Category: tips for songwriting

Songwriting: Tips for sharpening your creative edge

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

If you are trying to make it in music today, it is likely that you’re writing at least some of your own songs. This can be a daunting task considering the seemingly inexhaustible volumes of music in the world today. And yet, the hits just keep coming. (Granted not all the music you hear on the radio is created equally, but I digress.) So what can you do to make your songs the best they can possibly be? Let’s chat.

1. Be a student

This could seem like a pretty basic concept – maybe one from which you feel you’ve graduated. There is an argument, however, for lifelong learning. There are always ways to improve. And when you improve your musicianship, you will unwittingly (or maybe wittingly) advance your songwriting chops. So, maybe you’re a guitar player? How often do you practice on daily basis? Practicing scales, learning other artists’ lead parts, developing your finger picking – these are just a few ways to get better as an instrumentalist. You’re a lead singer? How are your harmonies? Regardless of which instrument is your focus there is always room for improving your knowledge of theory. The more you learn about musical concepts, the more you’ll know which rules can be bent or, even broken. Continuing your musical education will not only improve your ability to write, it will make you a more valuable musician in the long run. Need help figuring out where to start? There are music theory workbooks and websites out there for people just like you. Another approach you could take is to make a rough recording – nothing fancy (think iPhone recording in your room) – of you performing your song. This will help you hear the things you like about your song and the things you may want to work on. If you’re looking for a higher level of intervention, it may be time to get some lessons or take a class. Or…

2. Collaborate

The grand thing about this time in which you are creating new works of audible art is your access to resources. You don’t have to be a lone wolf – or a band of lone wolves, as the case may be. In other words, even if you and your band mates write together, you can never underestimate the power of outside input. Some of the best songs were written by two (or more) talented people – people from different backgrounds and influences. Writing with others helps inspire you. You’ll think of creative solutions to your hook writing or harmonies you never thought of before. Writing with someone else takes some courage. You’re putting yourself out there for the sake of an excellent song. If you’re nervous about introducing new songs to the world at large, keep in mind a collaborator can be a safe source of feedback. They are, after all, in the same creative boat with you. You’re coming to them because you know you need a fresh perspective. If rapport is developed with your co-writing cohort, you will be able to lend perspective to their songs. Outside feedback from other writers helps you understand your writing strengths and recognize the areas you need to develop. If you’re not sure where to find a co-writer or writing community, consider joining a songwriting organization. There are scads websites devoted to helping you locate organizations relatively close to you. If your proximity to the closest organization is prohibitive to meeting in person, you can always join an online community of writers. A note about collaborating: I have a friend who always likes to say, “It’s easier to turn a car in motion.” Meaning, you can more easily change directions if you’re already moving. This saying has many a life application, however in this instance I’d like to relate it to what you bring to the songwriting table. In other words, if you want to co-write, start with songs that already have some structure. Bring the melody to a chorus or the lyrics. Something. Don’t bring nothing and expect a co-writer to do everything. That’s less co-writing and more watching someone else work. Unless you set out to write a song from scratch with someone else, it will behoove you to have some material that needs work. Even if you’re starting from scratch, having brainstormed ideas before you meet will help you capitalize on your time together. Not only will this will express a willingness to contribute to the process, you’ll be showing respect for your co-collaborator – respect you surely want reciprocated. If all goes well, you’ll learn a lot and perhaps write with others in the future. Winning!

3. Just write

At the end of the day, songwriting is a skill that has to be developed. The more you practice writing, the more you’ll understand what kind of writer you are. You’ll start to see a kind of songwriting identity emerge. It’s not easy, though. I don’t know about you, but it can be intimidating to have a blank page before me. Sometimes when I can’t think of what I want to write about I still just have to put words to paper and get the ideas unstuck. In terms of lyrical writing, it may be necessary to journal or just write down a stream of consciousness for a bit. This may feel weird to you, especially if you’re pretty structured. Writing anything and everything that comes to mind can really spark a fun idea or remind of something you wanted to say. If you’re reading a book or magazine (or pamphlet), try taking a couple of sentences from the literature and boiling it down to a couple of words. Say it in a new way.

