An Examination of the Songwriter & Music Publisher Relationship [PART 2]

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Read Part 1 of this series here. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

We will now continue our examination of some of standard clauses contained in the music publishing company’s exclusive agreement with a songwriter.

Below is another clause included in a major publishing agreement.

ROYALTIES – Provided that Publisher has recouped any and all monies payable to Writer under this Agreement, Publisher shall pay to Writer the following royalties with respect to the exploitation of the Compositions: 

(a) Mechanical Income – fifty percent (50%) of Publisher’s Net Receipts derived from the license of the Compositions. 

(b) Synchronization Income – fifty percent (50%) of Publisher’s Net Receipts derived from the license of the Compositions for use in commercials and synchronized in audiovisual works. 

(c) Print Income – fifty percent (50%) of Publisher’s Net Receipts derived from the licensing of the right to print, publish or sell printed editions or other printed reproductions of the Compositions. 

As the paragraph heading states, the above language describes the royalty rate that the writer earns. It is important to note, similar to most agreements in the music industry; the music publisher must first recoup “any and all monies” already paid to the writer, such as advances or other costs or expenses incurred on behalf of the songwriter, prior to the songwriter earning any of the above listed royalties. This means that until the writer’s account is balanced, they will receive no additional funds from the publisher.

However, once the songwriter recoups the outstanding balance, they will begin to earn royalties based on the above listed percentages. For instance under the above language, the writer is entitled to fifty percent (50%) of the “mechanical income” (CDs, Downloads), fifty percent (50%) of the “synch income” (song used in motion picture or television show), and fifty percent (50%) of the print income (printed or digital sheet music).

The listed percentages are fairly standard and are applicable to most exclusive publishing deals. Nevertheless, it is prudent to at least attempt to negotiate for higher percentages or better provisions; ultimately, the publisher may not agree to any increase.

Writer warrants he is a writer member and publishing member in good standing of ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. In the event that Writer is in breach of Writer’s warranty of being a member in good standing of ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, Writer hereby warrants he will become a member in good standing of ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. 

In addition to the above listed clauses, most standard publishing deals require the songwriter to be a member in good standing with their respective country’s P.R.O. This is typically due to the publisher requiring the P.R.O.’s assistance in collecting the public performance royalties due for the licensing of compositions. If a writer is not in good standing or is not a member of a P.R.O. at all, it could potentially cause issues in the publisher receiving payments, which they want to avoid. The above language helps obviate the issue by requiring that the songwriter warrant they are in good standing with their P.R.O. and will stay as such.

OPTION TO PURCHASE – In the event that Writer desires to grant, sell, license or otherwise transfer any right, title or interest in or to any of the Compositions, for a period of thirty (30) days, Writer hereby agrees to negotiate in good faith exclusively with Publisher, and to exert best efforts to reach an agreement with Publisher for Publisher’s acquisition of such rights in and to the Compositions. In the event that Publisher and Writer fail to finalize the terms of such agreement by the end of the thirty (30) day period, then Writer shall thereafter be free to negotiate with any third party for the sale, license or other transfer of such rights, but only on terms and conditions that are no less favorable to Writer than those last offered by Publisher. Furthermore, if Writer receives an offer from a third-party at any time (the “Third Party Offer”) to purchase all or any portion of Writer’s interest in the Compositions, or any one of them, and Writer desires to sell such interest, Writer agrees to first offer in writing to sell such interest to Publisher (the “First Offer”).

The First Offer must specify all of the terms and conditions of the Third Party Offer. In the event Publisher does not agree to match the First Offer within fifteen (15) days after Publisher’s receipt thereof, then Writer will have the right to accept the Third Party Offer. However, any sale to such third party must be consummated upon terms no less favorable to Publisher as those contained in the First Offer. If such sale is not so consummated, Writer will not sell all or any portion of Writer’s interest in the Composition(s) or any one of them without again offering such interest to Publisher as provided hereinabove. 

