And taking up an instrument and working with a vocal coach will ultimately make you a better songwriter.

Plus, it will help you develop your musicality.

3. Study Song Composition 

To be able to write a song, you also need to learn about song structure.

The composition generally refers to how the songs are put together. 

So, studying song composition will introduce you to its structure and main parts, including the bridge, verses, chorus, and so on.

It will also allow you to find the best way to approach a song.

And if you want to be responsible for a well-crafted song, you’ll also need to learn about a hook – a hook can be anything from a chord progression to a catchy beat.

It could also be a short line, phrase, or an idea – anything that can catch the listener’s ear.

Coming up with a good hook in music is not easy, and it does take some practice.

However, there are also some techniques you can utilize to make things easier.

Luckily, there are many ways to learn about song composition and songwriting nowadays; you can take an online composition course, for instance.

Online songwriting lessons are generally a great idea if you want to learn how to write songs by yourself. 

After all, you don’t need to have a special degree to become a professional songwriter – you just need to work on your skills and expand your knowledge.

4. Learn How to Write Lyrics

For instance, you need to learn how to write compelling song lyrics.

This is a less technical part of songwriting, and for many songwriters, it’s the most interesting one.

This is where your creativity and emotion come into play. 

There are even people who write only the words of a song – they are called lyricists.

And there are many ways you can teach yourself how to write lyrics.

But ultimately, writing song lyrics is all about finding the right balance.

Of course, you want to write authentic and memorable lyrics.

But people also like to hear something slightly familiar – something they can relate to, or something that resonates with them on a deeper level.

Either way, the best way to start is by determining what you want to say.

person writing and having a coffee.

And then just keep writing – over time, you’ll be able to shape the lyrics into a song.

Until then, focus on the emotion, senses, your story, or the world around you; and of course, the message you want to convey. 

The message doesn’t have to be clear or straightforward; you don’t even have to put it into words, but defining that idea or concept will make the lyrics more compelling and thoughtful. 

5. Expand Your Knowledge 

As a songwriter, you should also familiarize yourself with other production phases. 

The thing is, songwriting is just the first phase of the whole song-creation process – other phases include recording, mixing, and mastering.

And then comes the distribution, promotion, and so on.

Many songwriters are indeed familiar with the business aspect as well as the legal aspect of the music industry. 

If you want to start earning money from songwriting, this is inevitable.

Therefore, you should expand your knowledge and learn about technology and music production in general. 

Since there are so many aspiring songwriters out there, this will certainly give you a competitive edge in the business. 

By the way, learning about sound engineering and music production will allow you to record your own demos.

Demoing is an essential part of every songwriter’s business.

By recording quality demos, you’ll be presenting your idea in a professional way. 

And that’s how you’ll grab a publisher’s or artist’s attention.

Additionally, as a professional songwriter, you will also need to have good communication skills.

Songwriters collaborate with artists, publishers, and employers, so having good communication is a game-changer.

So, let’s quickly summarize all the additional skills you should work on as a beginner songwriter:

  • Learning about music production
  • Learning about technology and engineering
  • Studying the legal aspect of the music industry
  • Building communication skills

6. Write, Write, Write

The single best thing you can do to become a songwriter is, well, to write.

And you should write a lot.

Even if you write songs nobody will ever hear, you’ll get the necessary practice and experience.

So, writing bad songs is actually useful – as long as it will get you to good songs.

And if you want to make progress, you should always try to be better at songwriting.

However, it’s sometimes hard (and even impossible) to criticize your own music; that’s why you need to seek feedback.

Getting feedback (preferably from someone experienced) will help you become aware of your weak spots.

Every songwriter has their own strengths, whether it’s lyricism, writing compelling melodies, or coming up with an amazing hook.

So, it’s great to emphasize your strengths, but you should also work on improving your weaknesses – that’s the only way to truly make progress. 

And if you keep writing and developing your musicality, you will eventually become better at songwriting in general. 

Notebook, pen, and a cup on the table as a person writes a song.

Besides helping you get better at songwriting, regular practice will help you get new ideas.

More importantly, it will help you filter the ideas and find the right one.

The thing is, it’s hard to define what the right idea for a song actually is.

The best ways of getting an idea for a song are also highly individual.

Some songwriters have a clear vision before they start writing a song, and others find it in the process.

It all depends on what kind of person you are.

Nevertheless, there are several things you can do to find inspiration for a song: 

  • Pay attention to the world around you
  • Write about a specific moment, thought, or a recent dream
  • Visualize a moment you want to capture
  • Focus on the rhythm
  • Focus on a specific mood

There’s no single way to get more inspiration for writing a song. 

As a songwriter, you’ll have to keep developing your creativity and finding inspiration in the world and people around you, or within yourself.

And if you want to write a hit song, you should think about what’s trending now; but this approach most likely won’t bring the best out of you.

Songwriting should be about being honest and authentic rather than thinking about what’s trendy.

However, the nature of this business often requires a more calculated approach.

It all depends on your ultimate goal.

Nevertheless, you should always add something raw and honest into your song – even if you want it to become a chart-topping hit.

And the more you write, the easier it gets.

Work on your lyrics, melodies, and chord progressions, and think about your ideas and concepts – eventually, you’ll be able to define your own writing style and you’ll know precisely which way you want to go.

7. Gain Exposure 

Once you know what your goals and dreams are, it will be easier to proceed with the next step.

And the next step is deciding what you’re going to do with your music.