4. Listen and get inspired

If you’re not the type who writes your lyrics first, but still find yourself stuck trying to find a chord progression into the bridge or pulling in a seamless verse, take heart! There is help for you too. The exercises for melody writing are a little more abstract, but just as useful. Walk away from your efforts for a bit – just a pause – and start listening to the music from artists you consider to be your influences. When you listen to a given song, don’t just turn on the music in the background. Really listen. Right from the beginning take note of the structure of the verse and compare it to the chorus. Does the rhythm pattern change? What are the notes doing from verse to chorus in the context of the rhythm? Is there a lift? Are note values getting longer in the chorus? Do this with a handful of songs, or until you formulate a plan for your song’s melody. Really study these songs. You might even look outside your favorites. Listen to new genres you might not have considered. Another exercise you can do is just start playing. Play (or sing) a song you know or a portion of the song you have nailed down and just keep playing it over and over. It’s a form of musical stream of consciousness. Jam for a while and just see what happens. If you’re singing a song, nix the lyrics and let the melody carry you where it will. From an instrumental stand point, this requires you to have at least a measure of proficiency. You need to get comfortable enough on your instrument to be able to jam without playing the same four chords over and over again. If you want to play the same four chords, go for it.

5. Know your strengths

This may not be what you want to hear. And far be it from me to tell anyone to give up on their goals. But, sometimes despite a person’s musical talent, their writing is just not up to snuff. There are a couple ways to proceed if this is you. One: keep working on it. As it was said earlier, songwriting is a skill. Some people are more naturally gifted from the get-go, but no matter who you are, the more you write the better a songwriter you’ll become. Keep working on it until you’re satisfied. Two: There is no shame in seeking out little (or un-) known songs to cover. You can do this in lieu of writing your own songs or while you are honing your writing craft. You don’t have to dig very deeply to find many popular artists who perform songs written by others. Whether you look through a catalog, like ASCAP, or find an undiscovered writer in your community, you could take someone’s song and make into your own amazing version. And, who knows? You could be helping up-and-coming songwriters by performing their songs. There’s potential for musical symbiosis. Good vibes all around.


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10 Foolproof Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Water parks have closed their doors, kids are back in school, and the weather is slowly beginning to cooperate. Fall has arrived.

For many songwriters, fall is a recharge time when new material comes flooding out. The summer tours are over, and those long hours spent on the road turn into hours spent with your favorite instrument, finding new melodies and lyrics.

But it never fails that the initial rush of creative energy begins to run dry, and you’ve still got half an album to write!

Whether you are prepping for your next release, or just trying to get your juices flowing, we’ve got some tips to help you when your inspiration has run out.

1-Take Notes!

This tip trumps all the others, because it will help you turn all the other tips into actual songs. When you see something inspiring, write it down. Keep notes on your phone, or in an actual notebook. I know a songwriter who carries around an average of 4 Moleskin notebooks—each with its own specific category—to write down creative ideas. You can also take pictures or videos of the things that inspire you. Whatever you do, just make sure that all these little tidbits of creative potential get stored somewhere.

2-Change Your Scenery

One of the simplest ways to get in touch with your creativity is to physically change locations. This doesn’t mean you have to take a writing retreat to a cabin in the woods—though you certainly can! Take a few minutes, and go somewhere in your city you’ve never been before. A new park, a new street, or even an extended walk in your own neighborhood. Explore downtown, or explore suburbia! Go sit next to the tree in your own back yard for a few minutes, or take a day trip to a state park.

3-Notice The Little Things

Even if you can’t physically relocate yourself, there are always new things you can explore. Look at the little things around you that you may not have noticed before. Sometimes an interesting street name could inspire a whole song. Maybe the texture of your ceiling is the same as the house you grew up in, and you turn your nostalgia into a song. Being more mindful of the world around you can help you be inspired to write about it.

4-People Watch

People watching can be one of the best ways to get ideas for songs. Just don’t be creepy! Station yourself in a busy public place, and observe the people around you. Listen to the phrases that fly by you. Pay attention to the characters that enter and exit your scene. Notice how people interact with each other, or better yet-

5- Strike Up a Conversation

People watching can help you create fictional stories. But what if you listened to someone’s actual story? A mantra that is often repeated in songwriting is “Write what you know,” but your own experience will be limited. Really listening to someone else’s story and empathizing with them could open up a whole new dimension in your songwriting.

A quick note: Make sure you have the person’s permission if you are going to take their life story and turn it into your next big hit. If you have their approval, write your heart out! But be aware, sometimes it’s better—and easier—to take pieces of real life and mix them in with fiction, instead of writing someone’s life for the whole world (or internet) to scrutinize.

6- Try a Different Instrument

Most songwriters have an instrument that they know well, and love to play. But sometimes shaking things up can help you create a great song, and a new sound.

You don’t have to be highly skilled at an instrument to write on it. Most guitar players will find that they can easily pick up the mandolin or banjo.

If you play piano, try learning a few chords on guitar, or simply move to a completely different piano sound than you usually play with. The song you write on a different instrument might not be a compositional masterpiece, but it will help get you out of your comfort zone.

