Industry Navigation Tools for Songwriters

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by TuneCore Artist Skela. Enjoy her tips to better network, collaborate, and engage was an independent songwriter in the music industry!]

You have to work very, very hard for a just a little bit of luck in the music industry. There are so many beautifully talented artists in this world, and it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the idea of being one small fish in what feels like many oceans. Instead of being intimidated or striking up ugly green competition with your counterparts, use the multitude of likeminded artists around you to your advantage.

Songwriters are special creatures. We are spectators, empathetic beings, and constantly translating emotion onto paper. You may not know it yet, but one of your greatest strengths can be the ability to connect with others.

So do it.

Interact with the musicians around you. You may have written your best song alone in your bedroom, but it’s about more than that. Creating a long lasting career takes a village – or, people who support one another. Here are a few navigation tips I wish I knew in the beginning of my career:

1. There is no way of knowing who is going to be plucked from the bucket next.

Don’t cling to the cool kids. Don’t pursue people that you think are going to be the next big thing. Find the artists whose work you admire and connect with them. If you vibe with someone’s music, there’s a good chance you’re going to work well with them. Find your people, not your posse.

2. Go to your friends’ performances.

This seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t show up and support their music making peers. It’s important to show face because there is going to come a time where you need heads in a room and the favor returned. Also, buying tickets to concerts is what makes the industry go round. Most importantly, seeing someone in their element live is inspiring and always an opportunity to learn something new!

3. Never, ever stop writing.

If you’re going to be “something” in this world, then be the best damn “something” there is. If you’re going to call yourself a songwriter, then make sure you have an arsenal of material ready to work at any given time. You never know what session you might be asked to hop in on. Make sure you have it together so you don’t miss any opportunities to work with people.

4. Don’t burn bridges.

Again, you never know who is going to make it next in this industry. There is no foreseeable timeline attached to musicians so don’t write them off just because they’re not growing parallel to you. There’s a way to speak to people and a way to end relationships amicably. Lead a relationship by good example and leave the future open not barbed with past fallouts.

5. Speak up!

Just because you’re not a producer doesn’t mean that you should sit next to a producer in the studio silent. No one knows the sound you’re after better than you do. You might not know the technical aspect of how to create the palette and structure of a song, but you should know what it takes and be able to find the appropriate references and language in order to properly articulate your vision.

I know that working with producers can be intimidating. When I first started working with producers, I was just so grateful to be working with anyone at all that I nodded my head in agreement to almost everything. If you know what you want, don’t be afraid to speak up. The sooner the better, trust me.

6. When you know, you know.

Don’t force relationships. They should come naturally. It’s impossible to have a strong connection with every musician you meet. Take the session, try it out, and if it doesn’t work, both parties are going to feel something is off. Maximize your time by listening to your instincts when it comes to producers, songwriters and instrumentalists.

7. There is no such thing as an overnight success.

It is so easy to be jealous of others who are finding success in the music industry, but know that the people who are excelling probably worked extremely hard for their bite. It doesn’t come easy or without struggle. If one of your friends is finding success, it means that you’re surrounded by the right people. It’s a good thing when another musician starts to make traction. Your time will come because there is no expiration date if you don’t give up.

3 Problems Most Lyricists Face

Being the main lyricist for a band is arguably one of the most difficult positions in music that one can hold. You have to be part musician and part poet, and you have to learn a ton of rules and techniques that go above and beyond what the average musician would have to know.

Because being a lyricist and a musician is such a balancing act, there are a host of problems that can occur. In fact, there are way more than can be named in this article. However, time and time again there seems to be three main stumbling blocks that lyricists happen to run into.

If you’ve been having trouble as a lyricist, or just want to avoid running into to some all too common problems, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you three great tips to help you on your road to being the lyricist you’ve always dreamed you could be.

Side note: Yes, there are exceptions to every rule below. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found a flaw in my logic. They are the exceptions that prove the rule, and most of them are either purposefully breaking a rule as a part of a larger message (“I Am The Walrus”) and/or work because the other elements that make them up are so strong, (a lot of Bob Dylan’s work).

