Drinking With Dolly

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Country artist Stephanie Quayle has recorded quite a beautiful version of “Drinking With Dolly”. Rachel Proctor and I wrote the song together a couple of years ago, triggered by a conversation about how much fun it would’ve been to be a part of the movement of strong, sassy women in country music in the early ’70s. We miss hearing those voices on the radio!

Dolly Parton has apparently heard the song and says she loves it…so that’s a pretty cool feeling!

Songwriters aren’t often contacted at all by the artists who record their songs, let alone included in the process, but Stephanie very kindly invited both Rachel and me to be in the music video. Unfortunately I was out on tour at the time, but click to watch it below and you’ll see some great footage of Rachel and her daughter Olivia right at the beginning!

 

 

 

Posted in Blogs

Demo Love

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“Demo Love” – that’s an expression we use in the songwriting biz when there’s something magical about the demo recording of a song. Of course it’s always amazing to hear an artist’s version of your song, but it’s rare to have the opportunity to be a part of that. Recording demos, though, is a big part of a professional songwriter’s job.

The term “demo” is short for “demonstration” – it’s a way to show off the song to artists who might consider recording it. So it’s got to be good! With the new and affordable advances in digital audio technology, many of us songwriters are “building” our own demos: playing or programming all the instruments ourselves and layering them together with software like Protools, Logic, QBase or Ableton. And although that can be a great way to make a demo, there’s just something truly wonderful about a whole group of musicians working together in the full-band demo process.

Making a full band demo means recording the song much like you would for a record, but on a much tighter timeline. It involves booking a recording session: hiring an incredibly talented band of studio musicians and engineers, leasing a 3-hour block in a top notch Music Row recording studio, and then the songwriter takes the helm as producer of the session. It’s pretty standard to record 5 songs during that 3-hour block.

The process goes like this: I arrive at the studio with a rough guitar/vocal worktape of my song, along with a basic chart of its format using the Nashville Number System. (This just shows the time signature, the key, the tempo and the chord progression, but no specific notes or melodies.)  After I play the worktape once for the band while they follow along on the charts to familiarize themselves with the song’s structure, they all grab their instruments and we immediately hit the record button. They play through the song while I sing what’s called a “scratch” or “pilot” vocal, which is a temporary version of the vocal just meant to be a place-holder for the musicians’ ears.

Sometimes, the first take is the magic take.  Sometimes we’ll need one or two more takes to nail the song, but we almost never play it more than that. Once we’ve nailed the track and captured that magic, the engineer presses record again and plays it back while the musicians play along to add more elements to it…a second acoustic guitar part, maybe a tambourine or shaker part, some additional keyboard pads, and a guitar solo. 30 to 45 minutes from when we started listening to the worktape, the track recording process is done.

As the producer, it’s my job to tell the band what to do. Sometimes I know exactly what I want, and I might say something like, “Let’s cut that intro from 8 bars to 4, start with just acoustic strums, then layer the piano in halfway through verse one, and the drums hit 4 on the floor when the chorus hits.” Or I’ll reference other musicians and say, “let’s try a more Coldplay vibe on this, instead of the Springsteen direction.” Or if I’m at a loss for words, then just “Can you make it more ethereal and shiny somehow?” But the musicians are so good that they usually read my mind anyways, or make it even cooler than I could have envisioned it inside my own head. After all, they do this all day every day! They also often come up with the musical “hook” of the introduction or a re-occuring instrumental riff that gives the song its signature feel (if we haven’t already specified that on the worktape during the writing process).

Once the song is tracked, I’ll load the session files onto my hard drive and take them with with me to a smaller vocal studio where a demo singer will record the vocal part. We usually choose a demo singer who can emulate the style of the artist we envision recording the song. Again, I’ll sit behind the engineer and back-seat drive for this process, giving the singer suggestions for how to phrase the lines and what kind of emotion to put into the various sections of the song. We’ll record anywhere from 5-10 versions of the vocal, and then I’ll take it home to my computer where I’ll “comp” the vocal: pick through it line by line to choose the best performance of each section, Frankenstein them all together into one consolidated version, nudge the timing of the phrases slightly forward or back to fit them in the “pocket” where they feel best, and then tune each phrase note by note with a tuning software. (As much as I miss the sound of a natural and untuned vocal, the listener’s ear is so used to hearing things through a tuner that we now HAVE to do it in order to compete with the other songs on the market.)

