Songwriting Economics 101 – Why Won’t A Signed Staff Writer Write With Me?

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We get the question all the time “Why won’t a signed staff songwriter write with me?”. Most people are surprised to find out that the answer is economic and not personal in nature. Here are the economics of why staff writer’s are hesitant to write with unsigned writers:

1) Other unsigned writers who have gone before you have not paid for their portion of demos. I have had several unsigned co-writers in the past who didn’t pay their portion of the demo costs. When that occurs, guess who has to pay for it? Me. That has left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve also had unsigned co-writers tell me after we wrote a great song that they can’t afford to demo the song. I can’t get it cut if we can’t demo it, so we wasted a day. Both are important economic issues. Why spend a day writing a song that no one will ever hear?

2) If a staff writer writes a song with an unsigned writer, the unsigned writer makes more money. Not only do they make more money, but they make more money AND they don’t provide much if any help getting the song cut. So, let’s say I write a song with unsigned writer Tom Selleck. We go demo it and Tom pays his share. All good so far. Tom doesn’t have a plugger or any admin people. So, my pluggers start working the song. My admin people file the copyrights and register the song with Harry Fox and with BMI. Our staff uploads the song to our online system so that our people world-wide have access and can pitch it as well. The pluggers play the song in meeting after meeting and it finally gets picked up by a big artist. There has been a lot of work that went into getting that song cut. Who did all the work? Me and my people. Who paid for all of the work that was done? Me – that’s where my 50% of my publishing goes as the price of being a staff writer. Meanwhile, Tom has been back at his acting job taking in a paycheck for that. To top it all off, the money starts to roll in for our hit. Let’s say that $400,000 comes in. Here’s how the money would be split:

Tom – Get’s $100,000 for his writer’s share and $100,000 for his publishing share. Plus, he gets the money he has made from his regular job.

Marty – I get $100,000 for my writer’s share

My Publisher – Get’s $50,000 for their publishing share and get’s my $50,000 publishing share to recoup demo costs and advances.

So, Tom get’s $200,000. I get $100,000. And I paid for all of the work to get the song cut.

Does that sound like an arrangement you would want to partake in very often?

3) Unsigned writers tend to take up more time and time is money. When I write with other signed co-writers, they don’t e-mail me asking “What is going on with our song?”. They trust that I will let them know if something happens with it. Unsigned writers tend to send a LOT of e-mails checking on the status of our song. They forget that while they may only have a couple of songs being worked, I have more than 6000. I can’t possibly deal with a weekly e-mail from 6000 co-writers asking about our song.

So, if you aspire to write with a signed staff writer – and that’s a great goal to have, you need to understand the economics of the situation and use it to your advantage. Here are some things you can do to make yourself more attractive:

1) Talk about demo costs upfront. Assure them that you will pay your share if you write a great song that you both want to demo. Follow up and pay promptly.

2) Offer to hire a plugger to help pitch the song.

3) Offer up part of your publishing to their publisher if they get it cut. That gives the publisher a little extra incentive to get the song cut.

Knowing how the system works and why signed writers are hesitant to write with unsigned writers can help you increase your chances of getting that big co-write. When you get it, go in with great ideas and write your heart out!

Write On,

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Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter and co-founder of SongTown.com

4 thoughts on “Songwriting Economics 101 – Why Won’t A Signed Staff Writer Write With Me?

  1. Thanks for the thorough explanation Marty. There is certainly more to co-writing with pros than meets the eye. Bottom line here appears to come down to “business is business”, and one should remember never to take business personally.

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