When you’re at the very beginning of your music career, the music industry can seem like a giant fortress. You’re circling the walls looking for a way in, but the drawbridge is up and the gates are locked. When you’re just trying to get your foot in the door, it can be lonely and challenging.
But if you’re one of those plucky songwriters circling the tower, here’s something we’d like you to know: The music industry isn’t one giant and central organization. It’s a collection of thousands of organizations made up of people just like you, people who had a dream of writing and sharing music and then found a way to put those dreams into action. And one of the best ways you can influence them—to make your voice heard and to inspire better practices and policies in a landscape that hasn’t traditionally favored songwriters—is by practicing good old-fashioned advocacy.
At its simplest, advocacy is nothing more than public support for a particular cause or policy. It’s a foundational bedrock of our democracy, and one of the best ways to push for laws that will make our work easier.
One example: Remember the Music Modernization Act of 2018, the landmark piece of legislation that represented a major win for songwriters, producers and legacy artists? It didn’t just come about because lawmakers felt it was time to hand musicians a lucky break. It came about through years of dogged advocacy by organizations large and small—including Songtrust!—and countless independent songwriters and music creators who demanded their voices be heard.
So, how can you make your voice heard?
How to Advocate in the Music Industry
Hinted at a moment ago, Songtrust is heavily focused on advocacy and empowerment because we’re a company founded by independent music creators just like you. We’re passionate about sharing ways to level the playing field for those trying to break into the music industry and providing resources to help you make better-informed decisions.
We also collaborate and partner with a network of like-minded music organizations dedicated to practicing the art of advocacy. We’ve shared a list below, organized along thematic lines, so if you see a particular cause or alignment that speaks to you, feel free to reach out and jump into the conversation! Remember, successful advocacy begins with individual citizens such as yourself.
Trade Groups / Future of Music / Digital Safety and Privacy
Comprising some 80,000 working musicians, AFM is the largest musicians’ union in the world. One of the group’s signature initiatives is Fair Trade Music, described as “a grassroots campaign raising standards for freelance musicians through organizing, collective action and education.”
This music publisher (and sister company to Songtrust) advocates for music creators and songwriters at all stages of their careers. Their advocacy page includes links to New York-specific trade groups and organizations.
While not explicitly music-focused, the EFF describes itself as “the leading nonprofit dedicated to defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation,” all of which should be central to any independent musician’s focus. The group’s advocacy efforts include countless campaigns both on the local and national level.
Although it’s geared more towards major labels, the RIAA still lobbies for artists’ creative freedom and legal rights. In addition to their advocacy, they provide free research and reference resources pertaining to the music industry.
An essential player in the collection of digitally generated performance royalties, SoundExchange maintains a robust presence on Capitol Hill, where it lobbies senators and representatives and performs tireless advocacy in the hopes of garnering fairer pay for working musicians.
Founded in 1895, the Music Publishers Association is the oldest music trade organization in the United States, fostering communication among publishers, dealers, music educators, and all ultimate users of music. This non-profit association addresses itself to issues pertaining to every area of music publishing with an emphasis on the issues relevant to the publishers of print music for concert and educational purposes.
PRS is the UK’s leading funder of new music and talent development. They invest in the future of music by supporting talent development and new music across the UK; enabling songwriters and composers of all backgrounds to realize their potential and reach audiences across the world. You can find a list of useful links and resources they’ve collected here.
Keychange is an international campaign, led by Reeperbahn Festival, PRS Foundation and Musikcentrum Öst, which invests in emerging talent whilst encouraging music festivals, orchestras, conservatoires, broadcasters, concert halls, agents, record labels and all music organizations to sign up to a 50:50 gender balance pledge by 2022. Check out the many events and programs they are involved in, and learn more about how to become a Keychange participant on their site.
Established in September 2014, the shesaid.so community is international and diverse, comprising of women from all sectors of the music industry: record labels, artist management, bookings, tech, creative and more. With headquarters in London and LA, shesaid.so has 15 active chapters around the world including NYC, Paris, Berlin, Mumbai to name a few. Our vision is to connect and empower underrepresented communities in the music industry with a focus on women.
AFEM is a not-for-profit trade association created to represent the common interests of those companies and individuals whose business is Electronic Music and to advocate best practice for the genre. AFEM’s commitment is to strengthen and further the genre by uniting its members, identifying key issues and providing one-voice to address and challenge them. The collective voice of the AFEM membership provides lobbying power where necessary for all legislative, commercial and industry issues as they relate to the genre.
An indispensable resource for those interested in learning about and improving the legal landscape for creatives, this storied law program offers countless articles and reference works on copyright law and other legal issues faced by the creative community.
Described as “a unique and irreplaceable service to copyright students and teachers,” the MCIR helps educate creatives about their legal rights around the sometimes-thorny topic of copyright law. The program offers free symposiums, reference articles on the impact of new technologies, and countless other resources for musicians.
An organization dedicated to ensuring that all schoolchildren can benefit from the educational power of music, Music for All has resources for music educators and advocates to help push for greater access to music in schools and other educational programs.
Mental Health / COVID-19 Resources
A “living article” updated with breaking information, this resource is courtesy of the leading publication covering music industry news.
While music gear maker Output isn’t an advocacy organization in and of itself, their thoughtful roundup of resources is a great way to connect with organizations dedicated towards supporting the mental health of musicians. And many of the organizations listed here perform outreach and advocacy work themselves.
An organization dedicated to preventing suicide through the healing power of music, Sounds of Saving uses a simple and elegant model for musicians to share their stories and connect.
Dedicated to fostering connection and social justice via the universal language of music, MWB performs powerful advocacy work all around the globe. Their programs focus both on community leadership through music education, and strengthening efforts to support peace and social change.
Though slightly dated, this list is a solid starting point for musicians interested in leveraging the power of the world’s largest social media platform to connect, advocate and strengthen one another.
Pass It On
While advocacy starts with and flourishes by the individual songwriters and organizations that push to provide resources that otherwise may not have been there, it certainly doesn’t end there. One of the most inspiring things about the creative community is how supportive they can be in lifting each other up for success. We urge you to do the same -- share what you’ve learned, reach out to other artists and songwriters in your community, and talk about your experiences. All it takes is one voice to pass the knowledge along.
If you have any resources or know of an organization that is empowering songwriters and advocating for resources in their communities, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to share with us.
Take control of your publishing. Maximize Songtrust for your songs and business.
We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.