For quite some time I was considering moving to Los Angeles in order to pursue a successful songwriting career. I must say quite a few things have changed since I last held that thought.
Since then, I have experienced a couple of health issues (im fine now, thanks god!), quit my job and I started a (then) new relationship, which I’m very happy with. But before experiencing these life-changing events I did research the topic of how to become a songwriter in Los Angeles, here is what I found out: You will have to:
- Stand out
- Love your craft
Treat writing as a hobby, not a profession
Join a songwriting union
Get a job at a songwriting studio
Attend songwriting nights
Go to monthly industry events
Be aware of the 90-10 rule
Write every day
Use your own unique style
Focus on upcoming artists
PRO TIP: I have included a few “must go to” events to check out in LA and NY, also, I talk about what to do before moving to a new location as well as tips for songwriters who are not currently living in Los Angeles or New York City.
Does LA offer real advantages?
First of all, let’s explore if LA or NYC offer any real advantages compared to other cities to begin with.
In my opinion, you are likely to encounter a vast amount of competition no matter where you live. Besides in today’s world, you can work from practically everywhere with writers that are placed all over the globe. In that aspect living in Los Angeles or in New York City doesn’t provide you with a significant advantage compared to other cities.
But wait there is more!
Location, location, Los Angeles
I mentioned before that LA does not offer significant advantages compared to other cities, “but Mark”, I hear you say, “that can’t be entirely true!” Well… you’re right, it isn’t!
When living in L.A. you get to experience, see and understand (first-hand) how the musician’s, writers, artists, think, behave and communicate. This alone could provide you with a great advantage compared to other songwriters who reside outside of Los Angeles.
How about New York City?
New York City has a wonderful audience but it’s more diverse, there are simply countless other artists and creative types. In LA, on the other hand, the songwriting community is easier to locate and connect with.
1) How to stand out
No matter where you live you will have to find ways to stand out from the competition- locally and globally. Below I have listed useful tips, some of them are intended specifically for writers living in Los Angeles or New York while others are appliable for every songwriter no matter their location.
2) Love your craft
This one is quite self-explanatory, as an artist, you must love your work, this is the case for almost any profession. You are willing to devote more time when you enjoy what it is you’re doing.
3) It’s a hobby, not a profession
in the beginning treating songwriting just as a hobby can save you from a lot of trouble, in the sense that you have a day job which you use to pay your bills, and in your free time you can focus on composing songs. Approaching songwriting as a hobby can limit the number of frustrations but then again if you stay too long in this initial phase you could self-sabotage yourself by not moving forward. I sujest you have a brainstorm and think which approach suits you better.
4) Join a songwriting union
Write yourself at a songwriting union (BMI, ASCAP or SESAC) and take advantage of the opportunities they offer, whether it’s networking or songwriter-specific workshops.
5) Educate yourself
Try learning as much as you can about the music industry sector, talk with other songwriters, read the books, watch interviews from famous artists, understand how royalties work. Whatever you do, invest in yourself-education.
The whole music industry is a hit or miss career. Music labels songwriters and producers earn their income from music that is trending right now, consequently you as a songwriter will earn money if your music is being played and sold.
6) Get a job at a songwriting studio
”I was at the right place at the right time,
talking to the right people”.
If you find it difficult to approach big artists, try and find a job at a music studio and work yourself up. What you want is to put yourself in a position where you are in the room talking to the right people and having their attention!
7) Attend songwriter nights
This is a must! Attending songwriter nights allows you to network with other music industry professionals, exchange knowledge and help each other out. Do a Google research or contact your local songwriting union for more information.
8) Go to Monthly industry events
We talked about songwriter nights but there are more industry events you could attend and network with a variety of pros. Always keep a couple of USB sticks, with your music on them (generally avoid CDs) and look not only to pass them on to the main artist but also look for key players, these are people who work closely with the artist and could possibly present them with your work.
9) The 10-90 rule
Okay, this one will hurt… Only 10% of your songs will be selected recorded and released under a major artist. There is simply too much competition not only in Los Angeles but in the whole music industry. A&R managers are very skillful in recognizing a potential hit and filtering out the weeds. Step up your game!!
