We tend to think of an artist of a band when it comes to a song, one person that really makes the magic behind a track is often a songwriter.
Those who call themselves songwriters are responsible for arranging and creating the melodies, lyrics, and sometimes chords, which can often be way more effort than the lead performer will need to put in. For this reason, these key music players can make a ton more money than a lead artist can, but how does it really break down behind the scenes?
According to sources like Indeed and Zip Recruiter, writers can make, on average, between $40k and 60K a year if they get enough requests to write a song. These types of music players don't often get paid by salary; they get paid per project and with royalties.
In some instances, songwriters don't get paid per project and solely rely on royalty share once their song gets picked up by the music industry. On many occasions, these music writers will do projects that are work-for-hire, absolving them of any rights to a royalty share. On rare occasions, songwriters may charge a flat fee per hour for their work.
The value of a song can be seen differently depending on the style, length, and budget for a project. As a songwriter myself, I have seen anywhere between $200 and $1000 payments for writing a song for independent/local artists or producers.
These types of songwriting projects were mostly for small-time releases and small businesses that had a need for writing in a situation where the song was not likely to blow up and gain a lot of royalties.
If you, for example, were a songwriter who wrote three tracks a week for $300 each, you would be making $4,800 per month, or $57,000 per year, which is pretty decent for making a living in many areas. This is why Many songwriters also have other day jobs or side hustles to pay the bills.
Songwriters' percentage from royalties will depend on their involvement in the song and the success of the song.
Very popular songwriters get paid per track, but they also get the benefits of mechanical synchronization for each song. Total royalties owed to a music producer can account for up to $.09 per reproduction or sale of a song and up to .02 per stream of a song.
Mechanical royalties are owed to the composers (including the songwriters) and publisher of a musical work each time a song is sold (50% for the composer and 50% for the publisher).
When songs are used in TV, film, radio, and the like, royalties are owed to the composer (including the songwriters) of the song and the publishing company as well (again, 50% for the composer and 50% for the publisher).
Estimating royalties can be a much harder process since most songs don't generate much, if any, at all. But if you, for example, were a songwriter who got $4,800 per month by making three songs a week, and those songs were also doing fairly well in the music industry, you could be looking at an extra few thousand dollars a month.
As shown above, from my Distrokid dashboard, I was the songwriter for a track that got a half million players through streaming sites. I collected 20% of the royalties since I wrote most of the lyrics and melody, and there was a separate creator for the beat.
One of my favorite things about Distrokid is the options they give you for royalty splits with other creators. As a hired singer and songwriter, I have way more song releases that are collaborations than I have for my own personal catalog.
My 20% of the royalty share allowed me to earn around $630 from royalties, thanks to that one song. The bulk of the plays came in over a six-month period.
How involved do songwriters even get?
Sometimes, the writer acts as an instrumentation creator and a songwriter, which would allow them 100% of the composers' portion of the royalties. Other times, there are many songwriters and instrumentation arrangers that all have to split that share.
In more modern genres like dance, hip-hop, and R&B, the job of a writer is often strictly to create the lyrics and the melody. In many cases, the songwriter is co-writing with many other songwriters to create the perfect song that will get a lot of sales.
Most songs that aren't being released by major artists or labels won't rack up much at all in terms of royalties, so this rarely makes a dent in the average songwriter's overall income.
But for writers that have their songs getting regular play on the radio, on streaming platforms, and receiving sales, the money really adds up.
Some very high-paid and well-known names in the songwriting world include the following:
Paul McCartney: This bass guitarist and sometimes sang lead for the Beatles also wrote a lot of their music, making him one of the most successful songwriters and musicians of all time with a net worth of 1.2 billion dollars.
Jay-Z: This rapper, entrepreneur, and producer are also known for writing a lot of his own rap bars, and many of the greats do. With all of his royalties and other accomplishments, he is worth 1.3 billion dollars.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: This popular composer of famous works, including "The Phantom Of The Opera" and "Jesus Christ, Superstar", is worth an estimated $1.2 billion with his earnings over the years.
Mariah Carey: This popular singer is a smart musician who also writes a lot of her own music and has recently announced that she owns all of her music masters. For this reason, she is worth at least $300 million from her musical catalog.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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