10 Tips for Aspiring Songwriters [INDUSTRY INFILTRATION]

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Hi, I’m Gabz Landman and I’m director of A&R at APG. I work with amazing talent such as Amy Allen, the Futuristics, Frank E, Sam Martin, and an incredible artist called Plested. My clients are behind hits such as Halsey’s “Without Me,” Selena Gomez’s “Back To You,” G Eazy’s “Him & I,” Maroon 5’s “Daylight,” and Wiz Khalifa/Charlie Puth’s “See You Again.”

As an A&R in music publishing, some of the things I do are sign songwriters, set them up with collaborations (either with artists or fellow writers), give feedback to help develop their writing, and pitch songs to major artists. Some of the biggest hits weren’t written by the artist who released them, and placing a song with a pop artist can be very lucrative for songwriters – so here are 10 tips to make that happen!

1. Study the greats.

The best songwriters I know all have a deep music history. They’ve listened to hit songs through time and studied what made them great. Was it a hooky melody? A very relatable lyric? A political statement in difficult times? An infectious beat? So many things impact what makes a song great and getting a grasp on what works is crucial to an aspiring songwriter.

2. Experiment.

There are so many different aspects to songwriting, you should take time to really try different things out and find your passion. Some writers are called “topliners,” and they write lyrics and melody (all the vocal parts in a song, basically) but they don’t produce the track. Others come up with amazing chords, but don’t really program beats. There are many different roles one can play in the studio across so many genres – take the time to experiment and see where your passion lies.

2. Find your lane.

Creative people host a multitude of talents, but sometimes it’s a good idea to really focus on becoming an expert at your main strength. I know successful songwriters who exclusively write melodies and no lyrics. I’ve met some who can’t sing at all and simply write great lyrics There are also big producers who’ve waited until they were really established before they began contributing to lyric and melody too. This can apply to genres too. If you’re exceptional at writing rap hooks, becoming the go-to hook writer can lead to big pop sessions too, but finding your lane is a good way to stand out at the start of your career.

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3. Collaborate.

Most hit songs these days have more than one songwriter involved. Collaboration is key to the writing process - sometimes even just having a sounding board and another opinion in the room can be a great help. Finding collaborators is easier than ever thanks to the internet. You can write songs remotely by communicating online, or if there are locals also interested in songwriting you can turn almost any space into a studio and start creating.

4. Be open-minded.

There is more to collaboration than just being a musical match. Personality plays a big part. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not compatible with every collaborator - it’s a good way to get a sense of what kind of writers you work best with.

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5. Find your tribe.

If you have chemistry with people, keep working with them. Historically, writing teams have had a lot of repeated success together. Even today, many hit songs were written with a specific combination (for example Julia Michaels & Justin Tranter, or Andrew Watt, Ali Tamposi, & Brian Lee). It’s always smart to keep experimenting and trying new things throughout your career, but also recognize when you have something special with someone.

6. Practice quality control.

Writing songs is a very personal thing so naturally you are going to feel attached to the songs you write. In reality, even the biggest songwriters and producers in the world only release a few hits a year, which means most of the songs they write never see the light of day.

Know your best work. Know when a song is special. And know when a song deserves to be heard. This will be instrumental in getting your portfolio together and knowing what to play people.

6. Get your music out there.

There are many outlets for great demos, and it’s a personal decision whether you’d like your music to be public or not. Some people use Soundcloud’s private feature, others perform demos on YouTube, some prefer Dropbox, etc. An online portfolio is handy to share with PROs, publishing companies, and fellow creators.

7. Hit up the PROs.

Different territories have different PROs, but the main contenders in the USA are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. These companies can be an amazing ally for a new writer. If they like your music, they will introduce you to new collaborators and also circulate your material to lawyers and publishers who may be interested.

8. Find an attorney.

If you’re signing any sort of contract or looking for a deal, a great attorney is needed to guide you through the process. Entertainment lawyers generally work on commission, which means they are only successful if you are and they’re motivated to help you win. Attorneys are generally well connected with A&Rs and also a great way to get your music to the right people.

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9. Meet publishers.

Often times, your PRO/lawyer will come in handy in setting up publisher meetings. You can also research them online and see whose rosters you like and reach out with demos. A publishing deal can be very helpful in meeting new collaborators, getting your songs to big artists, and placing your music in TV shows and movies.

10. Have fun!

The best moments in my career have been seeing people sing along to my clients’ songs live, hearing their music on the radio, or watching a movie that features something I worked on. These things can be so fulfilling and a reminder that we do this because we love music. Have fun with it always and remember what a gift it is to make a living off of making music.

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