One way a publishing company ensures that they can potentially retain rights to lucrative materials after the expiration of the agreement is through a right of first refusal or a “matching right.” As described above, a right of first refusal provides the publishing company with the option to purchase a composition and/or all of the compositions, if the writer is attempting to sell the rights to the material. This language provides the publisher with a proscribed time period (30 days) where the writer must present any third-party offer they receive for the material to the original publisher.

The publisher then has a specified time period (15 days) to either match the third-party offer or to pass. If the publisher matches the offer, then a deal will be finalized on those terms; however, if the publisher fails to match the third-party offer, the writer is free to enter into a new arrangement with the third-party on the same terms as those presented to the original publisher. The above specific language requires that the deal must be consummated no later than a specified period of time (15 days). If the deal with the third-party is not finalized by the end of this time period, the original publisher has an additional opportunity to purchase the composition(s) for the same terms as those offered by the third-party to the writer.

Since “publishing” money is one of the most lucrative and consistent streams of income in the music business and music publishers are the top facilitators of licensing in this space, it is prudent to fully understand how they function and the best way to approach them. Overall, most standard deals are negotiable and should be viewed as so.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling.

An Examination of the Songwriter & Music Publisher Relationship [PART 1]

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

UPDATE: Read Part 2 of this series here!

We will now examine the music publisher and its exclusive publishing agreement with a songwriter. In addition to the standard exclusive publishing agreement explored below, there are other types of related agreements a songwriter could potentially sign with a music publisher, including a co-publishing, sub-publishing or administration arrangement; however, these will not be explored in this article.

Music publishers, which include Sony/ATV Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Warner Music Publishing, are companies that manage a songwriter’s rights in a track. This may be typically referred to as an “administration” right in the composition. This provides the publisher with the right to license the music to others as well as to collect payments from any third-party for their uses of the songwriter’s work. The publishing company also handles the “paperwork” associated with the composition, including registering the copyrights in the songs, indexing the track with the appropriate Performing Rights Organization, as well as accounting and distributing the collected funds. A publisher may also “shop” a songwriter’s tracks in order to obtain licensable placements for its signed talent. An individual responsible for this task is sometimes referred to as a “song plugger.”

In most instances, the songwriter and publishing company equally split all of the proverbial “publishing monies.” In reality, this means that fifty (50%) percent of the total amount earned is allotted for the “writer’s share” of the composition and the remaining fifty (50%) percent is allocated for the “publisher share” of the composition. Since a single track can have several co-writers, this means that several publishing companies and other individuals may also be entitled to a part of the “writer” or “publisher” share of the track. For instance, if a song has two co-writers, the “writer’s share” of the composition could be split equally with each writer receiving fifty (50%) percent of the entire track’s “writer” share.

The streams of income generally subject to an exclusive publishing agreement include mechanical royalties, public performance royalties, synchronization fees and print incomes. Mechanical royalties are paid for the use of a musical composition on CDs, vinyl, cassettes and as MP3 downloads. In the United States, the Harry Fox Agency is generally responsible for collecting and distributing mechanical royalties. Print Income is also subject to these agreements and applies to any funds earned from the sale of the printed musical work, such as in lyric and musical score folios, individual sheet music and when the same is displayed or sold as sheet music on the Internet.

Public performance royalties are also subject to a publishing agreement. This income is due when a musical composition is publicly performed, including when it is played on the radio, at a nightclub, a concert hall, or a stadium. These funds are collected by Performing Rights Organizations (P.R.O.). In the United States, the P.R.O.s are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. A songwriter must become a member of a P.R.O. in order to receive their public performance royalties. Additionally, each country has their own P.R.O., so a foreign citizen should become a member of the organization in their country of citizenship.

Finally, synchronization income, referred to as “synch” monies, are subject to the same publishing deal. This income is paid when a composition is displayed with a visual image, such as in a motion picture, in a television program, in a music video or in a video game. There is income here that may also be collected by the owner’s respective P.R.O.