Once the vocal is comped and tuned, I sing the background parts at home, usually doubling or tripling each part with multiple versions of my voice to make it sound big and fat. I tune those parts up, put them all together, listen to the whole thing with the vocals turned up ridiculously loud to make sure nothing rubs me the wrong way, and then I ship the whole thing to the engineer.

Then it’s the engineer’s job to “mix” it: he literally mixes the instruments and voices all together like a big tapestry, deciding what should be loud or soft in each section. (Explaining this process could fill a whole book, because it involves lining up the drum beats on a time grid, processing each hit of the snare or kick drum to sound consistent, processing the EQ and reverb on each instrument and voice to cut through just right, and a million other things.) When he’s done, he’ll listen to the final product on a few different sets of speakers to make sure that whether you’re listening on a huge stereo or an iPhone, it’s gonna blow your socks off either way.

All in all, each demo probably averages 45 minutes to track with the band, an hour to record the vocal, an hour to comp the vocal, maybe 45 minutes to sing backgrounds, and then 1 or 2 hours to mix it. That’s somewhere around 5-6 hours of solid work spent on each demo, and roughly $600-$800 covers the cost of the song.

Then, the demo goes into the hands of my publisher and they run to play it for anyone who can help get it on a record: a record label A&R person, a manager, a producer, or the artist themselves. And we hope like heck that they’ll record it and sell a ton of records…or at least sell enough records to make back the $800 we spent on the demo! (Plus the thousands of dollars we spent on demos of songs that DIDN’T end up getting recorded…but that’s another conversation.)

Anyhow, that’s the full band demo process in a nutshell!

Posted in Blogs

Fighting Our Biggest Adversary: Fear.

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Recently, a fan asked me how I deal with fear. “Fear is our biggest adversary. How do you shun fear to get to where you are going?  Everyone has to wake up each morning and get on with it. What is your internal talk?”

This question reaches so much further than creativity. It really goes to the crux of how we live our lives! But it’s creativity that has helped me find my own personal answer to this question, so let me share that with you.

Every day for the past 19 years, I’ve been employed as a staff songwriter for a publishing company on Music Row. That means that 5 days a week for the past 19 years, I’ve been showing up at the office to write a song. At least one song…sometimes two…occasionally three. Every day. Usually it’s with other songwriters: sometimes friends, sometimes complete strangers. Sometimes we walk into the room equipped with ideas we’ve collected in advance, but often we pull them out of the thin air around us. One way or another, 99.9% of the time we leave the office having birthed a song.

I say “birthed”, because it feels much like that. It feels like we’re delivering something into the world that came THROUGH us, but wasn’t necessarily of our own creation.

Why do I feel that way? Because as a human being, I couldn’t possibly come up with a new and unique musical idea every day for 19 years of my life. But what I CAN do is tap into a deep, universal, magical “Source” that whispers little instinctive ideas in my ear. I’ve learned to trust that Source, to listen for it even in the midst of self-doubt, and to value what it whispers – even when I don’t understand what it’s saying – enough to speak those whispers out loud to my collaborators.

And when I do that, something amazing happens. That whisper leads to something beautiful, something unique, and sometimes even something profound. That kernel of an idea gets picked up, turned over like a rock in our hands, and held up to the light until we discover the gem inside it just waiting to be cut out and polished. But the seed of that idea is not from me. It’s “birthed” through me, but it’s not from me.

