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.

1. Song pitch promises

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. 

2. “Winning” the right to pay for a recording of your song

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.

3. Companies who offer to put music to your lyrics

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. 

Good Luck!

Download a free sample of Cliff's eBook.

Click the image on the right.

7 responses to “Three Situations Where Songwriters Should Think Twice”

  1. great stuff, as always….
    but, my “dream” came true, as it was always to create music (and explore life through the process)…..
    but, never cared a whit about the music biz, as it has always been a carnival hustle….
    i’ve always advocated that anyone making music wear as many hats as they can….otherwise, you’re relying upon others to craft your vison…
    because, song ain’t a song until it’s a track, so you need to create an original powerful finished track, otherwise your song is just another ditty…
    so, don’t send it off to some Nash/Vegas demo mill, unless you want a generic vanity production to hang on your wall like a diploma from art school…
    good luck!…..

  2. “otherwise, you’re relying upon others to craft your vision”. I’m not sure that’s always a negative. Highly skilled musicians (session players or not) can add a great deal to a song and well worth paying money for their services regardless of the motive. It could be a vanity production, a legacy work or an attempt at commercial success.

  3. Ricky Young says:

    Well said and accepted. I just wish there were a less resistive path for a lyricist to be able to present their lyrics and receive recommendations on what melodies, instruments, vocals and arrangemen ideas they might consider. There are some unbelievable lyrics that have been created that no light will ever shine on because there is a vast air g between a lyricist who is not a musician and his songs potential.

  4. Mary Welch Francis says:

    Don’t ever sell or transfer or give away for a promise of anything any portion of your publishing and never, ever promise or sign away or give away ANY of your writer’s share on your songs. If someone is wanting to sign you as a staff writer, get a really good attorney and make sure there is a clause in there that you will get all songs back that the publisher does not get cut and released during your contract period. Songs getting cut does not mean they will get released. I was with the best publishing company ever when I first started but they no longer exist. They were bought by Sony years ago — Combine Music was the name and Bob Beckham was the best and toughest publisher and his writers were treated like his family. There are no more Bob Beckhams and no more publishers like Combine.

  5. Tyler Morger says:

    Nice words of wisdom Cliff! I know not only to read the fine print in official documents , also one should make sure to understand every sentence in an official documents before signing.

  6. Tom McCormack says:

    Really great content, “short cuts are always laced with boogie traps, there’s a reason some roads are more well travelled.”

  7. Mike Sion says:

    Dreamers are always a market for exploiters. Aspiring songwriters are monetized copiously and cruelly. I can (and very well may) write a little mock primer someday: “How To Lose Money in the Music Biz.”

    Cliff, as you well know, you could cover at least 12 more points in sequels to today’s blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.