J.W. Johnson's Contribution to 'Charting a Career Path'
Excerpt from Tag It's Songwriters in the New Millennium
Director, Writer/Publisher Relations, BMI-NYC
BMI Director of Writer/Publisher Relations and former venue owner, J.W. Johnson, reacts to the activities songwriters report that they are engaging in as presented by the statistics, and discusses important points that songwriters should consider when mapping out their career plans in order to become competitive in an extremely competitive market.
Most subjects of debate, in this instance songwriting, distill down to the same question:
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, what is more important in
trying to forge a career in the field of songwriting; learning how to write professional
quality songs, or learning effective methods of marketing one's work?
Self-promotion is a necessary evil, but as someone who listens to the work of many
aspiring songwriters on a daily basis, one thing is abundantly clear to me. If you can't
write songs that are viable in the marketplace, all of the marketing in the world won't buy
Which brings us to my point. The single most interesting thing about the survey to me
was at the very bottom of the list where the respondents are asked to identify areas from
which they feel their writing would benefit most. Incredibly, learning the craft of
songwriting was not in the top five.
QUESTION #46: Identify the areas where your songwriting career would benefit the
A wise man once said that great popular songwriting occurs at the intersection of art and
commerce. As the old joke goes, most songwriters never stand anywhere close to that
spot. The question that always comes to my mind after listening to demo after demo is:
Why is it that folks who profess to be interested in becoming professional songwriters
spend so little time honing the skills necessary to be successful? And why are most
songwriters so unaware of the tremendous resources within their grasp?
5 Things You Need To Know
1) Know your limitations and find ways to be successful in spite of them
Many successful songwriters have learned that in order to be successful as a songwriter,
they have to swallow their pride and realize what they can and cannot do. For instance, I
know people that are extremely gifted lyricists who write more or less the same melody
over and over. One way for them to overcome this limitation is to find someone equally
gifted at melodic composition who can bring tonal variation to their songs. The key is
perspective, and we achieve perspective in songwriting and in life by looking at our work
One way to achieve this perspective is to take a listen to what is being released into the
market in the genre in which you work and then ask some questions of yourself. How
does your material compare? Is it similar? Is it too similar. Are your songs the right
length? Do your songs have strong enough hooks? Are the melodies in your songs
interesting enough to hold the attention of your audience? Do you write the same song
over and over with different lyric? Can you hear someone else singing your songs? The
most important thing to remember is that in order to improve your writing, you have to be
self critical and honest with yourself.
2) Know you resources
There are a number of places that songwriters can look for help in honing their skills.
The Performing Rights Organizations (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) have a large number
of programs available to songwriters at all levels. There are showcases, educational
seminars, and songwriting workshops in many major cities around the country sponsored
by these organizations.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame also conducts showcases and workshops for a small
membership fee. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (The Recording
Academy) has programs for their members around the country. The Nashville
Songwriters Association International (NSAI) has programs and workshops to benefit
There are publications like Performing Songwriter Magazine that cater to the needs of the
songwriting community. Last but not least, the Internet is an amazing source of
information for developing songwriters willing to spend the time.
Without a doubt, the information is out there. Songwriters who are serious about their
craft take advantage of these great tools for advancement.
Read 'Charting A Career Path' to find out the 3 Other Things You Need To Know
For the complete contribution by J.W. Johnson, download
"Songwriters in the New Millennium: Charting a Career Path"
The authors of the report use the survey to identify what songwriters are and are not doing to further their career and discuss important points that songwriters should consider when mapping out their career.