It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all there is to do when it comes to moving forward in your songwriting career. I’d compare the approach of this article to eating the elephant one bite at a time. In other words, by being patient, organized and methodical in your daily work as a songwriter, you’re guaranteed to make steady progress in your career. If you follow the suggestions below, the results won’t be immediate but when you look back after six months or a year, I think you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve accomplished.

Songwriting Career

1. Do One “Business” Thing Every Day

This is the musical equivalent of eating your vegetables. They may not be all that fun to eat but they’re good for you. It’s the same with the business side of music. We all know how much more enjoyable it is to play the guitar, sing and even write compared to making phone calls, sending emails or following up on something you’ve already submitted but if you’re hoping to have financial success with your music, then they’re all equally important. By making the rule that you’ll do one business thing every day, this means that at the end of a year, you’ll have done three hundred and sixty-five things to further your career above and beyond your songwriting. I guarantee that’s more than most.

2. Join/Start A Songwriting Group

Getting yourself to write on a consistent basis can be a real struggle. Writing is emotionally draining and tough for most of us to do in a vacuum. Ironically, I’ve found that even we creative types like assignments when it comes to our writing. By joining a songwriting group where you’re required to bring in a new song or a rewrite of an old song every week, you’ll have the additional motivation of being held accountable by more than just yourself. It really does work. If you’re not aware of any existing songwriting groups in your area, make it a point to get to local writer’s nights and reach out to other writers about starting a group. By simply showing up every week and doing the work, you’ll find your songwriting muscles getting stronger no matter whether you agree with all the group’s suggestions or not.

3. Don’t Wait For A Publishing Deal To Act Like You Have One

If you find yourself thinking that if only you had a publishing deal then you could 1. write every day 2. get great demos and 3. have your songs pitched, then I’d humbly suggest that you’ve got it exactly backwards. In order to get a publisher interested in what you’re doing, you need to behave like you’ve already got a publishing deal to begin with. This means you’ll be infinitely more attractive to a publisher if you can show them a body of work that’s well-written, well-recorded and maybe even includes a cut or two. Don’t wait around for the affirmation of a publisher to get up every day and do the work. In fact, if you get to the point where you can do all of the above on your own, you might look up to find you don’t need a publisher after all.

Songwriting Career

4. Make One Song Pitch Every Week

Having exceptional songs and beautiful recordings of those songs is a great start but in terms of getting them recorded by other artists or placed in a film or TV show, they might as well not exist if you haven’t shown them to anyone. I know this sounds obvious but as songwriters we get so wrapped up in the creative process that we somehow, amazingly, seem to forget that until someone in the industry has heard our songs, they can’t do anything with them. This means you need to begin your search for outlets for your music. There are industry pitch sheets and organizations out there that can help put songwriters together with industry folks looking for songs. Make it your business (see #1 above) to find out about these pitch sheets and begin the process of submitting your songs when you see an appropriate opportunity. If you do this once a week, you’ll have pitched to fifty-two separate opportunities by the end of a year. That’s a significant number.

5. Reply Promptly To Any Opportunity No Matter How Small

The likelihood of Faith Hill calling you to ask if you’ve got a song for her is small but you should treat every email or voicemail from someone regarding your music as that kind of top priority. If another songwriter reaches out to say they liked one of your songs they heard you perform at a writer’s night, reply quickly even if it’s just to say thanks. You never know when a causal contact could turn into something more significant. Our industry is full of stories of songwriters getting their material cut in the least likely of circumstances. All this to say, there’s no percentage in ignoring or putting off any opportunity no matter how small it may seem at the time. By acting professionally and responding promptly to anyone and everyone who reaches out about your music, you’ll be sure not to miss something huge that might appear insignificant at first glance.


As I’m sure you know, there’s no one way to have success as a songwriter. That being said, you can certainly improve your odds by staying patient, working consistently and treating your career with the respect it deserves.

Learn how to navigate your songwriting career.

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21 responses to “Five Things You Can Do to Move Your Songwriting Career Forward”

  1. Michael Dracul says:

    You are straightforward and to the point! I love your suggestions. Myself being a singer/lyricist. The only “completed work” I can show is a portfolio of completed lyrics. I look forward to reading more posts from you!

