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How much do Top 20 songwriters earn?
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13th November 2010
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How much do Top 20 songwriters earn?

I'm a huge fan of Dr Luke, Blanco, Claude Kelly, Toby Gad etc.

I make an okay living as composer for film/tv which I kind of fell into by accident.

I've been wanting to move into writing for artists for a while, I find it easier to write pop/rock etc than the work I do sometimes and over the last year or so I've been networking, learning who is who in the industry etc.

How much would someone like Dr Luke or Toby Gad earn from a song like Tik Tok or If I Were A Boy? I read that Dr Luke bought a house in the Hollywood Hills a few years ago which is a few years after he started writing for Top 20 stuff.

Same with Toby Gad, seems like he went from struggling in NY to being able to have a home for his family and a home for a studio.
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In the past, "hit" songs have generated millions upon millions for the writers.
That is changing, but still a very lucrative pay-off.
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For about $10, this book will help you a lot. One of the things he includes is some estimates of what hit songs make in different genres:

Amazon.com: Six Steps to Songwriting Success, Revised Edition: The Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Marketing Hit Songs eBook: Jason Blume: Kindle Store: Reviews, Prices & more

The first part of the book is advice on writing songs, which you may or may not find helpful. But the second part deals with the business aspect, which is extremely helpful.

Keep in mind, that a hit song can usually snowball into other things. You get royalties from airplay, royalties from sales, and then beyond that it may get placement in movies/tv, etc.

Just a few nights ago, on "Glee", some people sang the song "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, co-written by Dr. Luke, in a cool acapella version. Now a whole bunch of people are going to buy that version from Itunes, in addition to Katy Perry's version that continues to be sold, so it's like a double whammy (in a good way).
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nst7 View Post
For about $10, this book will help you a lot. One of the things he includes is some estimates of what hit songs make in different genres:

Amazon.com: Six Steps to Songwriting Success, Revised Edition: The Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Marketing Hit Songs eBook: Jason Blume: Kindle Store: Reviews, Prices & more

The first part of the book is advice on writing songs, which you may or may not find helpful. But the second part deals with the business aspect, which is extremely helpful.

Keep in mind, that a hit song can usually snowball into other things. You get royalties from airplay, royalties from sales, and then beyond that it may get placement in movies/tv, etc.

Just a few nights ago, on "Glee", some people sang the song "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, co-written by Dr. Luke, in a cool acapella version. Now a whole bunch of people are going to buy that version from Itunes, in addition to Katy Perry's version that continues to be sold, so it's like a double whammy (in a good way).


Awesome book! thumbsup
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edva View Post
In the past, "hit" songs have generated millions upon millions for the writers.
That is changing, but still a very lucrative pay-off.
Of course, the trick is to write hit songs.

-R
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The first step is to develop a sense of what is a hit and what is not. Once you know that you have a hit it needs to be produced into a hit. And after that you really need to make sure it will find its way into the mainstream media channels where hits are played. Then a continuous stream of revenue will build up and find its way into your pocket for the rest of your life.
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So let's say Teenage Dream (the song, not album). How much do you think Dr Luke has earnt from that song so far? Are we talking $100k or near a Million?

Will check the book out, thanks.
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its sold a few million copies! Its making alot of money
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I saw a recent interview with Rick Springfield. He said
that the song he wrote (and, of course, performed), "Jessie's
Girl", has bought him a few houses!
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its sold a few million copies! Its making alot of money
So mechanical royalties on 2 million is $120,000, divided with anyone that might have cowritten it.
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I'm pretty sure mechanical royalties are up to $.08 per song per sale. If that's true you would make $160,000 on 2 million sales, but that is not including producer and/or mixer points., as well as royalties for other performances and uses of the song.
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In Dr Luke's interview with Billboard, the article says he earns a six figure sum for writing one song that the label pay upfront as they see the odds of him writing a number 1 to be 1-2 or 1-3.

I wonder how much we're talking.

When I think of Taylor Swift and how she wrote all her new album herself, no co-writers, she must make a lot.
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So a hit song might get you a down payment on a condo?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Heimel View Post
So a hit song might get you a down payment on a condo?
Well, one song can be a hit but the same writer may have written 6 songs on the record, so then you would multiply that $160,000 x 6.

