Songwriting is a team sport. I’ve said that a thousand times if I’ve said it once. But, until now, I don’t guess I’ve written about who makes up a pro songwriter’s team. Well, here ya go.
Not all of these members are necessary for every songwriter at every career stage. Some are only needed when money is being generated from your songs. So don’t get overwhelmed- you don’t have to find all these folks today. Also, this list is for pro songwriters or those who want to make money. If you just want to write good songs, pick and choose accordingly.
1. The Cowriters.
There are very, very few songwriters who turn pro (and stay that way) who are exclusively solo writers. Your cowriters help keep you fresh and break you out of creative ruts and stale habits. They also provide song ideas so you don’t have to come up with all your own ideas. Cowriters provide creative strengths to compliment your weaknesses (lyrics for your melodies, etc.) They share valuable information (who’s cutting, what they want, who’s about to get a record deal, etc.). They (and their publishers) help pitch your songs. They provide political advantages- writing with the artist, the producer, or with someone in a powerful publishing company.
2. The Songpluggers.
If you want cuts, somebody has to be out there actively pitching your songs and getting them heard by folks who can say “yes.” Oftentimes, this is done by a music publisher, who has at least one songplugger on staff. Many pros also pitch their songs themselves. I’m an “all hands on deck” kinda guy, so I like to have both when I can. People who might plug your songs: you, your publisher, a (legit) independent songplugger, your cowriters, your cowriters’ songpluggers. If nobody is plugging your songs, nobody will hear them. If nobody hears your songs, nobody will cut them.
3. The PROs.
Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) are basically companies who collect and distribute airplay royalties for publishers and songwriters. There are three PROs in the United States- ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Every other country / territory has one. If you’re blessed to get some airplay, you and your song won’t get a dime of airplay money if you (and it) aren’t a member of a PRO. That’s the big service they offer. Other benefits include networking and educational opportunities. EVERY money-making pro must have a PRO.
4. The Recorders.
All the songplugging in the world isn’t gonna do you much good if all your demos / recordings sound terrible. There’s just too much competition and too many quality demos out there for an A&R person to do the work to hear through a bad recording. They just don’t have to. Unless you’re an established hit songwriter with a good track record, they’ll just trash it and move on to a recording that sounds like it was done by a pro. It’s great if you have the musician and production chops to get good sound on your own. But most songwriters don’t have that, so it needs to be outsourced. Maybe your cowriters can perform this function, or maybe you hire a track guy or some studio musicians. I hesitated to list them as part of your team since they’re hired guns… but getting quality recordings is so important, I couldn’t keep them off the list.
5. The Administrators.
Somebody better be watching the money. Your administrator’s are the folks that make sure your songs are licensed properly by the record labels, the copyright forms are sent in and that your royalties make it (properly and promptly) from the record labels to the songwriters. This function is usually done by the publisher, but you can also hire an admin firm for a percentage of what they collect on your behalf. For example, my Major Bob Music catalog is partly administered in-house and partly by The Harry Fox Agency. My personal publishing company, Cowboy Chords Music, outsources my admin to Bluewater Music. They handle my licensing and royalty collections for a percentage of the money they collect.
6. The Sharpeners.
These are the folks who help you sharpen your skills, both on the artistic and business sides of songwriting. This may include cowriters who inspire and challenge you to do your best, it may include NSAI, Global Songwriters Connection, Man vs. Row, song evaluators, and coaches. It may be your publisher or songplugger. It may be a writer’s rep at a PRO or a publisher who will listen to your songs and give feedback. The Sharpeners are hugely important for amateurs and turning pro and for seasoned pros trying to keep current and to adapt as the commercial market changes. These are the folks who will tell us the truth and challenge us, even when it’s unpleasant.
7. The Believers.
Who’s going to pick you up when the biz knocks you down? When you’re lost in doubt? You’ll find The Believers in several of the other categories- The Cowriters, The Pluggers, and sometimes The PROS and The Sharpeners. The Believers may also include folks outside of music- your family and friends. This isn’t just for the aspiring songwriter. We ALL need The Believers. But the most important believer will always be one person. Yourself.
There ya go. A pro songwriter’s team. Like I said earlier, you may not need all these folks right now, depending on where you are in your career. But as you climb that mountain, you’ll add more and more of them.
Knowing you need a team (and who is on it) is an important part of being a pro. If you want to become a pro, you need to think like a pro. In my FREE e-book, “THINK LIKE A PRO SONGWRITER,” I not only reveal several of the mindsets which separate the pro songwriter from the amateur, but also…
- How to get on a music publisher’s radar
- How the pros know who is looking for songs
- Six simple ways to make your songs more commercial
- And more!
God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,
Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.