7-Get Specific

Pick a highly specific thing-an apple, the color yellow, a particular emotion-and write about it! Be as poetic or as literal as you like, just keep the song highly specific to the topic that you choose.


If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably made plans with a few other writers to combine your efforts and create a hit. But sometimes life gets in the way, and those writing sessions never happen.

Well now is the time! Shoot them a text or email saying you want to get together in the next week or so to write, and make it happen! You can also reach out to a local songwriter you admire and see if they would be willing to meet up for a co-write. Even if you think the writer is too experienced, or too busy, it never hurts to ask. So be brave, and get co-writing!

9-Ask Your Fans

Your fans are the ones who will be listening to (and buying!) your music, so why not get their input in the earliest phase? Ask them for stories or topics to write about. Ask them for rhyme suggestions if you’re stuck on a particular phrase.

10- Just Write

Sometimes, no matter what we do, inspiration just keeps running away from us. When that happens, amateurs give up. Great songwriters keep writing. Sometimes it takes 20 awful songs to finally get a great one. Don’t sweat it if you’re in a funk. Just keep writing. Eventually, it will pay off.

How have you defeated writer’s block? Do you have any other songwriting tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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Writing Better Songs: How to Silence the Inner Critic

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

You’ve sat down with your instrument of choice. You had a moment of inspiration, and the chorus to your next hit comes rushing out of you. You start to work on the first verse, and all of a sudden-nothing. All your lyrical inspiration is gone, the melodies won’t come–you’ve got nothing. In an instant your great spurt of inspiration is completely used up.

And in less time than it takes to microwave a hot pocket, you are convinced that this is the worst thing you’ve ever written. You’ve decided that every song you’ve crafted is trash. You are going to turn in your resignation as a artist, and never play your music in front of people again.

While this example may be a bit of a stretch, most songwriters hit this wall eventually. Something negative happens, and you become highly critical of your own work. Self-criticism can be a good thing when it comes time to edit a song, but when you are trying to get into the zone and create, this critic does more harm than good.

So how can you turn off your inner critic and let your creative juices flow?

Quantity, not Quality

One of the best ways to shut down the harsh voice in your head is simply by writing more songs. Cultivating an environment where you can just be yourself helps takes some of the pressure off the writing process.

Here are some steps you can take to begin this process:

  • Have concrete writing goals. Set a realistic weekly number of songs to write, and commit to finishing them.
  • Battle your fear of failing. There is a good chance most of the songs you write will be bad. That’s okay. Allowing your self the freedom to write some bad songs will help you know when you’ve written a great one.
  • Remember, this is a no pressure situation. You don’t have to play these songs for anyone. After you write them, you don’t even have to play them for yourself!
  • Push through when you hit a wall. This is the key to making this strategy work. Fight through the temptation to quit, and finish the song.
  • Create for creation’s sake. You may find that the more you write, the quieter your self-critic becomes.

This kind of writing may be difficult at first. That’s okay. Stick to your goals, and write anyway. Churning out material, no matter the quality, gets the creative part of your brain working. When the creative voice is louder, you may find that the inner critic’s voice is so small you can barely hear it.

Write. Just Write.

Music is not the only form of creative expression. If you are having a particular problem coming up with lyrics, it is a good idea to just write.

Writing can take many forms, but the first exercise I recommend is keeping a “First Thoughts” journal. Keep a notebook and pencil next to your bed, and every morning, write for 10 minutes. Do this before you do anything else.

The most important rule of this journal is that you are not allowed any kind of filter. For 10 minutes, write down your thoughts exactly as they come into your head, with no editing. Grammar doesn’t matter, punctuation doesn’t matter, you don’t have to make any kind of sense. (Mine never do, since I don’t make any sense before I’ve had my morning coffee!) You can write your dreams, what you want to accomplish that day,  what made you angry last night, or a play-by-play recap of your favorite reality TV show.

It doesn’t matter. Just write.

This strategy turns off the critic by turning off all filters. Then, in other writings, you can put those filters back in place as you need them.

Your “First Thoughts” journal shouldn’t be your only writing. Try your hand a writing a blog. Or write an incredibly detailed description of a simple object. Dabble in poetry. Do whatever it takes to loosen up the pressure of putting words down on a page. Experimenting with other writing forms can also open you up to different approaches to songwriting, and can help you find new inspiration.

Identify the Critic

This may take a little time, and a little soul searching. Often, the critic inside of us is not really us. It is an outside voice that we have taken on. This may be the voice of a teacher who spoke harshly about your work. It might be a parent or close relative that scoffs at your music when you share it. Your self-critic might not even have its roots in music, but in something else in your life that translates to criticizing your creative self-expression. This voice is different for everyone, but identifying it can help you fight it.