A songwriter named Lori McKenna had 3 songs on a Faith Hill record that sold 3.8 million copies. Her mechanical royalties on that would be $912,000.
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This information might be useful a very dear friend wrote two number ones close to forty years ago. One is a real chestnut, but the other is no slouch.

To this day those songs earn close to one hundred thousand dollars a year. If one is used in a major movie in a year, which has occurred a few times, that could double or more.

Unfortunately, I don't think a hit today is worth anything like what it used to be worth in the long run, but I think in the short run its worth even more.

Generally. hit songwriting is the most secure money in music. Hits get used over and over in TV and movies which is where the real long term money is.
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I
Quote:
make an okay living as composer for film/tv which I kind of fell into by accident.

I've been wanting to move into writing for artists for a while, I find it easier to write pop/rock etc than the work I do sometimes and over the last year or so I've been networking, learning who is who in the industry etc.

How much would someone like Dr Luke or Toby Gad earn from a song like Tik Tok or If I Were A Boy? I read that Dr Luke bought a house in the Hollywood Hills a few years ago which is a few years after he started writing for Top 20 stuff.

Same with Toby Gad, seems like he went from struggling in NY to being able to have a home for his family and a home for a studio.

................I have to say Amber I find this question a little peculiar. In what way would knowing what dr Luke earns for a hit song be a determiner for you? Is this going to provide you with some kind of motivation......if so it's the wrong kind of motivation. I think you'll find that if you do a little search on youtube....there's a producer masterclass with Dr luke, no where does he mention that what motivated him in his pursuit of pop perfection was how much others song writers earnt but the fact that he knew he was better than other people who were writing for him at the beginning.

Quote:
The first step is to develop a sense of what is a hit and what is not. Once you know that you have a hit it needs to be produced into a hit. And after that you really need to make sure it will find its way into the mainstream media channels where hits are played. Then a continuous stream of revenue will build up and find its way into your pocket for the rest of your life.
..............As Rainbow storm states there is a lot more to it than merely writing the song. not trying to rain on your parade but your post comes over as a little synical and naive if that's not a contradiction.
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Butterfly, I think you're reading into this a bit too much. I did write a long response at first, but really I'm just curious how much someone who loves doing what they do (and something I would love to do for a career) earns.

I think you're being a bit naive thinking that money isn't a motivator. Obviously Dr Luke isn't going to say he wanted to do it to earn lots of money. He does tailor his music to earn him more money (he says he writes mostly for females since they sell more and appear on the radio more). I don't think anyone in the business hates writing top 20 songs but just does it for money. Maybe I'm being naive in thinking that.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amber View Post
In Dr Luke's interview with Billboard, the article says he earns a six figure sum for writing one song that the label pay upfront as they see the odds of him writing a number 1 to be 1-2 or 1-3.

I wonder how much we're talking.

When I think of Taylor Swift and how she wrote all her new album herself, no co-writers, she must make a lot.
This is why it is so hard to get a "successful" artist to record a song by someone else. Unless they can't write at all. They prefer to make all the money for themselves.
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How much do Top 20 songwriters earn?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Amber
I'm a huge fan of Dr Luke, Blanco, Claude Kelly, Toby Gad etc.

I make an okay living as composer for film/tv which I kind of fell into by accident.

I've been wanting to move into writing for artists for a while, I find it easier to write pop/rock etc than the work I do sometimes and over the last year or so I've been networking, learning who is who in the industry etc.

How much would someone like Dr Luke or Toby Gad earn from a song like Tik Tok or If I Were A Boy? I read that Dr Luke bought a house in the Hollywood Hills a few years ago which is a few years after he started writing for Top 20 stuff.

Same with Toby Gad, seems like he went from struggling in NY to being able to have a home for his family and a home for a studio.

The question is so irrelevant to your situation it's laughable.

If anything, you should be asking yourself what someone who gets the occasional album cut makes - since there's more doing that than making millions.