As is standard with most exclusive recording agreements, the deal is usually cross-collateralized with any other agreements between the same parties. Again, this means that any advance and any other funds expended on behalf of the writer, whether under a recording contract or a publishing contract, are recouped against any royalties earned from either agreement. If possible, it is prudent to limit or prevent the cross-collateralization of the agreements; however, most companies will not permit this.

In addition, some publishing companies attempt to cross-collateralize the royalties earned by one co-writer in a composition with that of any other co-writers of the same track. This permits the publisher to credit any royalties earned by any co-writer of a composition toward the outstanding royalty balance of any other co-writers of a song, even if they are not attributable to this particular co-written song. If it is cross-collateralized, the publisher is permitted to credit any royalties earned by any co-writer of a composition, even if they are not attributable to this particular co-written song, toward the outstanding royalty balance of any other co-writers of a song. It is prudent to ensure that each writer’s royalty account is not cross-collateralized with any other co-writers of a track by ensuring that only tracks written by one writer are credited toward that writer’s outstanding balance without permitting the cross-collateralization of accounts with any other co-writers.

Another point to be aware of is that an artist should try to ensure that if they are signed to both a recording and publishing agreement with the company; and, if the company wants to extend one of the deals, the other deal is also not automatically extended. This prevents the artist from being dropped from the label while still being signed to the publishing company.

One final matter that should be addressed in this arrangement is the songwriter’s creative control and approval for the uses of its compositions. In particular, a writer should try to include a limitation on the types of works that their composition can be licensed to or included in. For instance, a “kid friendly” pop star may not want their composition featured in a commercial that contains drug, alcohol or tobacco use, features sexual content, or violence. In addition, an artist should have a right to approve any changes to their finished music. This includes ensuring that any song or lyric alterations conform to the artist’s “mood” or “style” of music. For example, a publisher should not be able to take a dance track created by a dance artist and edit it so that it is now a heavy metal record.

We will now examine a few standard clauses included in an exclusive songwriter publishing agreement.

SERVICES – During the Term, Writer shall furnish to Publisher, Writer’s exclusive services as a songwriter and composer and shall deliver to Publisher, for exclusive exploitation hereunder, all of Writer’s interest in and to all of the Compositions. 

(a) New Compositions – Musical works that are written, composed, created, owned and/or acquired, during the Term, by Writer, alone or in collaboration with another or others (hereinafter referred to individually and collectively as “New Compositions”) 

(b) Old Compositions – Musical works that are written, composed, created, conceived, owned, controlled and/or acquired, in whole or in part, prior to the Term, by Writer, alone or in collaboration with another or others (hereinafter referred to individually and collectively as “Old Compositions”). The New Compositions and the Old Compositions are individually and collectively referred to as the “Compositions.” 

As described above, the publishing agreement usually signs the writer to an exclusive agreement for their publishing rights in all of their Compositions. This means that the agreement applies to any existing compositions that the writer has created and owns as well as any new material they create or acquire during the term of this agreement. It may be advisable to attempt to exclude certain existing tracks from the agreement in an effort to prevent the publisher from receiving income from those compositions. This is especially true, if those tracks are already under a prior exclusive publishing deal. This is not the easiest goal to achieve as most of the time; the artist is only receiving the publishing deal due to an interest in all of their existing material as well as any new material they create going forward.

GRANT OF RIGHTS

(a) Writer hereby irrevocably assigns and grants to Publisher and its successors, all rights and interests of every kind and nature in and to the results of Writer’s songwriting and composing services, including, the Compositions, the copyrights therein and any and all renewals and/or extensions thereof throughout the Territory, all for the full term of copyright protection and all extensions and renewals thereof throughout the Territory. 

(b) Administration – Publisher shall have the sole and exclusive right to administer one hundred percent (100%) of Publisher’s and Writer’s respective interests in and to the Compositions, whether now in existence or hereafter created, including the following: 

(i) To perform the Compositions publicly, by means of public or private performance, radio broadcasting, television, or any and all other means, whether now known or which may hereafter come into existence. 