“Sure,” you say, “you can SAY it’s not from you, but how can you be so sure?” Well, here’s why I’m sure. Because after speaking those little whispers out loud every day for 19 years, at least 40% of the time my collaborator has done a double take, looked at me with disbelief, and said “I was just thinking the same thing!”…or “I just wrote that idea down on the page in front of me 30 seconds ago”…or “I just heard someone say that same phrase this morning”…or “That just happened in my life and I’ve been thinking about writing about it!”…or “How did you read my mind?”

Not only that, but on several occasions I’ve noodled around with a melody or progression before meeting my cowriters, and then walked into the room to find them playing that same melody or progression. It’s uncanny. It’s too much coincidence to be possible.

I’m sure these things don’t come from us because there’s just far too much synchronicity for them to be anything but universal. They’re coming from a Source that we are ALL tapped into. You can call it God, you can call it the Universe, you can call it whatever you like. Creatives like myself have trained ourselves to listen for that Source more than others, but we ALL have it inside us. We are all creative on some level, whether we choose to believe it or not. (If you think you’re not creative, I dare you to go back in time and put a box of Crayolas in front of your kindergarten-age self and see what happens. You might not be in touch with it right now, but it’s there.)

“So what does that have to do with fear?” you ask.

Well, if we each have a connection to that Source…then we each have a connection to something intelligent, universal, magical and divine within us.

That means YOU. You have a piece of divinity shimmering inside you.

That means you DESERVE good things. That means you are not “less than” anyone else. That means you are a piece of magic, and thus worthy of the wonderful. 

The best weapon against fear is knowing that you’re magic…you’re sacred…you’re an instrument of something greater than yourself. That means you’re safe, even if you fail. That means you have value inherently, no matter what anyone else thinks or how anyone else responds to what you do.

That means GO FOR IT. Dare to suck. Be vulnerable and authentic.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

 

If you’d like to read more behind-the-scenes stories and stories-behind-the-songs, click here to join Victoria’s mailing list.

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A True Scoop…

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Ok, so maybe I embarrass myself a little too often by sharing the raw material behind my songs with my email subscribers, but I just love giving people a glimpse at where songs come from.  I also share things like:

  • free songs (yup, really truly free)
  • songs nobody else has heard yet, and probably they never will
  • croaky iPhone voice recordings of me getting a song idea at 3am
  • original guitar/vocal “work tapes” and rough demos of songs you ended up hearing on the radio
  • tips about visiting Nashville, creativity, collaboration and the music biz, for those who are into that kind of thing
  • stuff people don’t usually talk about, but I do, because that’s just the way I am

Interested?  Click here to sign up.

(Did I mention it’s free? And you’ll get 3 free songs in your inbox right off the bat.)

 

Posted in Blogs

I Hope You Dance

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One of my favorite things about working as a songwriter in Nashville is finding brilliant collaborators. I’ve been blessed to work regularly with Tia Sillers, writer of the iconic song “I Hope You Dance”, for over 10 years now. Together we’ve written many songs for my records (“The Wheel”, “Don’t Leave the Leavin'”, “Get on the Train”) and we’ve even shared the stage at the Canadian Country Music Awards to receive Songwriter of the Year trophies for collaborating on Johnny Reid’s hit “Dance with Me”. I always love playing shows with Tia and hearing the story behind “I Hope You Dance”.  Here’s how she tells it.

“I had broken up with my ex, and I decided I needed a vacation to lick my wounds and dry my tears. I rented a condo right on the Gulf of Mexico and stayed there by myself for a week. The whole time, my mom was really worried about me. She would call me ten times a day, saying things like ‘Oh honey, I HOPE this doesn’t leave you bitter.  I HOPE you’ll take a chance on love again.’

On the last day of my trip, I decided to take a walk down the beach. The further I went, the more depressed I got, until I found myself miles from anywhere, standing there looking at the ocean thinking ‘I should just throw myself in. I’m not even a grain of sand! I’m nothing! I’m so small. I’m completely inconsequential!’  

Then all of a sudden, this huge black SUV comes pulling up on the beach, kicking sand in all directions, and this guy with a black suit and mirrored sunglasses jumps out and starts SCREAMING into a cell phone!