1. Not Simplifying Your Song

Ideally, every song you right should have one main point. Everything else in your song should work to flesh out this point (or in some cases cause the listener to reinterpret it). Think of your song like an essay. You have your thesis, a few points regarding it, and then a few supporting details.

A common problem with a lot of lyricists’ songs is that they don’t follow this. By not outlining and sticking to one clear point their song becomes almost unintelligible. It confuses the listener, and it keeps your song from resonating with your audience.

To use the essay analogy again, imagine if an essay about the history of Coca-Cola had a five-paragraph section in the middle about party clowns. This would (rightly) confuse the reader and distract from the main point of the song.

2. Inconsistent Rhyme or Meter

You don’t necessarily have to rhyme to make a good song. You can also be relatively flexible with things like meter. However, you cannot have wild swings with either element. For example:

                  The red duck is red

                  He hides under my bed

                  Next to my bed is a trunk

                  It opens with a solid thunk

The example above would be okay. The syllable count is similar enough (a deviation of a syllable or two isn’t overly distracting) and everything rhymes. This on the other hand:

   The red duck is red

                  He curls up on a blanket under my bed

                  Next to my bed is a chest

                  It opens loudly with a very solid thunk

Would definitely not be okay. It doesn’t flow well, and quickly abandoning a rhyming scheme is distracting. Again, in certain situations this could work, (for example, it could be used as a technique to increase tension or draw attention to a line), it’s just not something you should do without a larger purpose. This isn’t the most elegant analogy around, but hopefully it illustrates the point.

3. Being Overly “Artsy”

If you analyze the work of your famous poet, you’re most likely going to see that the complexity and beauty from their point comes from the subtlety of their language. They don’t use overly descriptive phrases to sound deep, because by doing so they remove the audience’s agency.

The reason that a lot of poetry and/or lyrics resonate so deeply with people is that the author leaves room for the words to resonate with the audience. They leave their work open to interpretation so that the audience can fill in the gaps with their own experiences or expectations.

There’s a famous story of Ernest Hemingway winning a bet with some friends to see who could write the best novel with only four words. His response was “baby shoes; never worn.” These four words tell a huge story because they’re so open to interpretation. The story you thought of when you read them could be about a couple who miscarried, or it could have been a variety of other situations.

The lesson to learn with this anecdote isn’t that Ernest Hemingway was awesome, (even though he was!), it’s that in order to have a piece of media that resonates with a variety of people you have to leave enough gaps for them to insert themselves into.

Bonus: Use Relevant Themes

This isn’t necessarily a tip to make a better song, which is why it isn’t getting a number of its own. Rather, it’s a way that you can help your songs become more popular.

Something you should strive for if you’re looking to appeal to a wider audience is writing songs with themes that are both relevant to a wide number of people (heartbreak, having a lame job, having a p.o.s. car) and easily identifiable in a song. There are countless examples of this, and pretty much every famous artist has at least one.

To do this, just pick something that’s happened to you in your life that happens to other people. If you have a tense relationship with your folks, write a song about it. If you had a significant other cheat on you, put your experience to music. Just make sure that the basic storyline is easy to follow.

In Conclusion

Writing a good song is hard, and writing a great song is even harder. While this article may not give you all the information that you need to start pumping out hits, it can give you a leg up on your competition.

And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and write music that artistically fulfills you. We may not all get to be famous, but we can all have a great time playing music.

The Latest From TuneCore Publishing

When they’re not making those of us in the northeast jealous with their “75 & Sunny” lifestyle in Burbank, TuneCore’s Publishing Administration office is busy landing placements, collecting royalties, licensing songs, supporting songwriters, and pitching to music supervisors. In short, they’re helping TuneCore Artists advance their careers & making sure they get paid! Take a look at the latest from this month:

SONGWRITER HIGHLIGHTS

TuneCore Music Publishing client Cedric Muhammad is a composer, world economist and the former manager of the legendary Wu Tang Clan. With a specific focus on music and economic politics on the African continent, Muhammad is a contributor to Forbes Magazine Cedric_Muhammadand has been published in the Wall Street Journal. As a composer, Muhammad’s latest single “My African Violet (East African Remix) is a top radio track in Kenya and features reggae singer Christos along with the Kenyan rapper Khaligraph.

