Learn from a Songwriting Mentor

Recording Connection mentor Tre Nagella and student Dez Ward

When it comes to songwriting there are two sets of skills you need. The first is the creative side of songwriting—the music and the lyrics. The second is the business side of songwriting—protecting your creative work so you can monetize it. These two skill sets require different thought processes; it’s a right brain, left brain thing, and it’s where a songwriting mentor can be of great assistance. Here’s how a songwriting mentor can help you with the business side of songwriting.


It all starts with registering a copyright for your ORIGINAL song. For this, you will need either a recording of your song or the sheet music for your song. There are two distinct rights involved in the copyright of recording music.

  • Musical rights. This protects the musical composition: the arrangement of notes, chords, rhythms, harmonies and lyrics of the song as a whole.
  • Master rights. This protects the actual, physical recording of the song.

If you write, perform and record an original composition of your own making, then, once you have registered your recording with the copyright office, you own both of these copyright protections. If you are the songwriter, but an artist other than you performs the song and records it in a recording studio, the copyrights are split. You, as the songwriter, would have the musical rights, while the artist or record label would have the master rights.

Your songwriting mentor will be able to guide you through the copyright process. Unless you write sheet music, you will probably want to submit an audio recording of your song. Your mentor can make this happen. The rest of the copyright process is mostly straightforward unless you are using samples. Samples are a copyright morass that your mentor will be able to help you navigate. Another area your mentor may be able to assist you on is the master rights. The important point is you will want to have these discussions with your mentor before you record your song, not after when it’s too late to change things.

Performing Rights Organizations

The second step you’ll want to do is register your song with one of the performing rights organizations, typically BMI or ASCAP. Without this registration no radio or streaming service can play your song. These organizations track where your song has been played or performed and collect license fees on your behalf and distribute them to you in the form of royalties. There are different royalty payout schedules depending on how your song is performed or played.

  • Mechanical royalty. These come from the sale of an album or download of a song. The current payout is $0.091 per song per sale and is split between the songwriter and the holder of the master rights.
  • Performance royalty. These come from terrestrial radio broadcast plays, live venue performances or online streaming services plays. There is no standard rate of these royalties, but the average rate is about $0.005 per play.
  • Sync fees. These come from the use of your song in TV shows, movies and other instances where your music is used in conjunction with film or video like YouTube. These royalties are split between the songwriter and the holder of the master rights.

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? It would be except for the fact that performance rights organizations do not collect mechanical royalties. Streaming services pay mechanical royalties directly to the publisher of the song. It’s up to you to figure out how to collect them. For this you will need a publisher or an admin publishing company or a royalty collections company to actually see any money from downloads and streams.

You could have the number one hit in Russia, but how will you know this and more importantly, how are you going to collect the royalties you are due? This is where your songwriting mentor can be invaluable. They’ve probably been burnt a few times in their career so their experience can be invaluable in helping you avoid the same mistakes. Additionally, the music scene and how payments to songwriters are structured is constantly evolving. A songwriting mentor depends on royalties for their living—you can bet they are current with today’s practices and which services work best to track down and collect royalties you are due.


The third step is distribution. It’s great to have your song copyrighted and registered with a performing rights organization, and have a publisher or royalty collections relationship but unless your song is getting played your royalties will be zero. There are a plethora of distribution channels you can use. Some will take a cut and some won’t. Some work better for certain genres of music than others. Some are stronger in certain countries than others. Some will offer promotional bundles and some won’t.

It may sound like a broken record (pun intended) but guess who can help you with choosing the right distributor for you music? Yup, the songwriting mentor. The steps listed in this article have just skimmed the surface of how to protect your music and maximize your revenue opportunities for songs you write. There are many more nuances and avenues to monetizing your music that a good songwriting mentor can help you with. So, how do you find a good songwriting mentor? Easy, give the Recording Connection a call—they offer a variety of programs that can hook you up with a songwriting mentor as part of the curriculum.


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