Every once in a while, it feels great for me to remember that at this point in my career I’ve managed to surround myself with some of the most intelligent, thoughtful and accomplished industry friends a person could possibly hope for. Not only that, but they’re generous, too. I reached out and asked some of them what one piece of advice – songwriting or music business related – they would offer to beginning songwriters. Below are their exceptional responses. Enjoy!

1a. “Be self-sufficient but don’t be a loner. Learn to record your own songs to the best of your ability (use technology if you’re not a great instrumentalist) but also collaborate with as many people as possible. Co-writing karma will come back to you!”  

1b. “Get it in writing, and always ask a business-minded guardian angel (attorney, manager, publisher, or wiser colleague) to review your agreements with you before you commit.” 

-Dan Coleman (Music publisher, founder of Modern Works Music Publishing and Juilliard-trained composer)

2. ”Don’t allow people to convince you to sign a contract as is because ‘It’s our standard form and everybody signs it this way.’”

-Bob Donnelly (Music Attorney for  industry icons like Elton John and Michael Jackson)

3. “My number one tip for songwriters (or any new business owner) just starting out is to STAY ORGANIZED!  A large part of staying organized is remembering to keep your business finances (income and expenses) separate from your personal finances.  This makes preparing your taxes and books SO much easier.”

-Kate Johnson (CPA)

4. “Songwriting is a craft. It takes time to be great. Work at your craft every day and study the masters. Every song you write is important and unique. Enjoy the process.”

-Matt Dame (In-demand session vocalist and songwriter)

5a. “Always be ready to capture your ideas when inspiration hits (A recorder, your iPhone, sheet music paper, paper and pen). You never know when those ideas will come in handy.”

5b. “Look for people who need you. If you’re a lyricist, look for folks who write music. If you’re not a singer, but a great songwriter, look for talented people to sing your songs. “

5c. Look for up and coming talent, people who are studying to make films, editors, writers, and actors.  People love making projects and are always looking for music, and one day those up and comers might be big time professionals (who can actually pay you!)

-Lisa Loeb (Recording artist, songwriter, pop star)

6. “One of my favorite lines in a song is from Don Henley’s ‘New York Minute’ -“What the head makes cloudy, the heart makes very clear.” Write from your heart for YOUR heart!”

-Ryan Smith (Head of Shure Artist Relations – Nashville)

7a. “Songwriters, if you are collaborating with anyone in creating a song, make an agreement as to what the percentage contribution of each person is and write it down stating that you are making an agreement as to the writing contribution of each person to the song and have all collaborators sign it and, if you can, agree who among the contributors will decide how, when and for how much the song will be exploited.”

7b. “Later make a more formal agreement about your percentage agreement that has all the bells and whistles that a legal document should have, but if you never get there at least you have your informal agreement.”

-Richard Idell (Music Attorney for Bill Graham, Winemaker)

8. “Every once in awhile you will be visited by a muse – one so powerful that you will feel that you’re not writing the song at all but rather being channeled by this creative songwriting force. Be on the lookout when this happens so that you recognize it and don’t decide that it’s a good time to clean out the garage instead.”

-Carl Tatz (Top tier studio designer, inventor of Phantom Focus System)

9. “Do your homework and find a mentor.”

-Heather Moody (Manager for Americana artist, Mindy Smith/Entrepreneur)

10. “Act professionally at all times and be persistent but also patient in your follow-up with industry professionals. Remember that you’re often dealing with incredibly busy people who are juggling multiple priorities that are competing for their time and attention. Keep in mind that just because something is your top priority doesn’t make it theirs. So, don’t take a lack of response – or any business dealing, for that matter – personally.”

-Nick Phillips (Record label executive at Concord Jazz/Music Producer/Billboard Charting Artist)

11a. “Don’t always start the same way. If you’re an instrumentalist, sing out loud a cappella. If you’re a pianist, try guitar.  Guitarist? Ukulele . . . “

11b. ‘Build a team. No one can do every single thing at a 100% level of excellence. Figure out your weak spots and seek help from others who are strong in those areas. The most important thing is to increase the quality of the work.”

-Joel Evans (Songwriter/composer with hundreds of film/TV placements)

Conclusion

No two paths through a music career are the same but that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain truths that warrant our attention. I’d recommend considering the decades of collected wisdom above as a roadmap to a more fulfilling and productive career as a songwriter.