Have you ever dreamed about writing a hit song or even building a career in music? Songwriting might just be for you.

All kinds of different songwriters have successful careers creating original lyrics and melodies for record studios, artists, or even themselves.

Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned songwriter or just starting out, it is possible to build a career creating music and lyrics. Let’s take a look at what skills you need to write, record, and sell songs.

Steff Reed playing piano
Skillshare instructor, songwriter, and activist Steff Reed creates melodies on his keyboard and writes lyrics with meaning.

How to Become a Songwriter

When you want to learn how to become a songwriter—whether as a hobby or a career path—you need to cover the basics: learning how to construct a song. 

If You’re Brand New to Music…

If you’re entirely new to music, start with some basic music theory and fundamentals like rhythm, melody, and dynamics. You might also want to learn how to read music. You don’t have to have a degree in music to become a songwriter, but workshops and classes can improve your skills.

Of course, there have been plenty of famous songwriters and musicians who have become successful without reading music, but in most cases, it’s still a good first step on your musical journey.

If You’re Familiar With Music Fundamentals…

In contrast, if you already have some basic music knowledge but have never ventured into writing your own songs, you won’t need to start from square one. 

Instead, you can tackle more complex subjects like chords, lyrics, and the typical song structure (verse, chorus, and bridge) before you start putting together your own pieces of music. 

Tips for Becoming a Songwriter

A good grasp on music is the building block of becoming a songwriter. But, regardless of if you’re brand new or already somewhat experienced, there are a number of other steps you can take to get your songwriting passion or career off the ground, including: 

  • Experimenting with music: You won’t write a brilliant song on your first try (unless you’re really lucky). Music is all about creativity, so don’t be afraid to get into writing—even if you feel ill-prepared. Trying different things is one of the best learning experiences you can hope for as you dive into songwriting.
  • Joining professional songwriting organizations: Groups like the Songwriters Guild of America or The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers can help you network and give you access to other educational opportunities.
  • Familiarize yourself with relevant technology: Whether you plan to sell your song or not, you’ll need to record it. You can record a demo for a low-cost with your iPhone and an app like GarageBand or at a higher cost on pro tools like Logic or even in a recording studio. You may also need to edit your audio with editing software like Sound Studio.

There isn’t one right path to becoming a songwriter. But ultimately, it all boils back to one key step: You need to start writing songs. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Songwriter?

There isn’t a straightforward answer here, because every songwriter has a different experience. If you have your heart set on becoming a hobbyist songwriter, then that’s a title you can achieve the moment you’ve penned your first tune. 

But, if your goal is to carve out an actual career in songwriting, you can expect it to take years. It takes time to grow your skills, make the right connections, find opportunities, and get noticed. 

Here’s the number one lesson on how to become a better songwriter: It takes time. It takes countless hours of writing songs, scrapping lyrics, twisting melodies, and creating something out of nothing. Becoming a songwriter takes practice, practice, practice. 

Ultimately, since there’s no set career path telling you how to become a singer songwriter, there’s no way to know exactly how long it will take.

Steff Reed playing guitar
Skillshare instructor, musician, songwriter, and activist Steff Reed uses his guitar, keyboards, and computers to construct melodies.

What Skills and Qualifications Are Needed to Be a Songwriter?

Anyone looking at how to become a professional songwriter needs to have two skills: the ability to write music and the ability to sell their work. Talent obviously plays a huge role in songwriting. You have to be able to craft original melodies that appeal to an audience.

Songwriters don’t necessarily have to be able to sing, read music, or even play an instrument—though those skills can definitely help. 

Technical skills like music knowledge and experience with relevant recording and editing technology are imperative. But, let’s talk about soft skills too. What qualities will you need to turn your love for music into a career? You’ll need to have: 

  • Creativity: Music is a creative field, after all!
  • Discipline and self-motivation: When you’re forging your own path, you’re responsible for buckling down and working on your music, even on the days when inspiration isn’t flowing.
  • Attention to detail: Songwriters pick up inspiration in even the most unlikely places. The more you pay attention to the world around you, the more likely you are to spark new song ideas.
  • Communication: Whether you’re meeting with potential clients, employers, or artists you’d like to collaborate with, top-notch communication skills are key.