There are several things you can do with your song:

  • Releasing it yourself
  • Pitching it to a music publisher
  • Pitching it to an artist
  • Send it to a contest

The business side of songwriting can be challenging, especially for beginners.

However, if you have clear goals, everything will be easier.

For instance, if you want to release the song, you should think about the best way to distribute it – you can contact a music distribution company or release it yourself. 

Then you’ll have to think about the promotion of your music, which usually includes:

  • Running paid promotions
  • Creating a powerful online presence
  • Reaching out to bloggers, journalists, and creators
  • Getting radio promotion 
  • Utilizing offline music marketing strategies 

There are many ways to distribute and promote music on your own, but if you want to get noticed, you’ll have to launch an effective music marketing campaign. 

And if you want to work with a record label or another artist, you’ll have to conduct a little research first.

Make sure that your song fits what the artist is looking for, and choose the record label carefully.

When you’re just starting out, keep your pitches to a minimum. So, don’t burn 50 songs on a CD.

Also, make your presentation business-like, and be very clear and straightforward – your attitude is important here.

And if you don’t get an answer, don’t get discouraged. 

Music publishers and record labels get tons of music on a daily basis.

And that’s why it would be better to work on your exposure first – record labels will want to hear about what you’ve been doing to make things happen so far.

music albums in a shelf

Distributing music and gaining exposure is, of course, easier if you’re a singer and a songwriter.

That way, you can record your songs, polish them, and release them on popular streaming platforms.

Alternatively, you can get in touch with an online music distribution service and they can do it for you (usually for a fee.)

But if you don’t want to perform your songs, you’ll either have to pitch them to a publisher or find an artist who will perform them.

You’ll also have to explore how things work with creative rights and royalties – that’s why you need to gain knowledge about the legal aspect of the music industry.

The songwriter is the initial owner of the song copyright, but things can change depending on the deal.

Publishers always get their share, and that’s usually 50%.

Songwriters and musicians under contract to a studio may have to give up certain rights.

So, it all depends on your goals and marketing plan. 

Tips for Becoming a Songwriter 

As we’ve just mentioned, certain steps on how to become a songwriter depend on your ultimate goal.

If your goal is to work with famous pop artists, you should focus on writing catchy melodies and trendy lyrics.

And if you want to be a singer and songwriter, you should discover your own style.

But regardless of what your goals are, there are some things you can do to become a better songwriter.

1. Avoid plagiarism 

For starters, you should avoid writing songs that are too similar to existing ones. 

Many musicians were sued for plagiarism, so if you want to avoid lawsuits, make sure you’re writing something completely original.

This sounds like common sense, but you’ll be surprised how many people copy other songs.

Accidental plagiarism is also a thing – and that’s why getting feedback (even from your friends and family) is very important. 

It’s possible to write something similar without being aware of it, and some musicians end up giving the credits just to avoid lawsuits.

2. Work on your musicality 

One of the best ways to stay authentic in music is to work on your musicality.

Musicality will help you understand how music works, and it will help you get an idea for a new song.

And that’s why it’s always a good idea to take up a new instrument.

There are many ways to learn how to play an instrument nowadays, so you can find a learning source that fits your goals, budget, and learning style. 

3. Listen 

If you want to become a better lyricist, you should listen to other people’s stories – and this is probably the best advice you can get as a writer in general.

Listen carefully, notice the details, and become aware of your feelings and your senses.

Focus on the details and nuances of the world.

And don’t be afraid to tackle your emotions too.

Furthermore, you should listen to music as much as you can.

Analyze the melodies and lyrics of the song you love.

you are what you listen to signage.

But you should also listen to a variety of music genres

Over time, you’ll realize you’re developing your own songwriting style.

And if you feel like you don’t have any ideas, don’t worry – it’s normal to feel unmotivated at times.

But you should keep writing nevertheless.

4. Don’t wait for inspiration 

The secret of successful songwriters is that they work a lot.

Sometimes, you shouldn’t wait for the inspiration to come – you should just keep working.

Whether you’re writing songs or books, it all comes down to consistency and perseverance.

By the way, don’t expect the first songs you write to be your best.

Even if you think they’re amazing, you should sleep on them and ask for feedback; don’t send your track to a publisher right away.

Acquiring songwriting skills takes time.

Even if you believe you have a talent for music, it will take you a while to learn how songwriting really works, especially if you choose it as a career path.

And if you want to become a professional songwriter and earn a lot of money, you’ll have to work really hard.

And you should listen to other people’s advice, but at the same time, you shouldn’t let anyone discourage you.

5. Stay motivated and focused

There will be many people who will tell you it’s impossible to make it in the music industry. 

But that’s just not true.

Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

So, keep your dreams alive, and work hard to make them come true. 

6. Don’t underestimate networking 

One of the things that can help you in your journey is getting in touch with fellow songwriters, artists, and producers.

Of course, your work, talent, and communication skills are what’s going to get you to places.

However, don’t underestimate the power of networking.

This will also help you get valuable information about how things really work.

And networking can also bring you unexpected opportunities.

Meeting people and collaborating with them is an important part of being a songwriter, so make sure to make connections as you’re finding your spot in the industry.

How to Become a Songwriter – Final Thoughts 

Songwriters are responsible for writing the words and music of a song – and that’s why they need to have a variety of skills.

If you want to become a songwriter, you should learn basic music theory, learn about song composition, and develop your musicality.

But you should also learn about other music production phases as well as the business side of the music industry.

Being skilled and informed will definitely give you a competitive edge in the industry.

And if you stay persistent and passionate, someone will undoubtedly notice your work. 

You may also like: How to Become a Singer

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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