Once you’ve identified the voice of your critic, address it. Write a letter to it, or a song about it. It doesn’t have to be an eloquent letter, or a fantastic song. It just needs to be honest.

As a creative, part of what allows you to make good art is your ability to be in touch with your emotion. This is especially true when things  are painful. It’s not an easy task to identify the critic, or to firmly tell them to please be quiet. When you have acknowledged the hurt that they caused, and the affect that you allowed that hurt have on your life—specifically your music—you can begin to move on from it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Play

When our self-critic says we’re not good enough, sometimes we just have to get out there and prove it wrong. Don’t be afraid to share your music. Try a new song at your next show. Play a short set for your closest friends. Send your mom your latest demo. Show yourself that you are not limited by what your self-critic says.

More Than the Music

The last, and probably most important step into turning off the self-critic is to remember that you are more than your music. You are more than a collection of notes, or a few lines of lyrics. Your songs are a part of who you are, but they don’t define you.

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Publishing Deals: A Songwriter's Dream and Dilemma

Music Publishing Deals: A Songwriter’s Dream and Dilemma

By Cliff Goldmacher Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

If you’re a songwriter in the early stages of your career, the idea of being hired as a staff songwriter for a publishing company is akin to winning the lottery. It’s the Holy Grail you dream of finding. It means industry recognition and validation of your talent, and it carries the promise of cuts, movie placements, and other exciting possibilities.

However exciting a deal may be, it’s important to keep in mind that entering into a relationship with a publisher is serious business. As with any business relationship, it’s essential that you, as the songwriter, understand what you’re giving up as well as what you stand to gain by signing over any of your copyrights to a music publisher.

What is a Publishing Deal?

In general terms, a typical publishing deal involves the assignment of some part of the ownership of your songs to a publishing company in exchange for a monthly payment, known as a draw. The publisher might also use their industry relationships to provide co-writing opportunities, or they might use members of the publishing company’s staff to pitch the music to their industry contacts.

(I’m aware that there are many variations on this arrangement, such as no draw in exchange for giving up less ownership of your copyrights to the publisher. But, for the sake of this article, I’m going to paint in broad strokes.)

As with any arrangement, there are potential benefits and potential drawbacks, which I’ll address here.

The Pros

Advantages of a publishing deal include:

  • A Draw – Committing to a full-time career in music is hard, especially if you don’t have money coming in to pay the bills. If you’re just getting started and don’t have money coming in, the monthly draw provided by a publisher can ease that burden. Some draws are large enough to allow you to write full time; most are more modest, which results in you splitting your time and income between songwriting and a part-time job.
  • Demo Budget – Making high quality recordings of your songs is not cheap; having a publisher foot the bill for these recordings can help out quite a bit.
  • Song Pluggers – These are employees of the publishing company whose only job is to find opportunities for your songs.  Having a team of staffers dedicated to this task means you can focus on writing music.
  • Clout and Connections – The credibility that comes from signing with established music publisher is a powerful thing. It can open doors to meetings, co-writes, and powerful industry connections. Moreover, the publishing companies rely on their relationships with record labels, producers, artists, and a variety of other music business decision-makers. Those relationships take time to build, and they can be key to landing placements. For a new songwriter who hasn’t had the opportunity to network much on his own, this can make a big difference.
  • Validation – The validation that comes from a publishing deal is what most beginning songwriters long for. If you’re in the early stages of your career, you’re most likely writing songs behind the scenes and working in obscurity. You might not have received praise and recognition from anyone in the industry. In addition to being nice to hear, I’ve found that validation leads to an improved work ethic and, occasionally, inspiration.

The Cons

This is where I’d recommend paying close attention. I know the idea of being able to write songs and have your publisher take care of all the details is an appealing thought, but the reality is a bit more complicated. This is a business, and it helps to remember that a publisher is giving you something in order to get something.

  • Your draw & demo budget are essentially loans. The money that makes up your draw and your demo budget is money that the publisher will recoup from your share of the rights as soon as your songs start generating income. Additionally, even after you’ve paid back the money they invested in you, the publisher will continue to own the rights to your song (whatever percent you signed over) and make income from it. It’s also worth noting that the publisher usually owns the recording they paid for you to make; this means that there is no master fee payment for you, the songwriter, if that recording ends up placed in a film or on TV.
  • Your songs still have competition. Even though the idea of a song plugger working to get your songs heard is comforting, the reality is that, in most publishing companies, there are many more signed writers than there are pluggers. In other words, while your songs are your top priority, they may be among the hundreds (or thousands, if you count the back catalogs of most publishing companies) that the overworked song pluggers have to consider for every pitch opportunity.
  • Validation is NOT enough. As a songwriter, I understand how good it feels when someone in the industry tells you they love your songs. In and of itself, this is not enough of a reason to give away your publishing. As a writer, you should be working constantly on your craft, using resources like song critiques, songwriting organizations, and your peers for feedback; if you’re doing this, you’ll know when your songs are good, and you won’t need a publisher to tell you so.