You’ll also want to make sure you create a website to host your work, promote your services, and include information about you and your music. Your website can also feature a portfolio of your demos, which helps potential collaborators and employers know your work.

composer Lauren Buchter
Skillshare instructor and composer Lauren Buchter discusses her love for music and composition while working on a song on her keyboard.

Make Music With a Purpose!

Songwriting for Social Change: Creating Music with Purpose

Songwriter Career Details

If you’re looking at how to become a paid songwriter, know that there are two main ways songwriters make money. Songwriters can:

  1. Sign with a publisher and get an advance
  2. Make money off of fees and royalties

Songwriters tend to work either as employees at a record label or as freelancers working with artists. It’s very common for songwriters to record their song before sending it to an artist or publisher for review, so songwriters need a place to record their work.

Many songwriters will work out of a home studio, writing lyrics, compiling music on their computer, or playing instruments to come up with melodies. Songwriters will also network with record producers and artists at events, conferences, and meetings to find artists or labels in need of music.

As a songwriter, you’re not limited to creating music just for albums. You can create songs for musicals, movies, or even jingles for commercials. You can even make music designed for social change.

“Music is the catalyst for social change, is a soundtrack to revolution, and it’s the heartbeat to social movements,” says Grammy-nominated music educator and songwriter Steff Reed in his Skillshare class. “Music just has that way of just infiltrating our hearts and our minds and becoming a part of our lives and our worlds forever.”

It takes time to build a career as a songwriter, and many songwriters also have a “day job” for income stability.

Mike Battle singing
Skillshare instructor and music professional, Mike Battle, works on his own original song. 

How Much Do Songwriters Make?

Salaries vary widely for songwriters. Since songwriters can make money either independently or as an employee—and because rates vary widely depending on how popular their tunes become—it’s hard to estimate how much money songwriters make. 

ZipRecruiter reports that songwriters make an average of $51,826 per year, though top songwriters make far more.

How Much Does a Songwriter Make Per Song?

Songwriters can earn three types of royalties off of every song they sell. 

  • Mechanical royalties: Songwriters earn mechanical royalties from every digital download and unit sold, including off of streaming services. The current rate of mechanical royalties is 9.1 cents (which is typically split between songwriters, producers, and any co-writers).
  • Sync fees: When a song is licensed for TV shows, commercials, or movies, the songwriter will make more money through sync fees. This royalty is typically negotiated and will also be split between the writer, artist, and record label.
  • Public performance royalties: Songwriters can also earn a percentage off of every public performance where their song is played. Public performance royalties are generated when a song is performed on radio, at a live show, or through an online streaming service. The rates for these royalties vary and there’s no standard rate. According to the Nashville Songwriters Association, songwriters can’t increase their mechanical and performance royalty income.

How Do I Start My Career as a Songwriter?

To get started as a songwriter, you need to start writing! Writing songs regularly is the only way to improve your skills as a songwriter.

Professionally, you can start your career with a job at a production studio, or by becoming a freelancer. Songwriters collaborate with people across the music industry, from lyricists to music producers to artists themselves, so it’s also possible to get started by working with other creatives.

How Much Does a Songwriter Make for a Hit? 

There’s no way to predict how much a songwriter will make off of any hit song, because how much a songwriter makes really depends on royalties and how popular the song becomes. 

If a hit song is played on the radio or licensed for TV, movies, or commercials, the songwriter can continue making even more money through royalties. That makes it tough to point to a specific sum, though some of the top songs of our time have made their writers well into the six figures. 

Bottom line? The best way to get on the path to becoming a songwriter is to simply get started writing those songs! 

Make Your Own Music!

Songwriting and Composing Melodies