People who write song lyrics are some of the music industry’s unsung heroes. Each lyricist may only produce one or two major hits in their time. Still, you can make real money through royalty revenue or other distribution licensing.
Becoming a songwriter can be daunting for anyone who has never dipped their toes in the music industry before. This is even more true if you’re just a writer and not a musician in your own right. Read on to learn more about selling song lyrics and how to get your big break.
Recording a Demo to Show Off Your Lyrics
After you’ve written a song and you’re ready to expose it to the world, you need to record a demo. A demo is a copy of the song lyrics to a simple melody. A demo can be as simple as one person singing along to an acoustic guitar or a keyboard.
Demos are one of the most valuable assets you can have of your work as a songwriter. Many music publishers do not want a song not already visualized. These people want to know how it sounds before committing any time or money to further development.
Can You Sell Song Lyrics Without the Music?
In some cases, it’s possible to find some buyers for lyrics without a melody. However, these buyers are likely to be few and far between. Most bands don’t want to buy a song that doesn’t already come set to music. Many lyrics come off as poor excuses for poetry without a compelling melody.
But what if you write but don’t read music? In this case, the best option for songwriters is to look for a collaborator who can read and write music. Here are a few options for finding likeminded musicians to help set your lyrics to music:
- Look into the local music scene. Attending open mic nights and other musical venues can help you network with the right people.
- Find a songwriting mentor. Finding another songwriter capable of writing both lyrics and music can help. These people give you a good idea of what you’ll need to learn.
- Join an online songwriting community. Communities like SongwriterLink are among examples where songwriters can collaborate. You can even get free lessons on how to write lyrics and set your work to music.
Do You Have to Record a Demo as a Songwriter?
If you’re trying to sell song lyrics to bands, do you have to record a demo? Yes and no. Very few bands will want lyrics without music, but it isn’t impossible if your lyrics are compelling enough. Fewer music producers and publishers will want your lyrics without a melody.
Recording a full demo of your lyrics with music isn’t strictly necessary. However, learning how to write songs with both lyrics and melody can make selling your lyrics easier.
Do You Need Your Musicians to Record a Demo?
One advantage of getting a formal demo is that you use a studio’s in-house musicians. They handle the melody so you don’t have to collect a full band to put together a good demo.
This is good news for songwriters who can write lyrics and music but can’t play multiple instruments. However, when using studio musicians, you’ll need lyrics sheets with a musical score for each member.
Finding Musicians for Your Song Lyrics
After writing your lyrics and song, you must figure out what type of musicians you’d like to work with. Remember that songwriters can collaborate with others in a wide variety of genres. Do not feel like you should limit yourself to a single type of music. On the contrary, the more varied your music is a lyricist, the easier it is to find a band.
Keep in mind that a band may feature its songwriter in many cases. This can be an advantage to an outside lyricist without playing skills. It allows you to collaborate with a songwriter who can put your lyrics to a melody (work with someone who can play music).
Pitching Song Lyrics to a Band
Learning how to pitch your song lyrics correctly to a band or music publisher is where the most mistakes are made. Those mistakes can be severe in such a tight-knit community like the music industry. Nobody wants to become blacklisted because they didn’t approach professionally selling their songs.
If you’ve found a band you’re interested in selling your lyrics to, keep these tips in mind before making your move.
Figure out what the band wants from the song
When you pitch a piece to a band, you want their engagement from the first note. Writing lyrics for a band isn’t a matter of throwing together a bunch of songs and seeing what sticks. You should be writing towards the band’s goals for their music if you’re working closely with them.
Don’t get involved with professionals if you aren’t a professional
Keep in mind that when you start pitching song lyrics to bands, you’ll be competing against song lyrics and melodies from dozens or even hundreds of other songwriters. Don’t expose work that isn’t wholly refined and polished, or you might end up getting marked as an amateur. Your track record will follow you.
Make sure you have a refined presentation
If you don’t take your work seriously, you can’t expect others to tell you seriously either. Don’t pass out a bunch of demo CDs scribbled in Sharpie or hand out your contact info on scraps of paper from your songwriting notebook. Get business cards and carry yourself like a real professional.
Reach out to independent artists
Your local music scene is the best place to start finding up-and-coming artists. Reaching out to them via social media isn’t unheard of. Small-time local bands often are eager to interact with everyone, and your writing might appeal to them. So don’t be afraid to contact artists.
If you’re lucky and you do enough networking, you may find yourself hooked up with a band in need of a steady songwriter. It’s essential to be flexible in collaborating with a band since other band members might want changes to either the lyrics or the melody.
Know when to walk away if your collaborators ask too much, but remember that the end goal is a strong recorded song. If that means changing a melody or a chorus here or there, it can be well worth it for a shot at a real recording of your song.
Network in the Music Industry to Sell Songs
When you begin to network in the music industry to sell song lyrics to bands that need them, you should keep a few significant concepts in mind as you go along.
First, it’s almost impossible to sell bare song lyrics with no melody to a band that is already well-known and popular. People who are already big-name artists usually already have their songwriting teams set.
Instead, when you begin to network in the music industry, try focusing on musicians who are just getting their start in the business (just like you). Learning how to write together can teach you a lot about the business of writing songs with others, and you’re much more likely to sell to a start-up band than one that’s already established.
New upstart bands can be found either at local music venues and festivals or in digital music communities online. It may take you several weeks or even months to come up with a lead for a good collaboration, but making the proper connection can be well worth the time invested.