10) Impress them
Do your best to impress the people you work with. Its a fact that your music has to be liked by the record label and they will only choose songs that they believe resonate with the artist’s fan base. You could consider writing a few songs for a specific artist and fitting in their particular style but at the same time be open for other opportunities.
11) Write every day
Writing every day is a must, maybe you don’t have to complete 10.000 hours in order to become a master in your field but you certainly must practice almost every day.
Even the most successful songwriters get their music rejected on a weekly basis or they are being asked to rewrite a specific song.
take as example Pharrell Williams and his hit song Happy. Pharrell had to rewrite it 6 times until the movie producers of the Motion Picture “Despicable Me” were satisfied. What did he get in return? An amazing number one hit! Just keep in mind the better you become the greater the chance for success.
12) Use your own unique style
Something that distinguishes successful songwriters from unsuccessful ones is the fact that most of them have cultivated a unique style. Their signature could involve composing great melodies, the use of certain production sounds, maybe a similar chord structure or simply having a unique intro may do the trick. Whatever the case may be your music signature must stand out.
Keep in mind that producers and musicians have to look through a pile of songs to try and identify a possible No 1 hit. Often if they already have a couple of songs with a certain theme they’ll likely want something different but also songs that fit their current style.
13) Emotion is key
Artist, are emotional creatures, a rule of thumb is:
”If you don’t feel it probably ain’t that good”
I always try and present songs that are evoking some kind of emotions to the listener.
14) Focus on upcoming artists
One strategy you could use is focusing on upcoming artists, the reason being, famous musicians lead a busy lifestyle and often have a lot on their plate. Because they have so many fans it’s harder to reach them and even if you do they most probably have tons of different songs to choose from.
It’s also a fact that most popular musicians are not willing to tackle as many risks upcoming artist would. An established artist has a strong fanbase that enjoys his current style. Also most likely the Popstar is working with a trusted team including a few select songwriters & producers. Even if he seeks something new he will first turn to people in his inner circle for the appropriate recommendations.
On the other hand, upcoming artists are willing to embrace new genres and new styles since they don’t have an established fan base and are still trying to “make it” in the music industry.
Events to check out in LA
- ASCAP Workshops
- Durango Songwriters Expo
- SESAC Bootcamp
Events to check out in NYC
- SummerSongs East
- New York Songwriters Circle (NYSC
- Island Songwriters Showcase (ISS)
- MOVE Music Festival
What to do before moving to another city (or country)
Try visiting the city you’re interested in a few times and build a small network. You could go there with a group and share experiences or you could connect with local artists and professionals in order to expand your views. Only When you’ve made the definitive decision start making the necessary arrangements to ensure a smooth transition.
Not living in LA? That’s great!
If you don’t live in LA or in NYC consider writing songs for artists that have participated in famous shows such as Americas Got Talent or The Voice. These artists are hot right now, easy to approach and for at least a year they will receive massive attention.
You could also study their past and write a song that truly resonates with what they’ve experienced so far. Doing so will increase your chances of working with them.
Extra tips for non L-Aliens and non New Yorkers
You could connect with artists through Social media such as Instagram and LinkedIn. Or go to your local recording studio for a cup of coffee, even create a meetup event (you can use MeetUp or Eventbrite) and organize small songwriting get-together-and-network type of nights.
That is what I did in London, I searched for meetup events got my laptop, my best song and went for it! 🙂
I believe in order to make it as a songwriter no matter if you are currently living in Los Angeles, New York City or somewhere else, you’ll have to be very motivated, see the future better than it is but at the same time embrace facts and reality.
What I’m trying to say is that you need the ability to visualize a successful future in front of you, otherwise you won’t take action but also be honest about your shortcomings and work on them in order to improve as a music professional.
I’m eager to hear about your journey as a songwriter and I’m also very interested in knowing what steps have you taken thus far?
With all my heart I wish you the best of luck!!