Erin "Syd" SydneyErin “Syd” Sydney is an American singer, songwriter and record producer originally from Vermont. Sydney has been professionally active since the late 1990’s as a performer with Syd, Hotels & Highways and The Pullmen. Most recently as a record producer, Sydney has collaborated with the multi-Aria Award winner Mia Dyson.

Christopher GreenwoodTuneCore Music Publishing writer Christopher Greenwood, who goes by the stage name Manafest, is a rapper and rock musician from Ontario, Canada. First noticed in 1998 by fellow TuneCore client Trevor McNevan of the rock band Thousand Foot Krutch, Greenwood has gone on to earn four Dove Awards nominations and two Juno Awardsnominations for his work.

SYNC & CREATIVE

In addition to our Sync & Master Licensing Database, our creative staff continuously works to place TuneCore administered copyrights across all multi-media. Recent pitches include music for the upcoming ABC Family show StitchersExtant season 2 on CBS, broadcast commercials for an online fashion subscription service and a high-profile video game trailer.

RECENT LICENSES & PLACEMENTS

VH2 Big Morning Buzz Live Sync PlacementVH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live
“Call My Name”
Writer: Dana Johnson
Artist: Avery Sunshine
NCIS New Orleans Sync PlacementNCIS: New Orleans
“Winning” 
Writer: Deandre Way
Artist: Soulja Boy
XBob Forza Horizon 2 Sync PlacementXbox Forza Horizon 2
“Bullet Train”
Writer: Stephen Swartz
Artist: Stephen Swartz (featuring Joni Fatora)

IN THE NEWS

TuneCore stays current on industry news to make sure we’re the first to know how new legislation and deals will affect our writers. Here are links to recent articles you need to know about:

CISAC 2015 Global Collection Report A Look at Global Royalty Collections: CISAC 2015 Report

BMI/Pandora Battle BMI and Pandora Battle in Rate Court

Sport & Music Industry Impact of Music in Sports

The Latest News from TuneCore Music Publishing

We’re more than halfway through October already, and we’ve got plenty to report from out Music Publishing Administration office in Burbank, CA! Take a look at who has joined our songwriter community and which compositions have recently been licensed in film, commercials and TV shows.

Songwriter Highlights
TuneCore Music Publishing is honored to administer select compositions from the catalog of legendary jazz saxophonist, Billy Harper. A staple to New York’s jazz community since the mid-sixties, Mr. Harper has collaborated with jazz giants like Gil Evans, Max Roach, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Lee Morgan and Art Blakey.

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The Billy Harper Quartet has been awarded with multiple grants from the National Endowment of the Arts as well as the International Critics Award for Tenor Saxophone. The 1976 album, Black Saint, also received notoriety when named “Jazz Record of the Year” by the Modern Jazz League of Tokyo.

Daniel Rosenfeld, more popularly known as C418, is an independent electro-ambient producer for music in the mobile video game Minecraft. C418’s music ranges from 40-second loops and jukebox tunes, to full arrangements. TuneCore Music Publishing is proud to administer and distribute several volumes of the Minecraft soundtrack, in addition to his individual albums featuring scores in the same genre.
Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 11.35.53 AM

Sync & Creative
In addition to our Sync & Master Licensing Database, our creative staff continuously works to place TuneCore administered copyrights across all multi-media. Recent pitches include music in advertising for Virgin Mobile, hit HBO series Girls, new NBC dramedy The Mysteries of Laura starring Debra Messing and promotional media for UFC.

Recent Licenses & Placements
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Get Out of the Garage with Converse, Guitar Center & TuneCore

Hey Indie Rockers!

Submit your music to Guitar Center and Converse’s “Get Out of the Garage” Contest for a chance to win a slew of awesome prizes (including free worldwide digital distribution from TuneCore)!

GOOTG Launch

Here’s how it works:

Submit a recorded live performance or music video here. Once you submit, get your fans to watch and share your channel through social media—views and shares help boost you up in the contest rank. Five finalists will be hand-picked to perform live at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn where one winner will be chosen.

Click here for more details about how judging works.