(ii) To substitute a new title or titles for the Compositions, and to make any adaptation or translation of the Compositions, in whole or in part, and to add new music or lyrics to the music of any Composition. 

(iii) To make and to license others to make, master records, tapes, compact discs, and any other mechanical or other reproductions of the Compositions, including the right to synchronize the same with sound motion pictures, radio broadcast, television, tapes, compact discs and any and all other means or devices, whether now known or which may hereafter come into existence. 

(iv) To print, publish and sell, and to license others to print, publish and sell, sheet music, orchestrations, arrangements, including, without limitation, the inclusion of any or all of the Compositions in song folios, song books or lyric magazines. 

(v) To collect all monies earned during the Term with respect to the Compositions. 

The above language explores the various rights granted to the publisher by the songwriter in the agreement. The clause affords the publisher with the exclusive right to administer one hundred (100%) percent of the song’s publishing. Under this provision, the publisher has the right to license the work for inclusions on CDs, as MP3 downloads and as sheet music. They also have the right to collect all the monies earned on the contracted for compositions.

Additionally, the publisher has the right to license the work on the radio, on television, in motion pictures and by “. . . all other means or devices, whether now known or which may hereafter come into existence.” This language permits the publisher to apply its current publishing deal to any new technology or means of distributing music that may come into existence at a later date. Furthermore, the publisher is granted the right to translate into another language as well as adding new lyrics to any composition created by the songwriter.

In our next installment, we will continue our discussion on a music publisher’s exclusive publishing agreement with a songwriter.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling. 

Making Music After a Major Life Struggle

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

 

I used to admire how some of my favorite artists could seamlessly convert the most difficult challenges of their lives into incredible songs. But I found it nearly impossible to do just about anything, let alone write music, in November 2016 after my right elbow was shattered in a hit-and-run biking accident. Realizing that the process of pulling potent lyrics and memorable melodies out of my sudden intense pain and turmoil was going to be anything but easy and straightforward, I’d stare at my computer screen for a few minutes and retreat back to bed after using my good arm to set up my small MIDI keyboard that I planned on writing melodies and bass lines with.

Yes, making and experiencing music can be a powerful agent of therapy and comfort in all things – not just life’s unexpected traumas and setbacks – but it can be hugely difficult or downright impossible to keep writing songs after experiencing death or loss, or any other significant trouble. After undergoing the first of two surgeries I’d eventually need to bring full functionality back to my arm, I soon defiantly returned to songwriting in a percocet-induced haze, but the ideas I managed to eek out seemed uninspired and forced to me.

‘I’ve got plenty to write about,’ I thought. Why isn’t this working?

After a major setback, we’re often eager to make something good come out of a horrible experience, but that’s not always the way it works. For me, I couldn’t make meaningful music again until I was able to fully process and cope with what had happened to me. Yes, I needed and still need a consistent songwriting practice to feel happy and fulfilled, but I was woefully preoccupied at the time with more pressing matters like simply staying afloat as a human being.

Depending on your situation, you simply might not be able to find the time, energy and resources to make music after the trauma you’ve experienced, and that’s okay. That’s not a failing on your part or representative of you as a person. This can be a really difficult thing to accept if you’re a person who uses music-making in your life as a means to stay sane and creatively productive; but like with most things, the passing of time is the only thing that can get you back to doing the things you love.

It took me months before I was able to start making music again at full capacity. The most obvious challenge in writing and producing music after my accident was the temporary loss of my right and dominant arm –– I play guitar and keys –– but depending on your unique trauma, you’ll face an entirely different set of hurdles that need to be cleared.

If you’ve experienced the death of someone close to you, the act of creating music might be something that loses its meaning for a while.

For someone experiencing financial trouble like the loss of a job or an unforeseen medical expense, you might be forced to choose between finding time to make ends meet and making music.

