This Article Originally Published July 1998


by Gloria Sklerov

Have you ever had a song published? I don't think I could begin to count how many times I've been asked that question over the years as soon as a "non-pro" finds out that I'm a songwriter. There's no way they could know that being published means nothing in terms of being a successful songwriter. They believe that a published song is going to make you tons of money, and that all you have to do is write one published song and poof—you're a millionaire! If only that were true.

Before the era of modern recording, publishing was important because then, songs were sold only on sheet music. What counts now is "recorded and released." And even recorded isn't enough, since a significant percentage of songs that are cut are never released for various reasons. So, although many people will have made money because your song was cut (i.e. producers, studio musicians, copyists, etc.), the songwriter will make nothing. We are paid only when the song is sold or played. Neither of those things will happen with an unreleased cut, even though the song may have been "frozen" for six months or more.

As a songwriter, I began much more starry-eyed about the music business than this article would lead you to believe—but I've been through an ongoing education as to what you can reasonably expect to happen. Unfortunately, as far as each individual song is concerned, not much. It's a game of percentages. I can't give you an average of what percentage of songs that I write eventually get cut or get used in some way that generates an income, but I can tell you that it's a small percentage. I have had a few hundred cuts in my career, but I can't say with any certainty that I'll ever get another song cut—or, if cut, released. The nature of the business is such that I think of each cut as the last, even though I try as hard as I can to get the next record.

One of the biggest mistakes I see beginning songwriters make is that they believe just because they write a song, something must happen with that particular song. What they don't understand is that in the early stages of writing, each song is really a stepping-stone to the next; a learning process that gets you one step closer to the song which might have a chance of being successful. I remember my first songwriting class at UCLA, which I taught 15 years later. Our instructor would remind us that you always "throw away your first hundred songs." How true. When I look back at my early songs, I cringe in amazement that I ever, thought they were good—and yet, I had to write them to get to the more evolved material, much of which I am still proud of.

But no matter how good a song may be, and everyone's opinion will be different, it's like playing the slot machines in Vegas. How many times do you have to crank the handle to make something happen? Nobody knows.

Let's track the hypothetical progress of a song: After its many incarnations in the writing process, and then recording the best demo you can, the real work first begins. Making copy after copy, getting it out to those situations where they may be looking for a song in that "bag," and then waiting. After a suitable period of time, you start calling—has the package arrived? Has anyone listened to it yet? Does anyone like it? Most likely, they'll tell you it hasn't been listened to yet and to call again in a few weeks. When you do call back, if the project hasn't been cancelled by then they'll probably tell you they can't find your package or they didn't feel it was right for their artist or that the artist wrote something with his Aunt Tilly, and on and on it goes.

The only way to look at this picture and make sense of it is to see "flowers." What I mean by that is to consider every song sent out as a seed cast upon the wind. It must find a fertile spot where the sun will shine and the rain will fall. For a flower to grow, many songs must be cast upon the wind to increase the chances of finding that fertile spot. Most songs get blown into oblivion.

Discouraging? Yes, but it's a reality. If your heart and soul tell you that you must be a songwriter, you will eventually grow "flowers"—providing you have the courage to face rejection and the perseverance to accept the fact that nothing will happen to most of your songs.

But when something does happen, there is no greater feeling—especially if the record turns out well. But that's another story for another time.

Gloria Sklerov is a two-time Emmy winning songwriter with three other Emmy nominations. She has composed songs for such films as "Heavenly Kid," "Every Which Way But Loose," "Spaceballs," "License to Kill," Frankenstein," and dozens of others. Her songs have been recorded by such renowned artists as Frank Sinatra, Carpenters, Cher, Kenny Rogers, Pointer Sisters and Dottie West. She is an instructor at UCLA's Recording Arts & Sciences Department, USC's School of Music, and is a valuable member of the TAXI A&R staff.


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