How to Make Money as a Songwriter: A Complete Guide

Discover how to make a living as a songwriter with our comprehensive guide. From traditional royalties to modern digital streams, learn what monetization fits you best.

How to Make Money as a Songwriter: A Complete Guide

How to Make Money as a Songwriter: A Complete Guide

“It's not about the money, money, money
We don't need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag” 

Jessie J’s “Price Tag” might have you humming along to the idea that “it’s not about the money”. It might make you think that financial success is secondary to the art of music. However, that’s not quite the case. The reality for songwriters is far more complex. While passion certainly is a critical ingredient, it’s a part of an over romanticized image of the music industry. Thriving as a songwriter is not just about art and musical talents. It’s also about knowing how to monetize your work. 

Monetary success has become sort of a proxy for validation in the music industry. If you want to be taken seriously as a songwriter, you need to earn some money. This guide explores the ins and outs of making money as a songwriter, from understanding the songwriting market to maximizing earnings through the various channels available. 

How songwriters make money

The advent of the internet and the consequent digitalization has made a significant impact on how music is produced, distributed, and consumed. As a result, songwriters have a plethora of monetization opportunities. 

Traditional revenue streams

In the days before the internet, the manual of making money as a songwriter went something like this:

Step 1: Have a musical gift from god 

Step 2: Get discovered, ideally from a sketchy individual with a cigar in its mouth, a top hat and that he promises you that you will be a star

Step 3: Sign a music contract without reading the fine print

Step 4: Make a lot of money for someone else

Step 5: Break from the contract

Step 6: Make money 

It’s a caricature, sure, and perhaps biased towards the singer-songwriter. But, the main elements hold true. Cigar-chomping moguls, industry gatekeepers, and underhanded contracts were all quite real in all traditional revenue streams–and still are to some extent in these revenue channels. 

Historically, we’re talking about three types of revenue streams:

Mechanical Royalties: Royalties that are earned when a song is physically or digitally reproduced, such as CDs and downloads. 

Performance Royalties: Earned when a song is played publicly. Performance royalties encompass aspects such as live playback, radio, and streaming services. 

Synchronization Fees: Earned when music is used in film, TV, advertisements, or video games. 

Modern revenue streams for songwriters

Mechanical, performance and sync royalties all remain relevant today. It’s even rather simple to argue that the emergence of the internet and associated technologies has made them more relevant than ever, mainly because of lower barriers to entry and expansion of possibilities within each. For example, everyone with talent and access to music production software can in theory earn sync fees from an ever growing catalog of content manufactured every year. 

As the music industry evolves, songwriters have access to more channels to monetize their work. Here's a look at some modern revenue streams:

Digital Streaming Royalties

With platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, songwriters earn a fraction of a cent each time their song is played. These royalties are distributed through performing rights organizations and mechanical rights agencies. 

For many, this is the best place to start… At least, you will want to upload your stuff anyway for a chance at some relatively passive revenue. It’s also a good idea to look into which streaming services pay musicians the most. 


Ghostwriting involves creating lyrics, melodies or even entire compositions for artists without ever receiving public credit. As a ghostwriter you are compensated for your work but typically you will not get the copyright. 

If your talent revolves around lyrics and melodies, then this might be an avenue for you. Songwriters who excel at ghostwriting often build a strong income stream as their reputation earns them repeat clients and referrals. 

Ghostwriting can also lead to professional songwriting. For example, Sia, Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean and Lady Gaga all wrote songs for other artists before making their own name. 

Beat and Sample Sales

Talented songwriters can create beats or samples and sell them on platforms like BeatStars or Splice. This has become a lucrative market, especially for those skilled in producing high-quality, in-demand beats. 

If you write ambient and cinematic music, this may be something you’d want to consider. For example, you could upload your mastered tracks to Spotify and then split the masters into loops and sell on Splice. That gives you two income streams instead of just one. 

Freelancing Gigs

Songwriters can offer their services for lyrics, melody creation, or even full song compositions on freelancing platforms like Fiverr or SoundBetter. This can range from writing custom songs for individuals to creating jingles for businesses.

Digital Licensing and Micro-sync Deals

With the explosion of content on digital platforms, there's a growing need for music in web series, indie films, YouTube videos, and podcasts. Songwriters can license their music for use in these mediums, often through micro-sync deals that are smaller and more flexible than traditional sync licenses.


Platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon allow songwriters to fund their projects directly through their fanbase. This can cover recording costs, marketing, or even touring, providing a direct link between artists and their supporters.

Different types of songwriting

It can be helpful to look through some of the revenue streams above from different angles. There can be many different songwriting aspects within each, influencing the revenue potential. 