But like with everything after experiencing a huge setback, it’s paramount to keep trying to get back to a sense of normalcy. Maybe you’ll be able to make some incredible music after your trauma about what you’ve experienced, but a more realistic goal is to return to your usual songwriting process whenever you’re able to. This way you won’t have to deal with your problems while facing pressure to create a masterpiece out of them at the same time.

Some musicians are able to completely immerse themselves in their work as a means for coping with life’s struggles, but you shouldn’t be discouraged if you’re someone without the means and inspiration to do the same thing.

Stories of how artists make music inspired by death, breakups and other traumas are good for dramatic bios and press releases, but they don’t reflect the often tedious difficult work of songwriting. If the music you make after a life struggle isn’t emotionally raw or moving, that’s okay. It might take a long time for you to make compelling music again, but you should do everything you can to be kind to yourself and to celebrate your songwriting efforts after experiencing hardship no matter what sort of music you manage to create.

It’s coming up on the 12-month anniversary of my accident, and my songwriting isn’t the same if I’m being honest. But how could it be? I’m a little better after what happened to me in some ways and noticeably worse in others. That’s life for you, right? All I can do is move forward the best way I can and be grateful that I still have the desire and means to still be making music.

5 Reasons It Pays To Collaborate

[Editors Note: This article was written by Suzanne Paulinksi, an artist consultant with over 10 years in the music industry and owner of The Rock/Star Advocate.]

 

They often say, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” but what does that actually mean? Sure, we all know the benefits of growing our own team to carry out our own vision, but what are the real benefits to working with others who don’t work for us?

In years past, as I tried to get former businesses off the ground, I had been approached many times to collaborate with other business owners. More often than not I said no, afraid someone else would cloud my overall vision or try to usurp whatever I was currently working on and take it for themselves. I also had bad flashbacks of school projects when group work meant me busting my ass and four or five others benefiting off of my all-nighters.

So I pushed ahead on my own.

After two businesses failed to reach their full potential, I realized it was time to get out of my own way and realize the potential of combining forces. It’s one thing to hire internally and have a team help execute your vision – in fact, it’s crucial – but it’s quiet another to work with someone else who is in your same position (the captain of their own ship), but who brings a different perspective or skill set to the table.

Whether you’re a business owner or a songwriter, when it comes to true collaboration, it’s no longer about making your vision work, it’s about doing what works, period.

You don’t have to abandon your vision, but you do have to be open to improving it.

If you can trust that it’s just as important to have people who work with you as it is to have people to work for you then you can profit (in more ways than one) from these five benefits of collaboration:

1. Opens you up to a new or larger fan base: If you’re an artist who is trying to build their fanbase, positioning yourself to be a featured artist on someone else’s track or reaching out to share a stage with an artist who has already established a tour can get you in front of others who may not be familiar with you, but who are already primed to be potential fans of yours. Don’t stay up on other musicians as a way to “keep an eye on the competition,” but stay informed on who’s making moves as a way to keep an eye out for collaboration.

2. Opens you up to more prominent industry attention: Especially if you’re in the songwriting business, collaborating with another writer who already has the ear of industry decision makers can elevate your chances of getting their ear as well. That’s not to say you should only work with people who have reached a certain recognition – working with someone else who is on your same level can be just as beneficial. Not only are two brains almost always better than one, but creating something from two different perspectives can give your project the unique spin needed to make others listen.

3. Gets you a life long partner in this industry who has your back: Creating art is a very vulnerable process. Creating art with someone else can create an almost immediate bond. In an industry that can be very unforgiving, forming a close relationship with someone who can 100% relate to your specific position in the industry can be invaluable as you grow together.

4. Makes you better creatively and professionally: As I said above about not needing to abandon your vision, but being open to improving it, collaboration causes you to reflect on what you bring to the table and push further. A strong collaboration will force you to dig deep and put it all on the table. Much like an accountability buddy when trying to finish a task, when there’s someone to answer to you’ll try harder. On a professional note, knowing how to work with other personalities and talents is never a skill you should let get rusty.

