Most of us, some time in our lives, have probably tried to write a song, or even attempted to put our poetry into music. The feelings contained within our songs and poems are a significant part of us.
Songwriting is an excellent outlet for creativity and sometimes even a healer of sorts. So how does one get started? If you are strictly lyricist or strictly composer, you will need to start by finding a collaborator. Does this have to be someone close to you in the physical distance? Absolutely not.
Does it need to be someone who can come to sit with you in the living room to write songs together? Another negative answer. It can be done with a collaborator half a country or world away via the internet.
There are a few things to keep in mind when a collaborator is found. The first item of business, although some songwriters do not see the need, is to draw up some kind of collaboration agreement. This can be researched on-line and protects both parties.
Get to know your collaborator. Make sure that there is trust and that you won’t have a problem if you or the other person isn’t satisfied with the lyrics or music. Those kinds of decisions must be mutually agreed upon. Another thing to know up front is how payment for your studio demo will be handled. Will the costs be split right down the middle? Who will do the pitching of the song once it’s in demo form? All vital things to know before beginning such a venture.
If you are lyricist and your composer can make Real Audio or MP3 files for you, you will be able to watch the song come to life step by step. A phone call might also be a good idea as the music is being composed to be sure it is the kind of music you both had in mind.
One of the most vital things that you will be making a decision about (whether you have written both lyrics and music or worked with a collaborator) is where to have your demo done. Your neighbor may be the best singer in the world, but “living room demos” have little chance in today’s market. You will want a studio demo and you’ll want a song that’s known as “radio ready.” There are numerous studios specialize solely in doing demos for songwriters.
When you have your demo, you will want to copyright register it with the Library of Congress with a Form PA (performing arts.) “Words and Music” will be registered. Fill out the form, and send it along with the current fee, a cassette recording of the song, and a lyric sheet.
When the time comes that you know “over-the-net” collaboration will work for you, you may be tempted to start writing songs with many different lyricists or composers. This is sometimes called “promiscuous collaborating” and it is rarely a good idea. A lot of problems can arise with this kind of practice.
One of the major problems I have encountered and have heard of is the “disappearing co-writer.” The more partners a songwriter is working with, the greater chance that this will become an obstacle eventually. A song is started, or even completed and suddenly it is impossible to contact the other person. If “who owns these words and/or music if one of us disappears” has not been specified in a collaboration agreement, it can be a difficult thing to deal with and accept to have to “lose” the hard work you’ve done to that point.
As with any business venture, there are risks. If the collaborator is authorized to do the copyright registration, will your name be spelled correctly? Will your birth date and address be right? Will it even be filed at all, or procrastinated?
Another risk comes when you have pitched the songs to publishers and have found a publisher who offers a contract. Do you know the publisher’s track record? Does the contract have a reversion clause? This is very important and single-song contracts must be researched thoroughly. The clause allows the writer(s) to retain the copyright on the song if the publisher has not obtained a cut for the song within the specified time. Two or three years is the norm for a reversion clause.
The most important element is to make certain you are covered in all these problem areas. Do not send your lyrics to a composer you know nothing about. Research collaborators’ agreements and draw one up. Do not rely on someone else to get your work copyright registered. Legally, you are the automatically copyrighted owner of anything you write down in tangible form. That is the United States copyright law, but you still need the protection of a registration.
In closing, writing songs and watching them come to life is certainly an enriching event in anyone’s life. Write from your heart. Write to make your listeners FEEL. Reach into hearts and touch people. There is no other feeling like hearing someone say “your words have touched me. Thank you.”closing