I thought, ‘WOW. That guy doesn’t feel small when he stands beside the ocean at all, and he never will. He’s completely oblivious! And you know what? I would rather feel like an inconsequential grain of sand than be that guy for one stinkin’ second.’

That was my first eureka moment. A couple of weeks later I shared the idea with my co-writer, Mark D. Sanders…and the rest is history.”

Click here to see Lee Ann Womack’s video for her smash hit recording of “I Hope You Dance”.

Posted in Blogs

Hello Heart

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I woke up with the first verse of “Hello Heart” in my head while I was on a songwriting retreat at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains.  It poured out so fast that I had to jump out of bed to grab my guitar, and my cowriters and I just hung on tight while the words came out.  It’s a very personal song about that moment when you feel your heart coming back to life again after it’s been broken to pieces.

When I started performing the song, I would look around at the faces of the people in the audience, and I always saw someone who was in tears.  It just goes to show that no matter how alone you feel, you are never isolated in your pain.  Just about everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle, and you usually can’t tell what that battle is just by looking at them.

So I decided to make a video for Hello Heart.  But not a high-budget, slick professional music video.  I wanted to make something honest and raw.  I wanted to remind people how important it is to be kind…to react first with compassion, and never to assume anything about anyone until you understand where they’re coming from.

These are real people in this video, sharing their innermost struggles.  They chose to make themselves vulnerable because they believe in the message we are trying to spread with this song.  And I couldn’t ask anyone else to do that without making myself vulnerable too, so I have shared my own heartache publicly alongside theirs.

I hope you’ll watch it, and I hope you’ll share it.  It’s not an attempt to sell the song, because we’re giving it away for free (people can sign up to receive it at this link). We just want to send this out there in hopes that it will spread a little more kindness in the world.
 
 

 

Posted in Blogs

Bluebird Cafe Meets the Nashville Ballet

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I was 17, sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. I had tears streaming down my face. It was the first time in my life that I had to choose – consciously choose – to shut the door on something that I’d always dreamed of doing.

I was juggling school, voice lessons, piano lessons, choir, learning guitar, playing in school bands, and ballet lessons. Something had to give. So I found myself saying goodbye to a childhood dream of someday spinning across a stage in pink pointe shoes.  I chose to make music instead.

This weekend, I found myself on a huge stage playing my guitar and singing songs I had written, surrounded by a sea of dancers spinning and sailing through the air. The Nashville Ballet had choreographed my music for a show called City of Dreams, named after a song I wrote about my adopted hometown after it was hit by a devastating flood in 2010. It was part of a collaboration with the Bluebird Cafe for their Attitude program: 4 shows to a packed house at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

I can’t begin to explain how it felt, but crescendoing from the quiet whispery verse into the last big chorus of “City of Dreams” at the end of the show, I felt the rush of air as the ballerinas ran past me and leapt up into the outstretched arms of the men for a huge, soaring lift…and the audience exploded into applause…and my heart felt like it was going to explode into a million pieces.

Sometimes dreams come true in the most unexpected way.

“I am your City of Dreams
My faith is just worn, it’s just tattered and torn at the seams
But don’t you give up on me.”

 

Click here to read Broadway World’s review of City of Dreams.

 

Posted in Blogs

“Why Baby Why” on American Idol

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Tonight, I’m sitting in my living room watching an American Idol contestant sing one of my songs in an audition. That’s pretty surreal.

I wrote “Why Baby Why” with two of my dear friends and collaborators, Emily Shackelton and Phil Barton. We holed up in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains for 3 days for a writing retreat, and since there was nothing to do but eat, sleep, and write, we came home with 9 songs!

I tend to stockpile ideas for these occasions – just a line or a title to start a song from – and I had sung a few lines of the chorus for “Why Baby Why” into the voice recorder of my phone a few months prior. It was tickling at the back of my mind during the retreat, so I decided to sing the lines to Phil and Emily while we were out for a walk in the fall leaves between writing sessions. They loved the idea so much that we turned around and rushed back to the cabin to pick up our instruments and finish it! All in all, it probably took less than an hour to complete. It’s nice when songs fall out of the sky and bop you on the head like that.