Your Options

My intention is to empower, not discourage, you by showing that a publishing deal isn’t the only (or best) answer to your songwriting prayers. Ultimately, the most sustainable career as a songwriter is built by learning to do things for yourself.

Here are some steps to get you there:

  • Be your own publisher. You don’t need an established publisher to publish your songs. It’s a relatively simple proposition to start your own publishing company through one of the performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). A simple phone call to one of these three organizations can get you started.
  • Put yourself on a regular writing schedule. If you want to be a professional songwriter, act like one. Set aside regular times to write, and treat it like a job. Folks in the working world don’t skip work because they “don’t feel like it”; neither should you.
  • Demo your songs. Develop a relationship with a professional recording studio. When you’re absolutely certain you’ve got a song that’s ready for prime time, spend the money to make a broadcast-quality version suitable for a variety of uses, from pitching to artists to placement in film and TV. And speaking of pitching…
  • Pitch your songs. Actively look for opportunities for your songs. It’s one thing to write a good song and have a great demo, but if no one hears it, it can’t possibly generate any income for you. This isn’t the glamorous, romantic part of the business, but I promise you, the overwhelming majority of successful songwriters—even those with publishing deals and song pluggers—spend a lot of time pitching their own material. You need to do everything in your power to get your songs heard.Also, as I mentioned above, no one will make your songs a priority more than you will.
  • Network. Another less-than-pleasant reality for the gifted, introverted songwriter is that there is no substitute for the relationships you make in the industry. Get out there and meet people. This doesn’t mean you have to be fake or stay up until 3 a.m. drinking every night (unless you like that kind of thing). It does mean that you have to find opportunities to interact with the decision-makers in the music industry. I recommend attending music conferences, songwriter festivals, and some of the events sponsored by organizations like the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) or the Songwriter’s Guild of America (SGA).
  • Sign an admin deal. If you’re starting to get some cuts and placements for your songs and the subtleties of copyright law, royalty statements, and licensing feel like too much to keep track of or negotiate, you might consider signing with a publisher to administer your copyrights. In other words, instead of giving away ownership of 50%-100% of your copyright, give a copyright administrator 15%-25% to “mind the store” while you’re taking care of the other stuff. If you’re making money from your songs, you’ll have no trouble at all finding an experienced publisher to administer your copyrights.

Again, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve kept this article and the terms of a publishing deal very general. In reality, deals range from basic copyright administration all the way to full ownership of your publishing, and there are reasons for and against all of these arrangements. Music publishers provide a valuable service in our industry, but signing a publishing deal isn’t always your best option.  If you’re considering a deal, be absolutely certain you understand what you stand to gain (beyond the simple validation of your talent) and what you’re giving up to get it.

In the world of professional songwriting, there is no one way to achieve success. Regardless of the path you take, the more you understand and can do on your own, the better off you’ll be.

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What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

By Cliff Goldmacher Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

Whether you’ve spent ten minutes or five months working on a song, there’s a sense of satisfaction and relief that washes over you when you know, without a doubt, that it’s done.

But… now what? Time to kick back and relax? Or, maybe you’re headed out to celebrate with friends. Not so fast! If you think your work is over when you’ve finished writing the song, you’re sorely mistaken.

Finishing a song is a victory, but it’s not the final step in the process if you want your music to generate income for you. Here are six steps that you can take after finishing a song to help you transform your songwriting into a profitable business and position yourself for opportunities that may arise.

Finalize Your Lyric Sheet

Once your song is done, it’s a great idea to create an accurate, final lyric sheet.

You should write out every word of the song exactly in the order it’s sung. Yes, this means avoiding shortcuts; no writing “repeat chorus.” Writing everything out reduces the chance of error, omission, or confusion and makes it easier for demo vocalists to accurately read the lyrics as they sing the song.

How you format the lyric sheet can also make a difference for the vocalists. I’d recommend indenting your choruses to make them easily distinguishable from your verses and bridge. I’d also ensure that your lyric all fit on one page; you might have to single-space the lyric, combine shorter lines, or decrease the font size to do this (but not too small). If you still can’t fit your entire lyric on one page, you might seriously consider additional editing.