And now to the good stuff, the prize package…

The grand prize winner will get:

  • A 3 Song EP produced by Dev Hynes at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn, NY.
  • $25,000 Cash
  • Live performance at The FADER FORT Presented by Converse in Austin
  • New gear from top music instrument brands – Fender, Shure, Martin, Ernie Ball, Evans, Pro-Mark, Dunlop, Gretsch, Zildjian, Vox
  • Free worldwide digital distribution from TuneCore
  • Feature on an AT: GC Podcast with Nic Harcourt.

Ready to enter your music and start spreading the word? Start here.

Good luck!

Music Is Everywhere: How the Hell do I Break Through?

By Seth Keller

We’ve heard both sides argue (over and over again) about the beauty and the tragedy of today’s music landscape: Anybody can make and release their songs.  No matter what side you’re on, it’s no use fighting either. Instead, you should focus on doing what’s in your control to have the best chance of breaking through.  As a manager who has worked with big pop artists, baby bands and those in music’s “middle class,” below is my advice on how you can do that.

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Before we get into it, let’s get this out of the way: Despite the promise and capability of the Internet and New Media, the quickest way to “the top” is still to get signed to a major label and be one of the handful of pop stars on which that label spends millions of dollars.  This is a route that’s available to very few artists, works for even fewer, and may not even be appealing to those who could go that way.  Even if it happens to you, it far from guarantees any sort of career.

Now, if you’re not Bieber or Rihanna, what can you do?

1. Start with a song.  If you’re a straight-ahead jazz musician, in a jam band or maybe even a DJ, this doesn’t necessarily apply.  In those cases, you’ll break through with your live performance.  For everyone else, being great live will be very beneficial to your career, but getting noticed on a breakthrough level as an original artist typically requires a great song.  Does it have to be a “radio hit?” No.  And unless you’re a pro songwriter, I wouldn’t advise trying to write for the radio.

The song simply needs to be what I call “one listen great” to the audience for which it was intended.  Basically, someone hears the recording, immediately loves it and wants to tell others.  That is really hard to do, but if it happens on a large enough scale, you will break through.  How big that breakthrough is depends on a number of factors, but a significant one is your music’s genre.

2. Know your niche.  Many new artists are hesitant to classify themselves or compare themselves to well-known artists for fear of seeming unoriginal.  Even if you’re the “kind of rock, soul, electro but with a singer-songwriter bluegrass vibe” artist, chances are someone else has done it, and it’s probably not as original as you think…and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with derivative as long as it’s really good.  I’m not advising you to copy other artists or not to put your own spin on a type of music, but I am advising that you choose a genre you love (the love is really important) and make music that fits in it.

Unless you are that major label pop artist, you’re not going to be “mainstream”—whatever that really means these days. By fitting into a niche–whether it’s country, metal, rap, folk, or indie rock–you’re more likely to reach actual music fans who will be excited about what you’re doing and help you build a career through the networks and communities that every genre has.   Sometimes after establishing fan bases within certain genres, artists do “crossover” to capture the mainstream.  There are many more artists, though, who have never had crossover success but have still built healthy, lucrative careers simply by appealing to the core fans of their music.

3. Establish an identity.  Once you decide on your niche, you need to mold your identity as an artist to fit the aesthetic of that genre.  This means developing your visual presentation online, in person, and with your artwork (including video) to reflect how you want to be viewed as an artist and to allow yourself to be relatable to your genre’s community.

This doesn’t mean dressing up like a rock star; but it does mean crafting an image that is appealing to your genre’s culture.  You might say, “Whatever, bro. It’s all about the music.”  I would counter with it’s mostly about the music, but image can make the difference in how you’re perceived and accepted by fans.  Even if you’re in a “jeans and t-shirt” band, wearing American Apparel and Levi’s sends a different message than Hanes Beefy-T and Wranglers.  Don’t be someone you’re not–simply be an enhanced version of yourself.

4. Be persistent and patient.  One of the biggest issues I’ve encountered with younger artists in particular is that they quit too soon and too easily. Usually this occurs a year or so into the life of their project.  This happens because being an artist–any kind of artist–is freaking hard!  If you’re talented and receive accolades early on, you assume that the big record deal or world tour is just around the corner, and you’re on your way to being the next big thing.  This rarely happens.  The cliché is true. It’s typically the “overnight success, 10 years in the making.”

