Huh? A Songwriter Salary


Some musicians work a day gig working at something non-musical or lacking in creativity.  Their days may be long and unfulfilling.  If this is you, consider a songwriter salary.  Yes, by putting on your entrepreneurial hat, you may find that writing and publishing songs can generate a long-term income stream.

Maybe “salary” is the wrong word to use but income for songwriters is abundant and multi-sourced.  Are you aware that the current copyright law allows songwriters to earn income from their copyright for 70 years beyond their death?  Yes, that means that once you create your musical masterpiece, you may receive income for the rest of your life.  The added benefit is that your children and/or estate will continue to receive income for an additional 70 years past that unfortunate date.

Income Sources For Songwriters

There are many income sources for a songwriter:  These income sources are called royalties.  Royalties are paid by individuals or companies whom license your songs for recordings and/or performances.  The songs are then licensed again by companies when they use of the recordings in within their business.  Many companies use music to help generate their own income.  In other words, a radio station uses recordings of songs for listeners to “stay tuned.”  The radio station is making money from advertisers based on the number of listeners that they have.  Another example is a restaurant or nightclub who sells food and beverages to customers while they have songs playing, either live or recorded.

Songwriter Royalties

There are a few royalties that songwriters should pay particular attention to including Mechanical Royalties, Performance Royalties, and Synchronization Royalties.  There are also other royalties such as Foreign Royalties, Print Royalties and Grand Right Royalties but let’s focus on the top 3.

Mechanical royalties are paid to a songwriter (or the publisher who them pays the songwriter) when their song is used on a recorded medium.  This includes compact discs, vinyl records and MP3s.  The current rate is 9.1 cents per song per sale.  In this example, if the recording of the song sells 1 million copies, the mechanical royalties are $91,000.  If the song has an extended length, the fee structure changes.  Check the US Copyright office for details.  They may be reached at

Performance royalties are paid when the song (either live or recorded) is used by a company such as a radio station or nightclub.  This royalty is usually paid through a license granted by a Performing Rights Organization such as ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.  For songwriters to maximize their income, they should join one of these organizations.  The songwriter’s affiliated publishing company should also join the same PRO.

The third type of royalty addressed above is Synchronization Royalties.  A synchronization royalty is paid any time the songwriter’s song is used in connection with video.  This is a one time negotiated royalty between the video producer and the songwriter (or songwriter’s publisher).  Synchronization royalties are paid when the song is used in film, television or commercials.  The length of term, the fees and the function of the song can be negotiated prior to the song’s use.

In order for songwriters to turn their copyrights into a steady salary, they will need to team up with a quality publisher or publisher their own material.  Many songwriters are hesitant about collaborating with a publisher and choose to publish their own material.  That might be a good idea but only if the songwriter actually works the song like a publisher would.  If the songwriter does not perform the work of a publisher, they will receive no income.

So… follow your dreams to a songwriter salary and live life without the day gig.


Looking for more info?  Here is a complete list of our podcast episodes and articles on Songwriting.

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