Becoming a songwriter might not seem like the most lucrative move to make. For starters, the current average base pay for songwriters in the U.S., as reflected on Glassdoor, is currently $65,688 per year. But only a small fraction even makes that amount or higher. Songwriters on the lower end earn as little as $16k yearly.
Those numbers hardly seem encouraging, especially for songwriters living from paycheck to paycheck and in areas with a high cost of living. The effects of the current pandemic on the music industry have not been encouraging either. What with many music venues reeling from lockdowns and numerous artists unable to make music on a consistent basis.
Recent events involving a number of high-profile songwriters suggest that there are lucrative opportunities in the music business, but only for a tiny few with hefty catalogs overflowing with hit songs. Bob Dylan, Shakira, Ryan Tedder, Neil Young, and Stevie Nicks are among several such songwriters who all landed substantial paydays, snagging millions of dollars each in the process.
Obviously, you probably don’t fall in the same category as those musicians. You haven’t yet produced a hit, and there is no guarantee that you ever will. Can you still retire comfortably as a songwriter who, at this moment, probably has mountains of credit card debt and student loans still hanging around your neck?
The answer to that question ultimately comes down to what is considered “comfortable.” Across the board, a comfortable retirement is one where you reasonably have enough money to live out the rest of your years. In financial circles, that number is roughly estimated to be about 80% of your peak income before retirement.
Let’s say the most you have earned so far is $60,000 in a given year. The assumption is that you will need $48k for each of your retirement years. If you predict you will live for another 15 – 20 years after retirement (based on current life expectancy models), it therefore means you will require a total amount of $720,000 to $960,000 in savings for your remaining time. Retiring sooner than the stipulated retirement age means you will need to budget even more. Of course, this also depends on whether you have other debts or expenses to take care of going into retirement.
Still, the question remains: can you retire in comfort as a songwriter, even without having any “popular” songs under your belt? The answer is yes. While we don’t profess to be financial advisors, there are a few things that are consistently recommended to the general population, and which also applies to people who do music for a living. Here are some strategies you can employ to set yourself up for a financially stress-free retirement.
The key to setting yourself up for retirement is to start planning – right away. If you are just entering the working world and in your early 20s, you may think you have a lot of time on your ends. However, the sooner you start planning, the better. On the other hand, if you are well into your 30s, 40s, or even 50s and have not begun contributing to a retirement fund, there is still time. The same principle applies – start planning right away.
Getting started is usually the hardest part, simply because many creative types shy away from basic financial education. But as an independent songwriter, you have sole responsibility for your financial health, so you need to view yourself as a business. As Jay-Z once rapped, you are not a businessman, you’re a business, man.
Simply understanding how to balance your books (so you are not spending more than you are earning) is a good skill to have. Knowledge of investments, including low, medium, and high risk instruments is also useful. And even if you don’t know about these things, most banks have professional advisors who can take care of all the basics and ensure you at least have some money saved up, which brings us to the next point.
Regardless of your earning levels, putting some money away eventually adds up. Begin by setting aside a set amount of your monthly earnings. As a songwriter, your salary will likely fluctuate, so the amount you save monthly can probably be a percentage in order to maintain consistency. Some financial planners suggest 40% of your salary.
Retirement planning is more than having a savings account, it is also about investing in a retirement fund, such as a 401k (if employed at a company) or Individual Retirement Account. With these, you earn compound interest on your contributions, which can really make a big difference over time. There are also various types of investments a financial advisor can recommend to you, from buying stocks to purchasing real estate, which can become fruitful over the long term.
In a similar fashion to how you can invest your money, you can invest your own music. Earning in the music industry is not all about record sales. First of all, there are numerous ways songwriters can earn, and the more you know, the better you will be at making money from your creations. Publishing opportunities, in particular, can help to secure your future. These involve various sync licensing deals (having your songs placed in movies, TV shows, ads, games, etc.), as well as getting your songs picked up by recording artists. In addition, signing up with a performance rights organization such as ASCAP, BMI, etc., ensures you can earn royalties in the foreseeable future every time someone performs your song.
As a songwriter, it is important not to place all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. This does not only go for your investment choices, but also your career activities. There are a number of things you can do to ensure you have multiple income streams (especially passive income), which will in turn boost your capacity to invest. For example, you can start an affiliate blog, create an online course on songwriting, write a book, teach online classes, or even start a YouTube channel.
The ability to make money from songwriting tends to increase with the amount of content you have. Looking at the careers of many prominent songwriters, including Sting, Mariah Carey, Ryan Tedder, and others, there is one common denominator – they all confess to writing tons of songs. Most of their material never see the light of day, but the few that do are what often pays the bills.
The truth is that songwriting is a numbers game. A lot of content – such as professionally-recorded demos and songs – means more ammunition to go after the various opportunities that may pop up. This means committing to working on your craft as often as possible, as well as making the necessary sacrifices to turn your ideas into finished musical projects. If you only have a few songs, you are limiting your potential.
As with any other profession, retirement planning is necessary for any songwriter who wants to live comfortably after putting down their pen. Try to envision the life you want to have and start working towards it today.