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Hi! I'm a junior in high school and I really want to be a songwriter, but I really don't know how to get there. I've found a couple of colleges that offer a songwriting major, but obviously they are rare and I can't go to those schools because of location/money reasons. So my question is what major could get me recognized in the music industry as a songwriter? I've found majors in music production, composition, English, and creative writing but I don't know what would help me the most as an aspiring songwriter. The music production curriculums are all mostly about the technology and physics of sound, which are very important but I would not enjoy it or be any good at it. As for composition, all the programs I have found would be extremely classical and I would have to focus on a classical instrument, which would mean I would have to be very good at a classical instrument to get into the program and I am not interested in writing classical music. Then when it comes to English programs and creative writing programs, they won't teach me the music side of songwriting, only the lyric side which is only half the battle, and to me personally the lyrics side of that battle is the easier part for me. So as talented songwriters and maybe as people who went through the same struggles I am right now in trying to go to college to be a songwriter, what do you think would be the best route for me?

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I moved your topic to the more general Music Industry board as your questions really don't concern song or recording copyright (which is where your topic was posted). This is probably the reason for the poor response, or at least a big part of it!

I can see you are based in the USA, not my area of expertise as I am based in the UK. Tom's advice is generally well thought through, but I'll toss in a couple of general comments and then share this on the Songstuff Facebook and Twitter pages to see if I can't just raise the profile of the topic just a little. :)

From your question I get the impression your aim is primarily to be the songwriter, not the performer, ie a songwriter, not a singer songwriter. This is important in terms of intended path.

Places like Berklee teach the kind of course you are looking for. I am guessing there will be colleges in every state that will offer such courses, including popular music based composition (of whatever flavor). I would be surprised if most classical music schools did not also accommodate at least some contemporary composition and songwriting, however there will be plenty of colleges that focus almost exclusively on contemporary. Many will offer music production and music business courses because of the number of students each can attract and therefore the amount of funding.

The thing is to progress in the business you will need to understand how the business side works too. Unfortunately long gone are the days when songwriters could just write songs.

I would fully expect a worthwhile course should cover all aspects of being a songwriter, and enough connected bits to give you options. So, your course is likely to include lyrics writing, composition, song writing (ie combining the two skills is a skill itself), arrangement, performance of probably two instruments (one can be voice), music recording, music production, music publishing, music management, entertainments law (basics), accountancy, other business and music business skills, basic computing skills, possibly even computer programming.... All of which will help you find your way in the industry.

In much of the music industry, particularly the contemporary music scenes, qualifications count for little regarding opening doors. The more technical the role you are interested, the more the qualification matters. For example to be an entertainments lawyer... You just have to be qualified.

No what they are interested in, for songwriters, is a portfolio of excellent songs.

The bit of paper means practically nothing.

But don't get me wrong, that does NOT mean it is not worth getting. What I think you are confusing here is the purpose of studying. It is to arm YOU. It is to hone your abilities and give you what YOU need.

There are very, very few jobs as an in house songwriter. While gaining a qualification may open some doors for a writer for musical theatre, in contemporary, country, popular, rock, or electronic they would look at you and laugh and point.

However, let's not toss out that course. It is about skills building to allow you to be well rounded and well prepared. Attending a course can also prepare the way in terms of initial contacts. They can also get you jobs in studios of various kinds.

But most songwriters more or less work for themselves. Depending on their market area they develop relationships with different groups of people. If lucky they get a good, broad ranging deal covering many songs with one publisher. Pro Songwriters get good at writing for specific market segments, they learn the nuances of their chosen styles of songs and they try to expand, even writing broad appealing more adaptable songs while still remaining appealing to their normal markets..... Importantly they learn how to sniff out opportunities, they create and develop contacts in many different areas (publishing, labels, artist managers, performers, movie production companies, tv production companies, radio production companies, studios, song pluggers, producers... The list goes on.

The more you rely on others to do things for you, to understand contracts, to negotiate, the more vulnerable you are.

Of course as a pro you may well get an agent, a manager to outsource to etc... But you will want to understand the language they speak to the extent that you could do it yourself.... You choose not to because you want to do something else.

You most definitely DO NOT let them handle it because it all seems like gibberish and gobbledegook, or too intense, too inconvenient, too much like hard work.

You hire someone because they have better contacts, because they are a better negotiator, because they will get you more work at a better rate, because they can place more of your songs with better artists or producers etc.

You need at least enough skills in all these areas to know what they are taking of, to understand what you trade away or gain in negotiations, or where to invest hundreds of hours of time.

I copied and pasted large segments of this from other topics of my own, all because "how to become a pro songwriter" is not an uncommon question.

I think you will find admissions clerks and lecturers will be very aware of the differing needs of music industry students.

Of course Songstuff can help you in almost all aspects of the music industry, whether you go to college and gain a masters degree or a 3 month qualification, or whether you decide to teach yourself and fight for experience starting now. There is also nothing to stop you both studying to become a student, whilst actively engaging with the mainstream and indie music industries, locally, nationally and internationally, and of course using Songstuff to help with all of it. That would certainly ensure skill development, maximise opportunity and keep you in line for both a qualification and help you with learning the practicalities of working in the industry whilst growing your own contacts and real world experience.

Augment your courses. Volunteer for internships to learn new skills. Even unpaid.

Just some food for thought.

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Honestly, I wouldn't go to college to become a songwriter. Mainly because you don't need to go to college to do that. I would go to college to earn a degree in something that would help your earn a living getting through life. But, while you are there, make friends that are into music and share the same goals music-wise. College is a great time to prepare yourself for the real world AND to have the time of your life. Make friends, start a band, play at party's, bars, anywhere you can. Beat down the doors of the radio stations there and try to get some originals on the radio. Much easier to do that in a college town. Radio airplay, a following/fans, a good rehearsed band willing to play live … THOSE are the things that will get you noticed in the music business. So be smart, get a degree and while you're doing that, become a musician as well. I really wish I had the "be a musician" part when I went to college. I got my degree, but I didn't even realize what a great place and time it would have been to really start something musically.


But, if you have no desire to be a musician, but really want to be a songwriter, I'd suggest maybe following some bands you like in the town where you go to college. Listen to them often, study there strengths and weaknesses, become a fan and friend of the band. Eventually when a relationship is built, you may be able to show them some of your songs.


All just some ideas of course. 

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