Lastly, you’ll want to include all the pertinent information about your new song:

  • The date of creation (D.O.C.)
  • The name of the writer (or writers, if you co-wrote the song)
  • The publishing information
  • The performing rights organization (PRO) you belong to

Including this information on a lyric sheet means the information is at hand when you submit it to a record label or music supervisor. If you need an example, my lyric sheets look like this:

©3.1.12 Cliff Goldmacher, Famous In France Music (BMI)

Create A Definitive Rough Recording

Now that your song is done, you’re going to need a recording that captures its melody, lyric, and chord changes. As I’ve mentioned before, there is no Grammy for best rough recording; a simple guitar or piano and vocal recorded directly into your smartphone or laptop is perfectly acceptable.

This recording is useful for a couple of reasons. First, it will prevent you from forgetting how your song goes. This may sound silly to those of you who’ve only written a few songs; but, as you begin to write more often and start to build your catalog, you’d be amazed at how quickly these little buggers can erase themselves from your memory. Second, if you choose to take your song to the next level, this recording will serve as reference for the demo vocalists and session musicians.

Schedule A Demo

Speaking of bringing your song to the next level: it’s time to decide if this song is currently worth a further investment of your time and financial resources. If we’re honest with ourselves as songwriters, we have to admit that not every song we write is worthy of a demo. However, if you believe that this particular song is genuinely ready, it’s time to record a demo.

Since you’ll be presenting this to the music industry at large, the quality of your recording will reflect your talent and your dedication to your craft. This is not the time to hope that music business professionals will be able to “hear through” your rough recording. So, unless you’re prepared to spend the necessary time and effort learning to sing, play, and record your own songs at the highest level, I’d recommend using a professional recording studio, a trained demo singer, and at least one session musician. Yes, that means investing more money in your song, but—in this case—it’s probably best to leave the recording to the pros. You can spend your time writing more music.

Whether you work with a studio or go the DIY route, I would be sure to obtain two high-resolution versions of your song: one with vocals, and one without. Instrumental versions of your songs are great to have, and this is the best time to get one!

Catalog Your Mixes

Ideally, the recording studio will have provided you with high-resolution files of your song. It’s important that you know how to embed necessary metadata (the song title, copyright details, contact info, and so on) and how to convert the high-resolution files (like .wav files) to lower-resolution files (like mp3s, which are easier to email). Both of these steps should be doable in iTunes or similar programs; instructions for your specific program can be found online. While these may seem like daunting tasks, they are important skills to learn. Think of them as preparing your product for shipment and including your return address.

You’ll also need to store the files where they’re both safe and easily accessible. This way, when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll know exactly where to find them. I can’t think of anything more depressing than an artist, label, or publisher asking for a copy of your song, and you not being able to find it.

Create A Backup

Now that you’ve got your songs and all the accompanying information properly labeled and stored, it’s time to set up a reliable backup system. Learn how to back up your computer to a separate drive or cloud storage system. Remember, it’s not “if” your hard drive—with all your rough recordings, lyric sheets, and finished demos—fails, but “when”. My motto is: if it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist.

Under no circumstances should you go without some kind of backup. That’s simply a recipe for a catastrophic event.

DON’T brush this off as an unnecessary step or a waste of your time, and don’t put it off until you have x number of songs finished. Make it a part of the process for each and every song. You made a significant investment to write and record those demos, and your songs themselves are irreplaceable; why wouldn’t you want to protect them?

Pitch Your Song

I know this sounds obvious, but once you have a finished demo of your song, you can’t expect if to make money if it just sits on your computer. You have to get your music in front of people!

While I was a tiny bit guilty of this early in my career, it still amazes me how many songwriters make little to no effort to get their songs out there. They make a variety of excuses, too. “But I create music… I’m not a salesman!” To these musicians, selling music might as well be selling dirt. It lacks all the charm and creativity that they associate with being a musician. It might not be exciting, but it is essential if you want to make a career as a songwriter.

Other songwriters, who are willing to promote their music, tell me, “I don’t know where to start.” I’ll admit that it can be a bit daunting figuring out who is looking for what you’ve got, so I’ll give you a few places to look. Start with reputable pitch sheets, such as Song Quarters and Row Fax, which can provide you with the information you need… for a fee. You could also turn to organizations like Taxi that will do the pitching for you… again, for a fee. If neither of those options appeals to you, your best bet is to get out there and meet the decision-makers yourself. Travel to New York City, Nashville, or Los Angeles; attend music conferences and workshops. There are opportunities to network if you’re willing to look for them. (When networking, be sure to avoid these common mistakes!)

As I said at the beginning of the article, completing a song is a victory. It’s a remarkable accomplishment! Don’t ever forget that, and don’t think I’m saying otherwise. I’m simply saying that, if you want a career as a songwriter, it’s not the last step… but the above six steps will help you get there.

