Professional songwriters can generate different sources of income from their songs in the same way authors create additional income by turning a novel into a movie, TV series, or graphic novel. It doesn’t matter whether your work has generated a million plays or just a handful of listens; your compositions may still be able to generate more revenue. All it takes is an open mind, a little creativity, and some luck.
Treat your song like a business by doing research on other revenue avenues to help you get compensated for your work but always remember to remain the owner of your copyright. Here are a few ways your back catalog could give your bottom line a boost:
Make an Old Song New Again
As they used to say on MTV, too much is never enough — especially when it comes to the many ways you can re-record and market your music. Top-selling artists often release multiple versions of their hits and different spins on deep cuts.
The possibilities are endless. You could remix a song, remove the lyrics, release an instrumental version, and pitch it to music supervisors for a potential sync in a movie or TV show. How about stripping your sound down and recording a raw, unplugged version? Or at the other extreme, you could amp up the electronics and work with a guest DJ to make an electro-dance version of your original song.
If you’ve got fans who speak other languages, try releasing Spanish, German, Korean, or other fully translated versions of your track. You could also re-record your song live at a favorite venue and release it as a live single.
Make Music for Video Games
Many songwriters have been quite successful at creating original music for video games. To put this growing field in perspective, check out Kotaku, a popular gaming site that profiles game composers. ASCAP has also created an FAQ about how music licensing works when it comes to video games.
Sell Your Songs to Stock Music Libraries
Stock music can pop up in a variety of places including shops, podcasts, meditation apps, elevators, and corporate training videos. According to a report by The Guardian, everything from simple keyboard motifs to epic orchestral tracks are needed by music libraries so they can license them to customers for a variety of purposes.
A number of them need composers to create music for their clients, too; Discmakers has some helpful tips to get you started. If you upload your music and it’s approved by the library, you can set your own price and earn a percentage of each sale. Music libraries offer some of the most favorable royalty splits in the industry — not bad for a burgeoning side hustle.
License Your Lyricst
If you search for any given song’s lyrics online, you will most certainly find entire websites devoted to decoding countless recorded works. Much like how digital streaming services must pay songwriters, online lyric services are legally bound to pay songwriters for displaying their work. There isn’t a set statutory rate either; the fee may take the form of a blanket license covering a specific time period, or a percentage of yearly gross sales.
Regardless of how you handle it, this is revenue you can, and should, collect as a songwriter. In recent years, lyrics have grown in importance on social media services like Instagram — where you can pair your videos with streaming music and lyrics — and streaming platforms like Spotify, which launched its own streaming lyrics feature in the fall of 2021. Companies like Musixmatch (Spotify’s partner), LyricFind, and A to Z Lyrics power the lyrics for many of these services, providing another potential, well-worn path towards profitability for songwriters.
Print Music Royalties
While they’re not as common nowadays, print music royalties can be a significant revenue source for some songwriters. Unlike mechanical licenses for physical reproduction, there is no set statutory rate for print royalties; they are established in direct negotiation with the licensor instead.
Sheet music may not be the primary source of songwriter royalties it once was, but it’s still crucial for theatrical music and education. And some artists — including huge stars like Paul McCartney (his book The Lyrics was a bestseller) and cult favorites like Will Oldham and Frightened Rabbit — have seen a significant return from releasing lyric books. Others have found success with merchandise featuring their lyrics. Whether they’re T-shirts, coffee mugs, tea towels, or water bottles, everything is subject to the same licensing requirements and subsequent royalties.
The first step in ensuring you’re collecting the royalties your lyrics have earned is getting set up with a publishing administrator like Songtrust — one that will register and collect on your works with sources around the world. Learn more about our songwriter offerings here, and sign up with Songtrust today to ensure you’re collecting all your mechanical and performance royalties globally!