PS I engineered for a Claude Kelly writing session the other day - he's a nice guy too...
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There's no question being a top 20 songwriter will earn you good money.

More importantly, would you enjoy the process of working as a songwriter even if you didn't get that top 20 hit?

The majority of people in any career never get to the top. At least they can earn a living and hopefully enjoy their work day to day.

In music there's a much smaller middle class. There's not a huge group of "middle management" songwriters earning a decent living. You're either eating spam or prime rib, and spam is eaten by 99.999% of them.

Also, don't forget to divide the earnings for a successful song by the years between hits. Most songwriters never get a hit. A few, after years of trying get 1 hit. Even fewer get multiple hits. Even fewer write a standard that will earn royalties for years to come.

So a $300,000 payday divided by the 10 years it might have taken to get it is about minimum wage.

Do you love the process enough to do it earning only minimum wage?
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I think I worded my first post wrong.

I'm going to check out that book.

I'm going to move away from film/ad stuff anyway and move into writing for artists regardless of the money situation. I've struggled big time composing and done okay too.

I currently spread my earnings out through the year since the income is very random with some gigs giving me 6 months of minimum wage. So I am used to this and happy with it. I want to get by whatever I do, anything else is a bonus really.

My question of asking how much someone like Dr Luke earns is really just a curiosity and not a deciding factor. The music I have released myself I have never had to earn a percentage of royalties since I've just gone through Tunecore so only iTunes etc take their percentage. This also has paid rent some months but I understand it's a lot different in the pop world with labels etc. I always read how little artists make from albums so was mostly curious about how much songwriters earn.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
The question is so irrelevant to your situation it's laughable.

If anything, you should be asking yourself what someone who gets the occasional album cut makes - since there's more doing that than making millions.

PS I engineered for a Claude Kelly writing session the other day - he's a nice guy too...
So what would be that answer to THIS question then. If I landed a song on a Justin Bieber, Kelly Clarkson, Jordan Sparks, David Archuletta or Daughtry album, if it was a single, can anyone actually come up with a figure. Probably not? Each individual works out his or her own earning for one in regards to percentages and then it's completely based on how much it sells.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amber View Post

My question of asking how much someone like Dr Luke earns is really just a curiosity and not a deciding factor. The music I have released myself I have never had to earn a percentage of royalties since I've just gone through Tunecore so only iTunes etc take their percentage. This also has paid rent some months but I understand it's a lot different in the pop world with labels etc. I always read how little artists make from albums so was mostly curious about how much songwriters earn.
I think the answer is too complex and varying between situations to put a solid number on it. I understand your curiosity.

There are a huge number of variables that are constantly changing as the trends and industry practices change. Some hits are on albums that sell 5 mil, others on albums that don't crack 1 mil. Some hits receive huge airplay and get licensed for everything under the sun, others go away quietly. Then there are the opportunities that come from that hit -Ad campaigns, co-writing with major artists, preferential treatment and placement of your other songs...

When you get a hit, you are a genius...for 1 year. Then you're back to spam if you can't get another hit.
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Where did this crazy idea come from, that seems to crop up in so many threads here on Gearslutz, that getting rich can't be a valid motivation to achieve something? That's just plain silly, as history proves. It doesn't matter how much you like doing something. LOTS of people like doing things. But to actually achieve something great, that takes a whole other level of effort generally, and it's completely valid for the lure of a big payoff to be a core motivating factor in putting in the effort to do it.

No, you probably don't want to do something you absolutely loath in order to get wealthy, though some people I'm sure do. But no matter how much you love it, you will often find that, in order to really make it to the top, that you will have to sacrifice a lot of things, and among them is often that you get to do the thing you love less and less because there are so many other issues that you start having to deal with. And there's more stress and pressure because you are now expected to perform up to that standard all the time.

So I think it's 100% valid to hold in your mind the lure of a big payoff as a motivating factor. At the least it might provide you extra incentive when things are at their worst, and they often do reach their worst after you start actually struggling towards the goal seriously, not necesarily before you do. If you are really working hard to create something significant, it's not uncommon to hit a kind of dead man's curve where you are working the hardest you ever have and making the least you ever have. The image of a big pile of cash can sometimes help push you through that.