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How To License Your Music for Film and TV

How to License Your Music for Film and TV—Four Tips to Improve Your Odds

By Cliff Goldmacher Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

I’ve been lucky enough to have song placements in both films and television shows, and I’m deeply grateful for those opportunities. While I can safely say there is no magic potion to guarantee a placement, there are certain things that you, as a songwriter, can do to improve your odds. A few of my best tips are below:

Make Sure Your Song Is Professionally Performed and Recorded

This may sound obvious, but—when you’re pitching to film and TV—there is absolutely no room for a poorly sung, poorly performed, or poorly recorded version of your song. Why? You only have one chance to make a first impression.

Put yourself in the position of the music supervisor or studio executive who is listening to hundreds of songs for a project. If the recording sounds like it was done by amateurs, or if the voice makes you lunge for the mouse or volume control, you’re ready to move on to the next song… regardless of whether or not you’ve heard the melody or lyrics, and regardless of how wonderful the song may be.

In the end, you don’t want a poor recording or performance to bias the listener against your fantastic song before they have a chance to actually listen to it. This means that, if you want someone to give you money for your song, you might need to invest some money to present it in the best possible light.

Do Your Homework

Randomly submitting songs in hopes of landing a placement doesn’t make much sense, and it’s a waste of your and the recipient’s time and energy. Pitching for opportunities that you aren’t a good fit for is not a sign of a professional, and doing so frequently can damage your reputation. By doing a little homework before submitting your song, you can avoid this waste and preserve your reputation.

You need to find out which music supervisors are looking for music and which projects they need music looking for. Good places to start are industry pitch sheets and industry magazines, which often contain information on upcoming projects and who is looking for what. Once you know what the projects and who the contacts are, find out all you can about exactly what the contacts are looking for. Make sure your song fits those criteria.

Make Sure You Have Complete Ownership of the Recording

In order to give permission to a film or TV show to use your music, you will need to own your recording. Don’t let your pitch plans be derailed (or even delayed) down the line by musicians who won’t allow you to use their recorded performance, or by studios who stake a claim in your master recording.

You can avoid this by obtaining the necessary releases up front from all session musicians and singers involved in the project and by making sure that the studio where you record gives you full ownership of the master recording.

Having your songs “free and clear” for use also tells music supervisors that you’re a professional who knows what to do and who values their limited time. That’s a good impression to make.

Be Known For A Style of Music

While it’s good to be able to write in a variety of styles, you and your music will be easier to remember if you become known for specializing in a particular style, especially if you’re known for doing it well. Since music supervisors are often asked to gather songs by style, being known as a “go-to” person in a style increases your odds of being remembered when the time comes.

When it comes to placing songs in film and TV, being a great songwriter is often not enough. You need to be a savvy businessperson who is willing to take care of the unromantic day-in, day-out details of a career in music. You need to do the work, including the above steps.

That being said, there is no greater thrill than turning on your TV or going to a theater and hearing one of your songs playing. Somehow, it makes all your effort worthwhile.

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Time To Make A Demo? Six Ways to Know If Your Song Is Ready

Time to Make a Demo? Six Ways to Know If Your Song Is Ready

By Cliff Goldmacher Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

written by: Cliff Goldmacher

While our instinct as songwriters may be to love all of our songs equally, the reality is that some of our songs are simply better, or more commercially viable, than others. The problem is knowing which songs those are.

This knowledge becomes incredibly important when you, the songwriter, are considering making a professional demo. How do you know which songs are good enough to invest your time and money in making a high-quality recording, and which need a little, or a lot, more work?

The below steps should help you make that decision.

Make A Rough Recording

One of the first tests I’d suggest is to make a rough recording of your song. Given that you’re not trying to win a Grammy award with this recording, it can be as simple as a bare-bones guitar and vocal recorded on your smartphone.

Rough recordings are useful because they let you hear your song as a listener would. This is entirely different from listening to your song as you’re playing it. I’m always surprised at how tweaks and adjustments present themselves when I sit back and listen to a rough recording—problems I never noticed while I was playing and singing the song.

Put It Away For A Week

After creating a song, there’s often a rush of enthusiasm. This is a good thing. I certainly hope you’re pleased with what you’ve written.

However, it’s still a good idea to have a short “cooling off” period of, say, a week or so, in order to make sure what you’re feeling is true love, not infatuation. After a week, go back to the song. If that same excitement is there, you’re on to something.

Have a Professional Critique Your Song

Getting an experienced songwriter or music publisher to give you their professional opinion can bring valuable insight into the way the industry listens to songs. After all, if your goal is to have a song that is commercially successful, then a professional opinion can be very useful.