Fast forward a couple of years and now “Why Baby Why” has been recorded and released by Capitol artist Mickey Guyton. She sings the fire out of it, and I got to sit up in the balcony at the Ryman Auditorium and watch her perform it to a standing ovation for her debut at the Grand Ole Opry. I guess Mickey’s stellar performance of the song made an impression on American Idol contestant Tristan McIntosh, because now here I am watching her sing it on TV in a really moving audition!

Click here to see a video of Tristan’s audition on the GossipCop website.

(p.s. Would you like to hear the origin of this song, from the iPhone voice memo of the idea right through the piano/vocal work tape to the demo and final recording? Click here to sign up for my newsletter – you’ll get behind-the-scenes unreleased material like this that I don’t share with anyone else…plus free songs!)

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2, 4, 6, 8…How Do We Collaborate?

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If you look at the tiny print under the songs on a CD cover, you’ll almost always find multiple songwriter names listed. Collaboration is a big part of what we do.

How does that work, you might ask?

Well, collaborations happen in many different ways. Sometimes, you’ll find 2 or 3 songwriters working together (lyricists, instrumentalists/melody writers, or most often everybody does a bit of everything). Sometimes an artist – who may or may not have songwriting experience – is paired up with a songwriter or a songwriting team to write material for their next record. Nowadays, you’ll often find a “track builder” collaborating in the songwriting process as well, putting their own stamp on the sound of the song by using audio recording software to singlehandedly layer all the instruments together and create a professional-sounding recording of the song as it’s written.

What does a collaboration schedule look like?

In Nashville, those of us who work as songwriters on Music Row typically schedule our “co-writes” 4 or 5 days a week, starting our day in the songwriting office at 10:30 or 11am Monday to Friday. Although we each have our own pace and style, it’s quite common to finish a complete song by 4pm. After that, you might find us in the studio working on recording demos of our new material for pitching to artists/labels, or some of us might “pull a double” and start another song with another set of collaborators from 4pm to 8pm or so. Not everyone in the industry works at this furious pace, but when you are a staff songwriter living on a salary consisting of royalty advances, the more quality songs you write, the more likely you’ll be to get songs recorded, earn your publisher’s investment back and get your annual contract renewed.

How do you come up with a song collaboratively?

Writing somewhere between 50 and 250 songs per year may seem impossible, but collaborating is like exercising a muscle. After a while, you get very good at it. You’re able to sit down with a complete stranger, immediately talk openly about intimate emotions or experiences, find a song idea that you both feel excited about, pour your heart into a lyric and melody, piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle, and make a quick acoustic recording of the result, all within about 3 or 4 hours.

There are a few tricks to the process. The first rule of collaboration is DARE TO SUCK! You’ve got to spit out your ideas…and I mean verbalize every instinct, phrase or melody that pops into your head…no matter how stupid it might sound. Self-editing has no place in a brainstorming session, and songwriting is full-on brainstorming. Even the most ridiculous idea can spark something in your collaborator’s head, and that’s what keeps a songwriting session moving forward.

What comes first, the lyric or the music?

Sometimes you start with a melody, sometimes with a lyric, or sometimes both pop into your head as a unit. Sometimes you get a groove going on the guitar and that inspires the rest of the song. There’s no hard and fast rule for where the ideas begin.

Sometimes, lightning strikes and you pull a song idea out of the sky right on the spot, but it’s good to come into a songwriting session with some raw material to kick start things in case that doesn’t happen. Preparation is a big part of our job. All pro writers keep a list of potential song titles, and often we take turns sharing these ideas at the beginning of a co-write session until one of them catches our collaborators’ imagination. Sometimes, I come in with a chunk of melody that I hum, sometimes I’ll have a verse or chorus already written, or sometimes I’ll just have an experience or concept I’d like to write about. Track builders may bring anything from a simple drum loop to a bunch of fully-built tracks that just require a vocal melody and lyric to be written over top (a process called “top-lining”).

