money from songwriting

Making money from songwriting

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The final track you release to the public is just the start when it comes to making money with songwriting. Read on for ideas to tap additional revenue streams, generate greater publicity, and protect your music.

As we’ve talked about many times in previous blog posts as well as our book, Making Money With Music, the final track you release to the public is just one thing that can earn you money from songwriting.

Yes, it’s the release of your music that will generate buzz, streams, downloads, and royalties, but there are many other revenue-producing elements to your songwriting, recording, and mixing processes — but only if you plan for them and capture them during creation and recording.

We call this technique “making music with money in mind.”

This is the first article in a series that explores how to reimagine how you make music so you can make more money. Best of all, we’re exploring what you can do to generate more money just by creating music in the first place, which is every musician’s favorite part of being in the music business.

Let’s start with what you can do during the songwriting process to generate additional revenue.

1. Release your demos

Historically, the demos you create during your songwriting process are for you, your band, or your team’s benefit. However, in today’s Internet-powered music industry, the demos you create can generate revenue, promotion, and more.

How this makes you money: Your superfans want to hear your demos since they let them experience the behind-the-scenes songwriting process. They can be packaged and sold to fans as a new product/merch item, distributed on streaming services to generate royalties, or reserved as freebies to your Patrons as special rewards to keep your supporters paying you monthly.

How this protects you: In the US, you can register your demos with the Copyright Office to provide them additional protection. Note that outside the US, you don’t need to register your lyrics to get these protections. (For more about copyright inside and outside the US, including tips to save money, see the “Your Rights” chapter in Making Money With Music.)

How this promotes you: Releasing demos can be added as extra tracks to EPs you release, can promote a new album or song, or can rejuvenate and boost streams or sales of your back catalog.

2. Sell or license your sheet music

Making Money With MusicIf you create sheet music for your songs, you can sell this to anyone who wants to perform them. Also, some computer programs have the ability to turn your MIDI into sheet music, which you might want to do if you want to participate in this process, or to make it easier for others to perform your music live.

How this makes you money: There are special markets for sheet music, such as Musicnotes and Sheet Music Plus. You can also simply sell your sheet music through your own website via digital download services such as Shopify, Squarespace, or PayLoadz.

3. Put your lyrics to work

The lyrics you write for your song shouldn’t just be trapped inside your track. Lyrics can generate revenue for you far beyond the song. They’re useful by-products of the songwriting process. There are multiple ways these can be leveraged.

How this makes you money: Lyrics can make money in multiple ways.

  • Compile and sell books of your lyrics, often with pictures and other original content.
  • Make merch from your lyrics (such as t-shirts).
  • License your lyrics for Karaoke machines.

How this protects you: In the US, lyrics can be registered with the Copyright Office to provide them additional protection. Note that outside the US, you don’t need to register your lyrics to get these protections.

How this promotes you: There are many sites and services that collect and post lyrics for songs. By including your lyrics in these services, you help people find your music via searches. Some of these services provide streaming services the ability to display your lyrics so listeners can read or follow along as your song plays. Plus, having the official lyrics posted on these sites can help other musicians cover your music. Check out sites like Genius or Musixmatch, and there are many others as well.

4. Your arrangement

A musical arrangement is when a previous work is reconceived. For example, your arrangement of someone else’s song may have different harmonies, added riffs and licks, melody transformation, instruments (orchestration), song structure, or other musical elements. If you’ve done this with someone else’s music, capture who did the arrangement during the recording process since it can make money and help promote them.

How this makes you money: If you created a new version of a song that is in the public domain (copyright-free), as opposed to someone else’s copyrighted song (a cover), then the way you arranged it can make you royalties if registered correctly with PROs.

How this protects you: If the music is public domain, you may own the arrangement of the song and you can register the copyright in the arrangement. If it’s your own song, you also own the arrangement.

How this promotes you: If a song has an arranger, it’s also listed in the credits databases like AllMusic, Discogs, and more. (We cover a large array of credits databases in the “Your Music” chapter of Making Money With Music.) The Recording Academy also awards Grammys for best arrangement.

5. Use split sheets

money with songwriting split sheetBefore you release any song, you should register it to ensure you collect all the royalties available to you. These royalties are good for your entire lifetime plus 70 years and generate income during this entire span, so taking the time to do this is worth it. Depending on the amount of royalties generated, you can also auction those royalties away or use them as ways to get loans for your tours, studio time, or more (if you want to know how this works, see the “Licensing and Royalties” chapter of Making Money With Music).

In order to register your song for royalties, capture the information you’ll need to provide the Performance Royalty Organizations (PROs) while you’re creating the music. For instance, you’ll need to know details about all the songwriters and lyricists. All of them need to agree on the percentage ownership of the songs so you know who to register to get the royalties the song generates.

The best way to do this is by using a split sheet, which is an easy-to-use form where you simply fill in the blanks of the information the PRO needs for royalty registration. For instance, you add in details such as the person’s name, PRO affiliate, and percentage of ownership. Then, you have everyone sign the form so it’s binding, like a contract.

We’ve created free split sheets — one for songwriting and one for the sound recording. These forms include the instructions you’ll need to fill out a split sheet.

How this makes you money: Split sheets make you money in multiple ways.

  • You can easily register for composition PRO royalties, both domestic and foreign.
  • You can easily register for mechanical royalties from the composition, both domestic and foreign.
  • This makes it easier for you to license your composition for synchronization, video games, and more because you can show ownership.

How this protects you: Split sheets also document copyright ownership, which makes it easier to register for copyright protection (see the “Your Rights” chapter of Making Money With Music for more detailed info).

How this promotes you: Split sheets make it easier for you to register credit information which makes songwriters easier to find for commissions, publicity, and more.

— — —

The time to start planning for making money with songwriting is at the beginning of the process. Capturing the above at the outset will help you create music with money in mind as well as ensure you protect and promote your music.

Read the series
How to make money from your DAW, stems, and more: Recording studio income A–Z
How to make more money from your studio recordings
Turn your behind-the-scenes work into music revenue and promotion
How to maximize music income from songwriting and recording: Part V

Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.

How to 
Make More Money With Music, the Complete Guide

Related Posts
10 posts to help you make more money with your music
Your copyright and royalty questions answered
Should I copyright my song?
The art of music arrangement: an interview with Dr. Richard Niles
How to turn music royalties into a cash advance
Creating song split sheets in 10 easy steps

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