How To Be A Powerful Songwriter

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iDoCoach Blog

 Power up

Knowledge is power, and we live in the information age. So why are so many songwriters still in the dark about some of the most important tools of the trade?

There are great resources out there just a search away. YouTube seminars, free guitar lessons, theory instructors, industry blogs, "behind-the-scenes" books by top artists; mentors, tutors, and coaches.

Im hearing from songwriters every week, from all over the world. Im one of those coaches you can work with one-on-one.  Im always excited to bring a lifetime of hard-won experience to someone whos just jumping in, but at the same time I really urge them to start out by researching as much as possible about the road theyre starting down. 

Not everything is free, but it is available. Writers can study Bob Dylan's lyrics, watch someone dissect a Beatles song, listen in to John Mayer talking to students at Berklee, send their lyric to be critiqued by a pro, even pay for one-on-one mentoring from someone whos actually done what they aspire to. The list keeps growing.

I was powerless

When I started out I didnt even know you could have a career as a writer. I didnt know one, and no one I knew had ever met a songwriter. Even if I'd had the money, which I never did, there was no one to pay to learn. Different world. I couldnt even ask the questions. Now, though, the answers are out there for anyone to find.

So here's my point. Knowledge is power, and its easier than ever to get. But for whatever reason, most artists (myself included in the early years) put all their energy into the creative process and view the business as a necessary evil or something that will take care of itself.

Here's a "Top Ten" list of quotes from emails I received this week:

  1. I’m hoping to sell my songs.
  2. Someone offered to demo my song for $2,500 and get it to some people in the business.
  3. I’m looking for a 75-100K job as a staff writer. Will relocate to Nashville if I need to!
  4. My songs are better than 99% of the crap on the radio.
  5. I don’t believe in rewriting. Either the Muse brings an idea fully developed, or it’s not worth it.
  6. You can’t teach writing…but I’m willing to give you a shot. (I love this one).
  7. I don’t know why I haven’t received any royalties on the CD that I sell at my shows. What's a P.R.O.?
  8. I’m only interested in co-writing if I can “write up”.
  9. Networking is for nerds, the song should speak for itself.
  10. Music, intellectual property, and expertise should be free.

Here are my Top Ten responses:

  1. You don’t “sell” songs. You hope to get them published and keep the writers' share at the very least. Fight for your publishing rights!
  2. Run. Fast
  3. Me, too! Doesn’t exist these days. Deals are just different.
  4. Really? You're still writing for a listener in the end, the person in the car, find out how to reach 'em.
  5. How many songs have you written? How many have been cut? Rewriting is hard but one thing that can separate the wanna be's from the pro's.
  6. I disagree, but I understand the point. You can give someone tools and expertise. What they do with it is the deal. Information into inspiration!
  7. Google ASCAP, BMI, SESAC. How is money made from songwriting? Understand performance and mechanical royalties, self publishing, Harry Fox, and more.
  8. Get really good at what you do! Network, play nice, and hope you get the shot to show what you can do. Pray that write up writer needs a boost from what you got!
  9. Maybe once in awhile...but if a career is the goal see my response #8.
  10. Do your research. If someone is offering mentoring, coaching, or demo services; decide if they’ve done what you want to do and are offering attainable goals. What kind of success have they had? How much is thier experiance worth to you? If they promise to get you cuts, a publishing deal, an artist deal, CD release, etc., see response #2.

Power To The People

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking these statements or questions I get from writers , just don't want them to be uninformed when the information is out there.  I learned so much of what I know about songwriting the hard way, they don't have to. Power to the people!

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee


image: Wikimedia Commons

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Mark Cawley of iDoCoach


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About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. Mark’s resume includes hits on the Pop, Country, R&B, Jazz, and Rock charts and several publishing deals with the likes of Virgin, Windswept Pacific, and Steelworks/Universal. Mark calls on his decades of experience in the publishing world, as an artist on major labels, co-writer with everyone from Eliot Kennedy and Burt Bacharach to Simon Climie and Kye Fleming, composing, and recording to mentor clients around the globe with iDoCoach. He is also a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting, Songwriter Magazine,  , sponsor for the ASA, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops.Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.