When my son was going through his freshman orientation at Belmont University’s School of Music Business, many there were hopeful of turning pro one day as a songwriter. Another parent raised their hand and asked “So, if my daughter gets her degree in songwriting from Belmont, she’s pretty much guaranteed a “slot” in the Music Business, right?” There are so many things wrong with that statement that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let me take a run at it though.
Here are the big issues:
The truth about “slots” in the Music Business
There aren’t a prescribed number of openings for pro staff writers. Publishers come and go. Rosters go up and down. But as long as there is money to be made in the music business (there still is, FYI), there WILL be opportunities for great songwriters. Unless a publisher has NO money left and has maxed out their roster, they are always open to meeting with writers who show promise. A “slot” will magically open up if you have “the goods”. “The goods” are hit songs. There’s no substitute for them.
“Turning pro” as a songwriting doesn’t happen by getting a diploma or unlocking some secret code
It’s not like turning a corner. You don’t wake up one day and “turn pro”. I would suggest that you BECOME a pro by learning from people who ARE pros. Spend your time emulating them and working at your craft daily. Always bust your butt to take advantage of every opportunity you are given. The pros I know became pros by following an unrelenting dedication to quality and improvement. They are never satisfied with the quality of their work today, so they push for tomorrow’s song to be even better. If you are familiar with the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, it’s like becoming real. Here’s a quote from the book to describe what I mean.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
-Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
Writing better songs is your best chance of “turning pro”
Spending your time worrying about how to “turn pro” is focusing on the wrong thing. You will BECOME a pro if you learn how to write better songs that are competitive with the best writers in the world. It will happen to you if you keep improving your writing until you are world class. Until then, worry about writing better songs and the “pro” part will come to you when you’re ready.
Write On! MD
Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting.