An Audio Producer’s Guide to Songwriting

Songwriting and Music Publishing

All artists benefit from songwriting, but many people do not know what this aspect of the industry is really about. Because this part of the process is done behind the scenes, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the topic. Songwriters, audio producers and music publishers work together to make songs successful. Without publishers it’s hard to create incentives for songwriters to write for other artists. Without music publishers, songwriting can be risky. Music publishers are the bridge between artists or companies and songwriters to help market your work. Music publishers are also a great resource because of their connections with artists, labels, and networks.

How Location Impacts Songwriting

Location plays a big role in how things are done in songwriting. Los Angeles and Nashville are the big locations for songwriters. While most writing done outside of Nashville and LA is done by artists, a lot of the songwriting done in Nashville and LA is a collaborative process with artists and/or writers getting together without artists with the goal of creating a song that the artist will record. Other times writers are trying to create a song for the purpose of licensing to film/TV. Publishers can be helpful to place those songs for future use.

As program chair of Audio Production and Engineering and instructor of IPR’s songwriting class, I’m always learning new things about the songwriting process. Flights to Nashville are very common in my world, and it has given me many opportunities to collaborate.  Although travel is exhausting at times, it’s a rewarding aspect of working in music industry. You get to work with different acts that flock to Nashville from across the country—and across the world. Some of the artists that I have had the opportunity to write with include Etta James, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Westerberg, Joe Cocker and Richie Sambora (of Bon Jovi). Every artist and writer brings a different insight to the writing process.

Songwriters collaborating in Nashville
Sharon Vaughn, Kevin Bowe and Heidi Newfield during a Nashville songwriting session.

Writing for artists is just the tip of the iceberg. A growing industry is writing for TV and film. Syndication deals can be even bigger than writing for artists. A lot of my recent work has been through this outlet, and I have had the opportunity to write several spots for ESPN. I have also had work featured on The Sopranos, Where the Heart Is and The Young and the Restless.

Why Should Musicians Write Their Own Songs?

Have you ever looked at the liner notes for your favorite album? These days many artists are listed as a writer in many, if not all of the songs. In the past many artists did not write their own material, however this is changing. Lately artists prefer to at least co-write their material with other writers because of the financial benefits. They also like the idea of establishing themselves as a creative force behind their songs.

Songwriting and the “Real Estate” of Music Business

Songwriting and music publishing is often referred to as the “real estate of the music business”.  Writing a song and/or owning a copyright is like owning rental property. One artist may cover your song (moving in) and later another one might move in. They all pay royalties (like rent) for every copy that sells and every time it plays.

Songs like “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney are referred to as “evergreens” because of their ability to return in different uses. These songs continue to get played on the radio, used in film/TV and covered by new artists. Artists continue to receive royalties for these songs, and provide opportunities for other artists who have recorded the song.

Songwriting in the Audio Production Process

If you’re an audio producer, great songwriting can determine if a track makes the cut. It is important to know about songwriting, because it feeds into the production life cycle.  Songwriting is the first step in production and it cannot be overlooked. Like building a house, you need a solid foundation or everything might come crashing down. If you don’t feel confident in your songwriting, it can help to work with others to bounce ideas. This can also allow you to network more in the industry—a win-win situation.


Interested in learning more about audio production?

The Audio Production and Engineering program at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative. Students are taught to be proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Students learn the basics: acoustics, signal flow, recording, music theory, digital audio workstations and MIDI sequencing. They also take courses in music and entertainment business essentials. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on studio projects to apply their knowledge and refine their skills. 

At the end of the Audio Production and  Engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients. This serves as an audio resume that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the Audio Production and Engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.