5. Gives you a great story: When you bio is all about you, it becomes a snoozefest. Everyone loves a good love story in the movies, and everyone loves to hear how a song or project came together from a successful collaboration, especially if it’s an unexpected one. It gives you plenty of content to share and drip out as part of your promotional campaign. It makes cross-promotion a no-brainer, once again getting your work in front of a larger audience.

A little bit of skepticism with who you choose to let into your creative world is healthy, but paranoia or being overly controlling has never served anyone in the long run. Remember that in the end, it’s all about presenting your fans with the best version of yourself and sometimes it takes others to bring that out of us.

Here’s to making the dream work!

How To Finally Break Up With a Co-Writer

[Editors Note: This was written by Dan Reifsnyder and originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog. Late in 2016, TuneCore Blog contributing writer Mason Hoberg also covered fractured relationships among artists in his article titled, “How To Kick Out a Band Member”.]

 

Sometimes, it’s time to pull the plug on a relationship. It happens all the time, and co-writing is no different. Even the best co-writing relationships can go sour (think Lennon and McCartney, for instance), and it’s wise to think about an exit strategy if things are looking bleak.

Breaking up can be difficult for obvious reasons, whether it’s with a co-writer or significant other, and you may notice some parallels between the two. Sharing your creative side with someone and pouring energy into a project can certainly be a bonding experience. Not to mention the fact that co-writers often know quite a bit about each other, especially if they’ve been at it a long time.

Regardless of the stage of your writing relationship, here are three ways you can let your partner down in the most professional and kind way possible.

1. Be direct

This is by far the most difficult option, but I find it’s usually the best. Letting someone know – kindly, but firmly – where you stand often clears the air very quickly and begets the least amount of negativity in the long term.

If you’re unsure of what to say, try some variation of the following: “I’m sorry, I just don’t feel we’re working well together right now – our artistic sensibilities are just too different.” The other person may ask questions about your decision – in fact, that’s likely.

Your level of honesty depends on your relationship. If you’re too honest, it could piss off him or her. At the same time, if there’s a particular reason (maybe he or she needs to work on listening to his or her co-writers or brush up on his or her lyrical chops), that person deserve the chance to fix it for the future. Your (now former) partner may even appreciate it, albeit in hindsight.

Keeping someone as a friend after being direct can often prove difficult, but I suggest trying to leave a door open. You never know where either of you will find yourselves in the future, and you may change your mind about working with him or her down the road.

Offer to hang out in a non-writing setting sometime. Send him or her a text or an email every once in awhile or reach out on social media. You can never have too many friends in this industry, and it’s always smart to do your best to avoid creating grudges.

2. Avoid writing together

I’ve seen this done a lot to varying effect. If you’re not comfortable with the direct approach, this option may be more diplomatic. A word of warning, though: It can take longer and has the potential to create bad feelings if you don’t do it right.

The simplest way to go about this is to be busy. It can help if you really are swamped with work or working on other projects. Say you can’t write at the moment, but you’ll revisit in a few months. This serves two purposes: First, it lets everything cool off. You’re not writing together as often and maybe talking less. It can soften the blow for the eventual “breakup.”

Second, it can give you time and space to gather your thoughts about writing together. Perhaps you’re just getting burned out. If so, you can return to the project in a few weeks or months since you haven’t officially burned any bridges.

If you still decide you two don’t make the best writing team, continue to be non-committal about making time to get together. Most people either get the idea and drop it or forget about it entirely. (After all, your partner probably has a busy life, too.) If he or she presses, be honest and give an honest answer. And with the benefit of time away, he or she just may come to agree that it’s the best thing.

A word of warning: Don’t lie. In other words, don’t tell the other person you’re not feeling very creative when it’s obvious you’re writing every day. If anything rings untrue – or worse, is an outright falsehood – it will be taken personally and you’ll look pretty scummy… the very thing you want to avoid.

3. Ghost

This is, by far, my least favorite option  because it leaves the most room for hurt feelings and burned bridges. Sometimes, though, it’s the only option – especially if your co-writer isn’t getting the hint or has put you in an uncomfortable, awkward, or dangerous situation (unwanted sexual advances, illegal activity, or just being generally sketchy).