There are very few artists—even famous ones—who’ve had a career trajectory that goes up consistently and quickly and stays there.  Any type of artistic endeavor has ups and downs—often to the extreme in both directions.

There are times when you’ll know things aren’t working (particularly in bands when relationships go south), but if you’re generally moving in a forward direction, you need to keep at it because you never know when you’ll reach that tipping point which will take you to the next level and to real success.

5. Be ambitious.  There’s nothing wrong with ambition. I’ll argue that without it, you won’t succeed as an artist. This doesn’t mean you have to manipulate people or steamroll them to get what you want.  It does mean you need to be willing to do what it takes to make it. This definitely means sacrificing your free time and time with friends, family and significant others. It means networking, practicing your craft, and learning everything you can about the business.  I would highly recommend that it include learning how to record and produce your own music so you don’t have to rely on anyone else to do that.

In short, it means making your career your priority to exclusion of everything else—including another career. You’ll probably have to work a day job, but that’s all it should be.  If you’re doing music “on the side” or “when you can fit in,” it’ll never be anything more than a hobby.  There’s too much competition out there.

6. Work with a manager you trust and get a good lawyer.  This may happen early in your career or somewhere down the road after you’ve had some success, but having both of these people on your team is really beneficial, if not essential.  The specifics of what a manager does for an artist are too numerous and varied to cover in this post, but a manager’s overall role is to advise an artist and be her representative in business dealings—essentially the artist’s proxy voice and face of the artist’s business.

The music business can be shady. There are a lot of sharks trying to takes bites out of an artist’s career for their own gain.  Having a manager who has in-depth knowledge about the business and connections is really, really helpful.  But if your manager is smart and dedicated, he or she can learn the business and meet the right people.  If your manager is not trustworthy and does not put your interests first, to put it bluntly, you’re screwed.

The music business is littered with stories of managers who have ripped off artists and derailed their careers.  A good manager can’t make you successful without a lot of other factors coming into play—including luck. But a bad, untrustworthy manager can torpedo your career pretty quickly.  It should be noted, that some successful artists don’t have managers.  In those cases, they usually have trusted employees to handle business affairs.

When it comes to lawyers, get one who works specifically in the music business and knows music contracts inside and out. Just because your uncle is a real estate attorney, doesn’t mean he has any clue about music law.  For a lawyer, I’d say experience is most important. If you were thinking about using someone who’s new to the business, I’d recommend an associate at a firm versus a sole practitioner.

7. Get out of your own way.  I’m not trying to be snarky here.  In my experience, many artists have this amazing knack for self-sabotage.  I’m not saying this to belittle or disrespect you as an artist. Artists can be emotional and sensitive, many times insecure and vulnerable.  All of the above allows them to make great art.  Without artists, there is no music business, which many in the business tend to forget.

That being said, those same artistic strengths can be business weaknesses. You’re not going to change your personality or who you essentially are. And that’s OK.  My advice, though, would be to focus on the big picture.

Don’t let emotion or ego drive your decision-making.  Try not to let fear of failure stop your forward progress.  Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes.

If you’ve surrounded yourself with a good business team, don’t abdicate decision-making to them but listen to their advice regarding business transactions and negotiations.

When you’re dealing with people in the business, don’t be a pushover but be gracious and appreciative. If you encounter some jerks that screw you over, learn from the experience.  You’ll see them coming next time. Becoming successful will be your revenge.

This business is a rollercoaster, but try to stay positive as much as possible both within yourself and with your public dealings. People like to work with others they get along with and see as assets. Negativity typically won’t get you what you want.

As I mentioned before, luck is a big part of success in the music business. There are a lot of moving parts to any successful career—many of which you have no control over.  What you can control is your own dedication, perseverance and attitude. Don’t be the reason you don’t make it.


Seth Keller is the principal of SKM Artists, which he started in 2001. His management clients have included Grammy-winning and Tony-nominated artists and songwriters as well as independent bands. As a marketing and consulting company, SKM Artists has experience working not only with artists but also with producers, media companies, live events, booking agencies and record labels.