It's certainly helped me a few times, though I've not actually reached anything like a big pile of cash yet. I'd settle for a wee pile of cash right now.
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Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
Where did this crazy idea come from, that seems to crop up in so many threads here on Gearslutz, that getting rich can't be a valid motivation to achieve something? That's just plain silly, as history proves. It doesn't matter how much you like doing something. LOTS of people like doing things. But to actually achieve something great, that takes a whole other level of effort generally, and it's completely valid for the lure of a big payoff to be a core motivating factor in putting in the effort to do it.

No, you probably don't want to do something you absolutely loath in order to get wealthy, though some people I'm sure do. But no matter how much you love it, you will often find that, in order to really make it to the top, that you will have to sacrifice a lot of things, and among them is often that you get to do the thing you love less and less because there are so many other issues that you start having to deal with. And there's more stress and pressure because you are now expected to perform up to that standard all the time.

So I think it's 100% valid to hold in your mind the lure of a big payoff as a motivating factor. At the least it might provide you extra incentive when things are at their worst, and they often do reach their worst after you start actually struggling towards the goal seriously, not necesarily before you do. If you are really working hard to create something significant, it's not uncommon to hit a kind of dead man's curve where you are working the hardest you ever have and making the least you ever have. The image of a big pile of cash can sometimes help push you through that.

It's certainly helped me a few times, though I've not actually reached anything like a big pile of cash yet. I'd settle for a wee pile of cash right now.
All true, but equally true that many, many good things in life are done without profit as the main motivating factor.
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But the argument's made are never about that. They aren't arguing you should be out building houses for the homeless. It's some sort of implication that you can't be a great artist or a legitimately creative person if you actually care about being the only person who doesn't benefit from your own art.

And of course there's gazzillions of people out there who would use the fact that people actually get rewarded in proportion to their contribution as a justification for stealing it to begin with.
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Forget about writers mechanical royalties. Money is in so called small royalties from airplay.
I don't know, but my guess would be that Dr Luke can earn something like 10 mil $ for a song like Tik Tok worldwide only from airplay if he was the only writer on that song, no problem. If not, it's split equal ways among co-writers.
You have to know that songs can have a life for many years and they can earn money in weird places.
I know guys who make millions in places like Japan yet nobody ever heard of them.
I also remember when guy who signed me up for a publishing contract showed me publishing statement from one of the writers that wrote for R&B group from the early 80's called Imagination ( Just an illusion).
He was still receiving 200 000$ in publishing money from airplay some 20 years after the fact.
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very interesting thread and book to read indeed, I think the most important thing (and difficult) is to get a hit maker reputation with 1 hit song, to open doors which is crucial in this crazy bizz... just a thought as of course we are still not there...
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I don't disagree in theory with this. Anything that motivates someone towards success is valid if it keeps them going -money, sex, power, anger, revenge. All are effective motivators because they speak to our most primal instinct.

However, throw in a little thing called "satisfaction in life" and suddenly we've got some issues. All of these motivating factors can eventually lead to emptiness as the person either never reaches their goal and feels they've lost years of their life (mid life crisis), or achieves success and still feels unfulfilled.

The best motivating factor is loving what you do regardless of reward. As long as I make a record that I am happy with, although I would like to see it go on to success, it's not essential to my happiness. I am very intense when working because I'm trying to realize a vision and trying to improve my abilities every day.

One more problem with the money/power etc motivations. Your decision making process gets corrupted. Maybe you'd be the best folk songwriter out there, loving every minute, selling millions, but you decide the big money is in pop so you spend years on that path never achieving success and never really feeling good about it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
But the argument's made are never about that. They aren't arguing you should be out building houses for the homeless. It's some sort of implication that you can't be a great artist or a legitimately creative person if you actually care about being the only person who doesn't benefit from your own art.

And of course there's gazzillions of people out there who would use the fact that people actually get rewarded in proportion to their contribution as a justification for stealing it to begin with.
I don't think any normal person begrudges someone for making honest profit from their honest efforts.
It is possible of course that the system has been so dishonest for so long that it has created a lot of abnormality.
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