In that case, feel free to ghost and ghost liberally. For those who don’t know what “ghosting” is, it’s sudden and complete radio silence. You can go as far as blocking the other person on social media or from your phone, and that may be necessary depending on what he or she has done. Save this for all but the most serious situations – it will unquestionably end your relationship (professional or otherwise) and potentially sour any mutual contacts you have.

Be wary of ghosting too often, however – if done too much, you will appear to be flaky and unreliable (or possibly unstable), and people will be reluctant to work with you.


As Paul Simon once said, there are 50 ways to leave your lover, and that goes for co-writing relationships, too. These are just some of the most common and effective ways I’ve found. With any luck, though, you’ll never need to use them.

7 Great Ways to Accelerate Your Songwriting Skills

[Editors Note: This was written by Zac Green. Zac is a regular contributor to the Zing Instruments Blog.]

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank piece of paper. Starting the process of writing a new song can take just as long as finishing it. So here’s seven tips to help you speed up your songwriting.

1. Work in a group, then alone

Having a few people to bounce ideas around with helps the creative process get started. After you’ve got your song started, the democratic process is more likely to slow you down. If you’re writing songs as part of a band, it can be better to go and complete your parts individually once you’ve gotten the overall idea in place.

2. Drink alcohol, then coffee

Research has shown that drinking alcohol boosts your creativity, but makes it hard to focus. Coffee, and other drinks containing caffeine, has the opposite effect. For your brainstorming session, loosen up with a few drinks. This works especially well if combined with the first tip, but be careful not to get carried away and turn it into a drinking session. Once you’ve sat down to start writing the ideas you have onto paper, fire up the kettle.

3. Give chance a chance

After a long music career, you might find that all of your songs are starting to sound the same. There’s nothing wrong with having a recognisable sound, but you don’t want to get stale. Shake things up by writing different elements of songs onto pieces of paper, such as keys, lyrical themes, and so on. Place them into a hat and draw five at random. Force yourself to use these, no matter how badly they seem to go together. The results can be surprisingly good – and more importantly they help you to think outside of your usual boundaries.

4. Write somewhere different

Creativity doesn’t exist in a void. If you want to be inspired, go for a long walk somewhere far away from your usual haunts. The change of scenery, fresh air and act of walking itself can be great for generating new ideas. If nothing else, it gives you a chance to let yourself relax. Stress is a major impediment to creativity.

5. Learn your music theory

I don’t care how unappealing this seems. You might think that learning theory chokes your freedom or that it’s boring. However, if you don’t know what the rules around music are, it’s impossible to break them in a way which is both purposeful and well-executed. This applies no matter what genre you’re in. For example, my own personal foray into EDM was vastly improved when I started learning about cadence, a concept from choral music.

6. Steal from other songs

Now let me just clarify something before we go any further. I am absolutely not telling you to copy somebody else’s song in it’s entirety and try to pass it off as your own. That’s not songwriting, and you’re unlikely to get away with it for very long.

What you can do, is jot down interesting chord progressions, licks and lyrics. Playing around with these later, such as using inverted versions of the chords, trying it in a different key or modulating can lead to something brand new as the changes you’ve made will lead to a naturally different conclusion.

7. Use good notation software

Writing music by hand can take quite a while, and you can’t always check to see if it sounds right straight away. By using notation software, such as Sibelius, or if you can’t read music, just programming the notes into a digital audio workstation (DAW) can transform your songwriting process completely, as it’s quite easy to quickly change sections of your music without having to rewrite every single note.

Armed with these tricks, your songwriting skills will change practically overnight. It doesn’t matter if you apply all of them at once (although that isn’t entirely practical) or try them out a few at a time. Your own process is going to be a factor in this, so perhaps some of them won’t be entirely applicable. Don’t fret about this, just do the ones that feel ‘right’ to you.