That being said, songwriting is still an art, and you should never blindly agree with something just because a professional said it. The music business is filled with stories about publishers and A&R reps passing on songs that went on to become huge hits. In other words, a professional critique should be taken with a large grain of salt and appreciated for what it is (industry insight) and what it isn’t (the final word on whether or not your song is good).

Play It For Your Songwriting Peers

It’s especially easy to find a group of songwriting peers to bounce ideas off of when you’re living in a music city like New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville. However, organizations like the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) have chapters in many cities, which means you can find songwriting peers even if you don’t live in an industry town. A songwriting group can be a good place to play your song and get outside perspective from people who understand what songwriting is about.

Again, it’s important to remember that you won’t—nor do you have to—agree with everything that’s said, but there might be a helpful gem or two that can make all the difference. The risk with any feedback in the early life of a song is that the wrong word or a mean-spirited comment can be devastating. To that end, protect yourself by making sure your group’s members are constructive in their criticism. Also, it’s a good policy to develop a thicker skin for these situations. The more songs you write, the easier this gets.

Play It For An Objective, Non-Musician Friend

It’s been my experience that fellow musicians and songwriters tend to listen to songs in a certain way, often paying attention to details that only other musicians and songwriters would appreciate. This can be useful (thus the above tip), but as a rule, songwriters aren’t really music buyers.

Playing your song for a trusted, non-musician friend—someone who can tell you exactly whether they like the song or not (i.e., “the song feels long” or “I don’t understand the story” or “it makes me want to get up and dance”)—can be a helpful way of seeing whether or not a song is working.

Play It Live

If you’re a live performer as well as a songwriter, you’ve got a valuable tool at your disposal. There’s nothing quite like gauging the response—or non-response—of a live audience to see whether a song is working or not.

Often, the things that you thought would work while you were writing the song don’t pan out, while other things you barely paid attention to go over beautifully.

A word of warning, though: don’t assume that, just because a song is working live, you’re all set. It’s still well worth your while to use some of the earlier suggestions (especially the rough recording) to make sure that when you listen to your song objectively, it’s doing what you want it to.

One Last Note

As a producer, it’s clear to me when a writer knows their song is ready. I can tell that they’ve done the necessary work, including some or all of the above suggestions. This makes my job easier, as my focus goes from doing damage control or overhauls to simply polishing an already-beautiful gem.

In the end, no one else can tell you whether your song is finished and ready to be professionally recorded. In most cases, you’re the one spending the money for the demo and the one who has to be excited about pitching it, so you should be as convinced as possible that your song is ready for prime time. At the end of the day, the decision is—and should be—yours.

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Following Inspiration

Following Inspiration While Writing

By Julian Keaton Estimated reading time: 1 minute

“Every time I start a new spoken word piece, I get inspired by something completely unrelated that hits more.”

—Julian Keaton

I saw the above quote in a tweet from one of our guest authors, Julian Keaton, and I couldn’t help but share it.

Sometimes, when you’re writing one thing, inspiration strikes and pulls you in a completely new direction, compelling you to write something entirely different.

This is exactly why it’s a good habit to write regularly, with or without an inspiring topic in mind. You never know what subject, phrase, or word will move you to something greater.

That burst of inspiration doesn’t mean that your initial subject—the one you sat down to work on in the first place—is worth abandoning. It might be rubbish. It might be gold. Or, it might continue to inspire you in the future. Whatever the case, set it aside, and come back to it later.

But… in those moments when you’re suddenly inspired and that inspiration hits deep, cling to it, and follow it wherever it takes you.

That’s the best way to make music that moves and inspires others, the best way to make art.

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Free songwriting book

Don’t Write Another Song Until You See This

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 1 minute

Let’s be honest, many musicians struggle with songwriting. Weak melodies, cheesy cliches, and thoughts that ramble throughout the song are only a few of the problems you face.

Yet, you see other musicians churning out hit after hit.

What do they have that you don’t? Is it simply that they’re more talented? Maybe… and maybe not.

It could just be that they have a method to their songwriting, a formula that streamlines their creative process, clears out the roadblocks, and lets them maximize their talent.

Here at Source, we’ve heard your frustration concerning songwriting, and we decided to do something about it. We commissioned award-winning, chart-topping songwriter Cliff Goldmacher to write a guidebook about the method and the madness of songwriting. Cliff’s songs have spent months on top of the Billboard charts. He teaches workshops for BMI and ASCAP and is a member of practically every songwriting guild and association out there.

Best of all, this comprehensive songwriting manual is a gift for YOU. That’s right, it’s free.

Free Download

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