Enter Songwriting Competitions to Sell Lyrics
Another way to gain exposure for your lyrics and put them in front of the bands that need them is to enter songwriting competitions. However, these competitions typically don’t just judge based on the lyrics. Many songwriting competitions also consider their arrangement and the melody.
The primary benefit of songwriting competitions is that music industry scouts oversee contests to observe upcoming talent. That makes winning a songwriting competition a great way to gain recognition in the broader music industry. It makes you more likely to make the proper networking connection to sell your lyrics to a real band.
To be competitive in songwriting competitions, you need to play some music with your words. If you’re looking to enter a songwriting competition to try and sell your song lyrics, check out some of the following contests to get started:
American Songwriter Lyric Contest
The American Songwriter Contest features two primary contests–the American Songwriter Song Contest and the American Songwriter Lyric Contest. The Song contest comes with a chance to win $10,000 and get your song in front of some of the music industry’s most prominent executives.
Great American Song Contest:
This song contest has low entry fees and allows songwriters to get their lyrics exposed to professionals across the music industry. The most significant advantage of the Great American Song Contest for new songwriters is that it can draw attention to non-winning entries. Also, professional evaluations can improve your songs.
International Songwriting Competition
The International Songwriting Competition is the largest globally and offers over $150,000 in prizes. Winning this competition also comes with publicity and exposure to some of the most prominent musicians in the world.
Songwriting competitions are an excellent way to expose your songs to the music industry. However, don’t give up on your local music networking connections in favor of global fame. While these contests are an excellent way to rocket to the top of the industry, you can still make a living working with the local music scene if your lyrics are good enough.
Get Your Song Licensed for Sale
Licensing songs and song lyrics is one way that songwriters can sell their song lyrics to bands that need them without directly getting in touch with the bands. Getting songs licensed requires you to record a demo of your music. It doesn’t have to be a perfect recording, but it needs to be well-balanced and clean.
Once you have a recorded demo of your song and lyrics, you can register your piece with a music licensing website. These websites are repositories for music and a library that musicians and other creators who need music can search to find new songs.
After registering your song with a music licensing website, the songwriter can get paid when someone buys it. The website offers buyers a license to use the song in recording productions like YouTube videos, television commercials, and other potential projects.
A significant benefit of selling lyrics through a music licensing company is that they handle the more complicated aspects of the business, such as the following:
Do You Have to Pay Music Licensing Companies?
While musicians and songwriters don’t usually have to pay music licensing websites up-front to add their music to a repository or library, the process isn’t free either. As part of the deal, songwriters have to offer up anywhere from forty to sixty percent of their song profits up to the licensing company.
This may seem like a large portion of the songwriter’s profits, but keep in mind that the music licensing company offers benefits in exchange for its service. For example, promoting your song lyrics even when you aren’t actively promoting them yourself. Music licensing companies can also act as a source of passive income if you manage to secure performance royalties.
Join a Performing Rights Organization
Along with adding your song lyrics to a licensing library, joining a performing rights organization is another way to make sure you get royalties (and credit) for your lyrics after they’re out in the public sphere.
Performing rights organizations (also known as PROs) dedicate their time to tracking down the usage of licensed songs and making sure that people pay for the commercial right to use the music.
While joining a PRO can be a good move if you’re a performing songwriter or you have had your songs hijacked in the past, a PRO doesn’t protect all musical licenses for song lyrics. For example, Broadway performances and sync licenses are not under PRO regulations.
Joining a PRO might seem like a waste of time for songwriters and lyricists who haven’t made it big yet, but it’s never too late to start setting up professional industry connections. A significant advantage in joining a PRO is that it can put you in a position to collaborate with other talented songwriters.
Tips for Selling Lyrics to Bands
Selling lyrics to a band might sound easy in theory, but it can be more challenging to break into the business without experience. Here are a few additional tips to follow to have more luck selling song lyrics to bands that need them:
- Learn how to read and write music. The best lyrics in the world aren’t that compelling without a strong melody and arrangement to show them off. While it isn’t strictly necessary to know how to read, write, and play music to write song lyrics, it makes the entire process a lot easier.
- Learn some basic songwriting instruments. Learning how to play either a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, or a piano can give you at least some kind of musical jumping-off point to develop melodies for your song lyrics. Remember that your musical skills don’t have to be perfect, just good enough to get the point across.
- Find a singer. If you can write lyrics and music but can’t sing, don’t be afraid to reach out and find someone to sing for you when it comes time to record your demo. Paying for the performance can be worth the effort if you land on a hit based on your recording.
Selling song lyrics is already a tricky business to get into, so it’s a good idea to give yourself as many advantages in the music industry as possible. Learning how to put together lyrics with at least basic melodies and chords can go a long way towards helping you gain the exposure you need to be successful as a lyricist.
Selling Songs to Artists FAQs
How Do I Protect My Music From Being Stolen?
Licensing music is the best way to start. Hiring a music lawyer to bring you through the copyright requirements process can help.
The problem is that it’s impossible to prevent theft 100% of the time. International copyright laws are far more complex and often over the budget of most lyricists.
How Do You Improve as a Writer?
Constructive feedback is crucial, especially from your fellow writers. A willingness to improve and authenticity appeals to those around you; this will show as you look around.
Feedback from customers and feedback forums are the two best ways to improve. The problem with asking friends for feedback is they will try to avoid offending you (which isn’t helpful). Get the opinions from people in the music industry.
To Sell Song Lyrics, Be a Music Professional