Music Row publishers keep a “pitch sheet” for their songwriters: a list of artists with upcoming recording dates that includes details about what kind of material they’re seeking for their record. That information can help us to focus our songwriting towards those specific artists, although aiming a song towards a specific pitch as you write it can be difficult. Usually I prefer to write the best song I can on any given day and figure out where to pitch it after the fact, but sometimes knowing who is looking can help us decide which direction to go when we reach the potential crossroads in the writing process: if the song could be happy or sad…a story song or a captured moment…a male perspective or a female one…a Miranda pitch or a Carrie pitch…etc.

What about writing with artists?

Writing with an artist requires a higher level of preparation, because the stakes are higher. You’re more likely to get the resulting song recorded, but you’ll probably have far less time to work with the artist or to revisit the song with them if you don’t nail the concept and finish it quickly. Sometimes you’re out on their bus stealing an hour of their time between the soundcheck and the show…sometimes they’ve flown into town for a day to work with you…sometimes you’re at an intensive retreat where the artist circulates constantly between different collaborator groups. That means you need to do your homework: you listen to the artist’s previous material so you know their style, their vocal range, and so you don’t pitch them ideas they’ve already covered in other songs. Once you’re in the room with them, you find out where they are in the recording process, and what kind of song they may be missing for their upcoming record or for their live performance set list. Then, you have to find a song idea that they can relate to, so it helps to know as much about their life story as you can in advance, and then to listen carefully to what they say about themselves in the room.

How does collaborative songwriting feel?

Collaborative songwriting is the easiest and the toughest thing I’ve ever done.  Sometimes, you stare at the blank page or search for a line until your eyes are bloodshot and your brain feels like it’s bleeding out your ear. There’s the pressure of sitting in a room completely star struck by someone you admire, when your sense of self-worth drains away with on your inability to come up with anything the least bit interesting. Sometimes your co-writer leaves you in the dust and you’re left feeling inadequate because you can’t keep up. There are times when everything grinds to a silent halt and you wish someone would call in a bomb threat at your office so you could get the hell out of the room.

But then, sometimes, it flows as if God’s hand is on the pen and you’re just trying to keep up.  You click together…you’re on the same wavelength, coming up with the same words at the same moment, tapping into turns of phrase and melody that choke you up with emotion. Your co-writers take the song to places you might not have found alone, and vice versa. You might even break down and cry in front of complete strangers because of the beauty of what you’ve just created together. When a song like that is done, there’s a shared dopamine rush that comes from the mutual creative victory. You ride that high like a junkie, and when it wears off, all you want to do is feel it again.

In the end, everything good is better when shared, and songwriting is no exception to that rule.

 

If you’re interested in a little more insight on collaboration, check out this video of my co-writers and I talking about the process of writing our song “Ordinary Angels”.  (Never heard the song?  Click here to watch us perform it in the room where it was written.):

 

 

Posted in Blogs

Show Me the Money!

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I’m often asked by fans what is the best way to purchase or listen to music in order to ensure that the songwriters behind it are being paid fairly. After all, if you love a particular songwriter or artist, it’s the best way to make sure they’ll be able to continue doing what they do so you get to hear more of it!

The music royalty system is complicated, so it’s not surprising that many people have no idea that there are “good ways” and “bad ways” to consume music when it comes to where the dollars go. So I’d like to post an outline of what I know about this subject;  just something to keep in mind when you’re making choices about how to listen.  Here are the rankings, from best to worst, of different ways to consume music when it comes to supporting the creators behind it:

 

1. OFFSTAGE SALES FOR PERFORMING SONGWRITERS:

How Much We Earn: $5 to $20 per CD

Buying a CD from a performing songwriter in person at a show is hands-down the best way to make sure most of your dollars will end up in their pocket. If the songwriter is a performing artist also signed to a label, they generally purchase their own CDs from the label for a few bucks each and mark them up for resale. Indie songwriters will have paid for the CD out of pocket in the first place, so they’ll put your dollars back towards the debt they incurred in the recording and printing process. (An indie songwriter CD generally costs $10,000 to $20,000 to make, which includes studio time, musicians, mixing, mastering, photography, graphic design and CD printing costs.)