  2. This is like reading the Bible, full of truth and very sensibly written, thank you kindly.

  3. Thanks for your article!!! After 3 weeks of researching and trying to set up distribution and publishing administration I think it would be in my best interest to just get distribution and self publish. Like you said act as if I already have a publishing administration deal and get the songs written, recorded, registered as good as possible, and release them to have some type of published body of work before trying to get publishing. My only major concern is being able to collect all royalty streams on the publishing side. Do you think it is possible to collect those royalties through a publisher at a later date? I control all my current compositions/and rights. I own my own label and publishing, I have a ASCAP, AARC, Soundexchange, copyright account, my own UPC codes and ISRCs, my album is almost ready for metadata but the publishing side has slowed my down. I would love to keep control. Any suggestions for this diy independent singer songwriter producer label and publishing business just trying to launch my first album?
    I know there are tons of us out there who are just starting to release our catalogs that have major concern about this and could use some insight. How much of a concern would this be? Thanks for you help Cliff, my name is Angelina and I grew up in Sonoma County. I learned about you at Grammy Business Night School in San Francisco. I have gotten a lot of the business side worked out since then but this publishing challenge is something I have been stuck on for months. I have read countless article, blogs, books, videos, contract terms trying to understand the big picture to set my songwriting business up and NOT set myself up for future losses on income. I contacted dozens of publishers and really learned what I don’t want. I cant seem to find the answer and it’s causing me to freeze and not release anything because of legal and biz concerns. I just want to know that moving forward with out publishing help that eventually I will be able to collect what’s due. I really want to get back to making more music. Sorry for the long comment, I just trust you more due to your professional history. Have a good day and thanks for your time and help.

    • Angelina! I’m VERY impressed with the work that you’ve done on your own behalf. No matter what the kind of education you’re giving yourself is essential. The short answer to your question is, yes, it’s always possible to retroactively collect your royalties so my recommendation would be to move forward on your own. When you begin to generate royalty income, you should have no trouble finding an experienced publisher to administer your catalog of songs for a much smaller percentage than a full publishing deal. But, best of all, you’ll have done enough research to know what to expect and monitor the proceedings. Brava!

      • Awesome! I just completely re-grouped. Going to move forward and take focused actionable moves towards writing on a set schedule, recording, registering, and releasing. The studio is organized and clean. Thank you for responding because of everything I learned and your opinion I am very motivated and feel more confident moving forward without being backed by some type of publishing deal for the moment. I now can move forward. The songs and the craft is what I want to focus on more than anything. Consistency, connection, and impact is what I want to accomplish as a songwriter eventually making a living. Have a great day!

  4. Anita Ann Draughon says:

    Your advice and details are so needed. When I become a well known songwriter by the music industry, it will be because people gave me knowledge they had and shared from a heartfelt place like yourself Cliff. I joined, and know it was a good Avenue to increase my opportunities to write good songs.

  5. Masha says:

    Thanks a lot for the valuable hints! I agree with every single word.
    One question – you mentioned the industry pitch sheets.
    Do you think you could name a few references? That would be fantastic, thank you so much!

  6. Robb Smith says:

    Great article Cliff, thank you!!


  7. Shannon Voykin says:

    Thank you Cliff for this valuable and practical advice. I consider you my song writing coach!

  8. This is to Angelina:

    Angelina, get your songs written; then recorded by a place like Cliff’s studio; decide how many songs you want on your CD album; burn the album; do all the art work or have someone help you; have your album duplicated and bar code registered; and then get CD Baby to sell it for you. These are the steps I take, and I have produced three albums without quitting my day job. Also register your songs with BMI or some other group so that you will receive your royalties when your songs sell.

    All the best,

    Bob Blackshear

  9. Norman Allan Crew says:

    Hi, this is insightful, useful advice, and very well written. Thank you.

  10. Sconnie Songster says:

    As always, great advice. I love the thread of comments, too. Second guessing and gut reactions both need to be managed, I have found. Enter you to help us form our action plans.

  11. Thank You.This information is so helpful. Keep it coming. I really
    appreciate you taking the time share info that helps everyone.
    Thanks Again,
    Pat Daniels

  12. Ramona says:

    You always have great advice.
    What do you think about pitching a song with just guitar and vocals. Is it enough or do you need to add more to a demo? I’ve always thought a great song with guitar and vocals would be enough.

  13. Bedford Smith says:

    Great article Cliff. I took a couple of your classes at the Taxi road rally. Several points I learned have been helpful.

    Thanks for your continued support and info. Look forward to seeing you again next year at the T.R.R.


  14. Thanks a lot for this work!

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