The blessing – and curse – of pursuing success as a songwriter is that songwriting success often represents the equivalent of a dream come true. While it’s wonderful that as songwriter’s we’re pursuing our dreams, the danger is that we’re often susceptible to less-than-well-intentioned people hoping to take advantage of our somewhat blind enthusiasm and hope. While I’m a believer that the karmic wheel will repay these types of people in the long run, there’s no point in making yourself part of what they have to atone for. The best test of all is to simply ask yourself if the offer you’ve received seems too good to be true. If it does, then 99% of the time you’ll be right. That being said, here are a couple of the most common offers to be wary of.
Any song plugger or demo studio who promises (as part of their sales pitch) to get your – as yet unheard – songs into the hands of famous artists and industry decision makers at record labels and publishing companies isn’t being completely forthcoming. The reality is that relationships with the above artists and industry decision-makers requires that anyone pitching them songs be extremely selective about the songs they pitch or they’ll risk losing credibility and the possibility of pitching further songs to these individuals. While it’s very tempting to imagine your songs being heard by your favorite recording artist, that doesn’t happen just because someone promises you that it will.
This offer is particularly insidious because who doesn’t want to feel like their songs are worthy of recognition (e.g. “winning”). A better way to put this is that there are contests and there is “for hire” studio work but they aren’t the same thing. If you win a songwriting contest and are offered free studio time as a result, great. Or if you hire and pay a studio to record your song demo, that’s great too. But “winning” an opportunity to pay for your song demo is just another way of saying you’ll be paying for your song demo. While not strictly lying, it still feels deceitful to me.
The first thing to know is that a lyric by itself isn’t a song. With the exception of certain pop situations where a beat is included in the copyright, a lyric constitutes exactly half a song. The other half of the song is the melody. If you can sing your lyric a cappella, that is a full song but if your lyric has no melody whatsoever, you’re only halfway there. This is totally fine and there’s no shame is not being able to sing or play an instrument. Being a lyricist is a great skill and one worth pursuing. That being said, you’re going to need someone to put a melody to your lyric before it can be called a song. Companies that offer to put melodies and music to your lyrics can help but beware. Know that you will only own 50% of the final song when it comes to the copyright. This situation isn’t necessarily a scam but I do feel it’s important to be aware what you’ll be giving away for what you’re getting. In other words, not only will you be paying someone to add a melody (and often the chords behind the melody) to your lyric but you’ll also be giving up – unless specifically stated otherwise – 50% ownership of the song.
I want to be clear. The music industry is full of honorable people and businesses selling legitimate services for songwriters. That being said, anytime a business puts themselves between the dreamer and the dream, there’s the potential for abuse. My general rule – and one of my favorite expressions – is that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. It’s most likely a duck.” In other words, if something doesn’t feel right or seems too good to be true, it probably is.