 

2. RADIO:

How Much We Earn: depends on chart ranking

Terrestrial and satellite radio royalties are the bread and butter of non-performing professional songwriters. There’s no easy answer to what a hit song earns, because it’s based on a per-capita weighted split of collected radio tariffs each year, but I’ve seen Top 20 country radio hits earn around $30,000-$60,000, Top 10 hits earn around $100,000-$200,000 and Number 1 songs earn as much as $500,000 in total songwriter share (which is split among all the writers and publishers involved in the song). For Canadians reading this, since Canada’s population is 10% of the USA’s, radio hits pay about 10% of that. And of course earning this money as a songwriter requires having your song selected as a radio single, which only happens to a couple of songs per album released, and even for the luckiest of us this usually only happens a couple times in our entire career!  But listening to the radio, whether it’s your local station, satellite radio, or terrestrial radio stations that stream online (such as iHeart Radio), supports the songwriters behind the music you hear.

 

3. IN-STORE CD or ONLINE PURCHASED DOWNLOAD (eg. iTunes, Amazon):

How Much We Earn: 9.1 cents per copy sold

Buying a CD in a store or online in the USA generates 9.1 cents per song as the songwriters’ share. This number is then split between the songwriters and their publishers, so a song written by two professional songwriters with publishing deals would generate each writer 2.27 cents per copy sold. (Having a song on a platinum record – 1 million copies sold – would therefore generate $91,000 in songwriter revenue to be split among writers and publishers…however, records almost never sell that many copies anymore.  And in Canada, record sales are generally 10% of what they are in the USA due to the difference in population.)

 

4. STREAMING SERVICES:

How Much We Earn: about .00008 of a penny to .05 of a penny per stream

Streaming services are known for their pathetically poor songwriter royalty rates. Each pays a percentage – an unbelievably LOW percentage – of their revenue, and outdated legislation in the USA forbids songwriters’ Performing Rights Organizations to change this rate. This is something songwriters are fighting like crazy to change, and it’ll HAVE to change or else we’ll be extinct as a profession in the next few years. With a revenue percentage, there’s no way to do the math for a specific answer on what a stream pays. But in general, it’s in the vicinity of 0.00008 of a cent to 0.05 of a cent per stream. So a MILLION streams of a song would earn the songwriter somewhere between $1 and $500 (probably closer to $1, in my experience).

But let’s face it, streaming is here to stay, and it’s convenient.  One way to make yourself feel better about doing it is to buy a copy of the songs you find yourself streaming regularly; I have a policy of buying any song that I stream more than twice, so I know the songwriter will be paid fairly for the fact that I’m enjoying their creation.  In addition, make sure you’re streaming through one of the “good guys”.  Here’s how some of the most popular streaming services measure up from a songwriter perspective, according to a performing rights representative I talked to recently. They all pay within the range above, but some more than others:

Good guys: Apple Music, Spotify

Bad guys: Rhapsody, Pandora (the most uncooperative when it comes to songwriter rights)

 

5. FREE DOWNLOADS:

How Much We Earn: nothing!

OK, so as attractive as those free downloads look – you know, the ones you find in a Google search advertising “free MP3s” or “file sharing” or “torrent” files – please think before you click on them. Those not only pay songwriters zip, but they’re also illegal. So basically, they’re bad for everybody involved (except the criminals who are using them to benefit from advertising dollars).

 

I hope this info is helpful to music lovers out there! Please feel free to comment or share. And if you’d like to be in on further behind-the-scenes posts like this, I’d like to invite you to join my newsletter here.

 

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