The revenue a songwriter makes can significantly depend on their specific niche or the type of songwriting they engage in. 

Here are a few types to consider:

Commercial Songwriting

Writing songs intended for mainstream artists or bands. This often involves working with music labels and can lead to substantial mechanical and performance royalties as these songs have the potential to achieve high streaming numbers. 

If you songwrite for another performer, you may earn as high as 9.1 cents in mechanical royalties for each sale, depending on the amount of songwriters working on the track and so on. This means that if the track proves a hit, you can make serious bank just from that one song. 

Independent Songwriting 

Songwriters working outside the traditional label system may have more control over their music and potentially earn more from direct sales, digital streaming, and licensing deals.

Writing for Film and Television

Specializing in creating music that fits visual media can be very lucrative, especially through synchronization fees. It’s a distinct niche that combines narrative storytelling with musical composition. It requires a deep understanding of character development, plot progression, and the ability to convey complex emotions and themes through music. 

Writing for Theatre and Musicals

While perhaps more niche, this can lead to significant earnings, especially if the work gains popularity and is performed widely. Same as for film and television, understanding of plot and characters is essential. 

Custom Songwriting

Writing personalized songs for individuals or businesses can be a steady income source, especially with the rise of digital platforms facilitating these transactions. Consider for example, a group of friends that want to write a custom birthday song for one of their members, or to commemorate a trip they took together. You can score gigs like this on Fiverr and similar platforms. 

How Much Does a Songwriter Make?

It’s hard to put a concrete figure on what a songwriter makes as it can range from 0 to 1000s of dollars. It largely depends on what sorts of projects you take on, the type of songwriting you do, the amount of work you put in, and above all: luck. 

If you songwrite a track for another artist who makes it big, you can earn a lot. For example, the Rolling Stone writes that Adele’s co-writer, Dan Wilson, earned nearly $900K in royalties for his work on “Someone Like You”. 

At the end of the day it depends on what effort you put in, and again: luck. 

How to Make Money Songwriting

So, we’ve covered the various channels in which a songwriter can make money. We’ve also talked about the types of songwriting you can find in those channels. It should be clear by now that making money as a songwriter requires more than just talent. You must also understand the business side of music. 

To wrap it up, here are a few handy tips for you to keep in mind. 

#1 Register with the right organizations

To receive performance royalties, you must register with Performing Rights Organizations like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. These organizations collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and distribute them. 

If you’re expecting mechanical royalties, aligning with mechanical rights agencies is a good idea. It ensures that you’re accurately compensated for physical and digital reproduction of your work. 

#2 Build a diverse portfolio

Don’t depend on any single income stream. Diversify your songwriting portfolio and tap into multiple revenue streams. And no, this does not necessarily mean you need to diversify the type of music you write, though that may be something to look into too. 

Focusing on multiple revenue streams makes you less dependent on other actors, and it challenges you to develop your skills, which in turn can lead to new opportunities. 

#3 Minimize production costs

Don’t be tempted to buy all the new plugins, sound packs, gear, and so on. Avoid expensive stock beats and don’t bring in a producer too early. For most songwriters, keeping overhead low will be the most impactful lever in increasing your earnings.

Collaboration with producers should be strategic—save that investment for when you're polishing your tracks for release. And, use your instruments and tools like Overtune to make your ideas into tangible music pieces before bringing on a producer. By keeping overhead low, you preserve more of your income, enabling reinvestment into aspects of your career that offer the greatest return. 

Same goes for distribution. Be cheap. Opt for something like Soundon which lets you retain full ownership of your tracks and earn 100% of the royalties without any hidden administrative fees.  

#4 Build your following online

Share your work. Try to engage people and get them to talk with you. Use social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube to share your music, connect with fans, and build a community. 

Engagement on these platforms can lead to a dedicated following, providing a base of supporters eager to support your work through concert tickets, merchandise, or subscription services like Patreon. Authentic interaction and consistent content delivery can turn a casual listener into a lifelong fan.

#5 Don’t underestimate jingles and advertising work

It may not be as romantic, but it pays. In fact, writing music for advertising might be the most attractive niche for most songwriters when you consider it in terms of lucrativeness and attainability. Advertising projects pay well and can offer a steady stream of work. 

Final remarks

Though Jessie J’s sentiment is nice, it’s simply not the reality for most of us. We could even go so far as saying it’s a good example of the hypocrisy of the music industry. Money is what the music business is about. Always has been, always will–and of course you should get a share that reflects your contributions. 

Embracing this truth does not make you any less of an artist. Rather, it helps you navigate the industry more effectively and increases your chances of success. Be proactive and keep an eye out for changes. As technology continues to evolve and break down barriers in the music business, more opportunities for aspiring songwriters will open up

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