Songwriting Tips, News & More

The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 01, 2017 @08:00 AM


The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

by Mark Cawley


This is delicate stuff for me. I coach writers all over the world; some with wildly different goals, talents, and dreams. For me it’s not as much nuts and bolts as trying hard to find real life examples of a successful path--and an equal amount of cautionary tales.

As with any advice, I would start with considering the source. Is the person qualified to give direction? For me, I always wanted to hear from someone who was in the trenches. Someone who had actually been where I wanted to go. I like to flip to the back of the book and read the credits before I start “how to”-ing.

Just by virtue of doing what I do, as long as I’ve done it, I’ve built up quite a stash of hard-earned wisdom (with plenty of mistakes mixed in).


Let’s start with the best advice:

1. Jump! When you’re stuck, complacent, or just bored creatively; shake things up! For me this has meant actually picking up and moving to L.A., London, and Nashville over the years. Sometimes with no plan and certainly no plan B! It can be scary, but you’re an artist and that’s what artists do sometimes. They jump into the unknown. Every jump I’ve ever made has made me a better, and more aware songwriter. It’s as important to live and experience things as it is to study and practice your craft.

2. Study the Great Ones. Like most writers I know, I learned by deconstructing songs. How are they put together? Why do some relate to so many people and become hits? Just the process of breaking down songs and putting them back together gets in your DNA as a writer and is bound to make you better.

3. Network. This can be a hard one for us introverts but I promise, those connections you make will come back time and time again to be invaluable. I still connect with writers I wrote with 20 years ago. They’re great co-writers but more importantly, great friends and you need friends to survive in this business.

4. Be Fearless. Maybe the best advice I ever got. The best cuts I’ve ever had came from songs that were written without a “net”. If I surprised myself and loved the result, chances are someone else will.

5. Be a good hang. You’re in it for the long run and believe it or not, the writing community is smaller than you think! Being prepared, considerate, and a good listener makes you someone people want to work with again. Word spreads!


Now the worst advise:

1) Have a plan B. To do this job you have to not be able to not write. See #1 above.

2) Only write what you know. You can argue this, as I have with several of my coaching clients. “The only true songs are the songs written from my own personal experience”. That’s the argument . I would argue that unless your life is unbelievably interesting and eventful, the well will run dry quick. Great to write from real life but it’s also pretty cool to make something up sometimes!

3) Focus on being creative, someone else will do that messy “business” part. I tried that, doesn’t work. Be a student of the business, it’s your career and no one is going to care about your career like you do.

4) Follow the songwriting rules. Obviously, learn ‘em. So you can break ‘em! Like any craft, you want to learn the ABC’s...but then you want to invent some of your own.

5) Great art requires suffering. I’ve written some of my best sad songs when I was insanely happy and some of the most upbeat ones when I was down. If you just write every day, you’ll experience it all. Promise.


About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.


Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, pitching songs, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, The Spice Girls, Kathy Mattea, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Taylor Swift, Wynonna Judd, Successful Songwriting

Three Uncomfortable Truths About Why Most Songwriters NEVER Crack Through To Success

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 01, 2017 @08:00 AM

Three Uncomfortable Truths About Why Most Songwriters NEVER Crack Through To Success
by Karen Randle

It doesn’t much matter where you are in your songwriting at the moment. You can be a well-established songwriting pro with cuts with various major artists who knows his revenues ought to be higher. Or you can be a beginner songwriter coming out of the gate and trying to make your way…as long as you have your thinking straight and are serious about your songwriting, you can achieve greater success.

However, there are three “uncomfortable truths” about why most independent songwriters never will.


Truth #1: The most successful songwriters tend to get paid more for who they are than what they do.

Max Martin keeps placing songs with the biggest music artists of today, more any any other active songwriter today. Why? Max Martin has written and co-written 22 Billboard Hot 100 number-one hits (most of which he has also produced or co-produced). Max Martin is the songwriter with third most number one singles on the chart, behind only Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26). As a producer he holds the record for second-most number one singles on the chart with 20 behind only George Martin (23). Additionally, five of these songs he wrote or co-wrote made their debut on the chart at number-one. Number one debuts songs include "Can't Stop the Feeling!" by Justin Timberlake and "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.

You are not entitled to a high income. Just because you have your law degree…your doctor degree…your certification in whatever… and 25 years of experience…etc. This does not mean you will automatically get paid more.

Think about athletes. NBA player Derrick Rose who plays for the Chicago Bulls is one of the highest paid athletes—even though he has been riddled with injuries most of his career. Tim Tebow, whose NFL career never put him in the same category of the best athletes in the game, made millions in endorsements. Why? Simply for being “Tim Tebow.”

So building up who you are is vastly more important than what you do or your competency level.

Truth #2: No attempt in improving oneself - Writing songs on your own, never attempting to collaborate with other songwriters or producers. It’s in working on your SONGWRITING.

All the finalists in the Pop and Country categories in the 2016 USA Songwriting Competition are collaborations, written by 2 or more songwriters. This trend seems to be the same on most of the songs the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.

Elton John collaborates with longtime lyricist and friend Bernie Taupin on most of his greatest hit songs. Elton recognizes that his strength lies in writing music, particularly melodic lines. And Bernie focuses on his strength - writing lyrics. Songwriters can learn from the pros: If you are great in writing music but bad in writing lyrics, it doesn't mean that you are toast at all. You can collaborate with a lyricist or a songwriter who is excellent in writing lyrics.

Truth #3: An old one: The definition of INSANITY is: doing the same things the same way over and over again while hoping for different results.

Albert Einstein is broadly credited with saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Many songwriters tend to do that. Example: they use the same chord progression and same rhyming clichés and wonder why their songwriting never seem to improve.
You need to be willing to look for and accept a different approach—even a different concept of yourself and your music, musicianship or songwriting. That different approach may include a fundamental change in the way you think of yourself, your role, your songwriting, your music artistry, and the way you present yourself to the music industry or audience.

Some of it might feel uncomfortable. It certainly will be different from what you see others in your same profession/music/category doing.

At the risk of being obvious, one way you fundamentally improve your songs is by collaborations. But most songwriters invest all their energy in only one means of increasing their value: “writing their songs all by oneself” better.

This is akin to trying to lose weight, keep it off, and be healthier only by reducing the quantity of calories, carbs and fat you eat—with no changes in physical movement, exercise, food choices, nutrition, nutritional supplementation and mental attitude management.  Yes, you can lose some weight by doing just one thing to further and further extremes, but as any dieter will attest, you hit a wall when no more pounds can be lost even if you eat nothing but a leaf of lettuce with a squirt of lemon for dinner every night.

Sorry, but getting better and better and better at your “thing” will slam you into an income barrier and will NEVER lift you over that wall.

You need to increase your value to your audience/music industry in multiple ways in order to improve your songwriting or music artistry.

If you want to leap-frog to a much higher success, then you must master improvement of yourself, use a more sophisticated approach to your songwriting and your music artistry and focus on learning the strategies that are proven to catapult to your music success.

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, pitching songs, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Justin Timberlake

Max Martin, the Most Successful Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @07:00 AM

Max Martin, the Most Successful Songwriter (in the last 20 years)


Just turn on Top 40 radio and you will hear one of his songs "Shake It Off", a song recorded by Taylor Swift. Max Martin, is a Swedish songwriter and producer has replaced Diane Warren as the most successful pop songwriter of the last 20 years.. He rose to prominence in the mid-1990s after making a string of major hits for artists such as the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Bon Jovi and NSYNC. Some of his earlier hits include "I Want It That Way" (1999), "...Baby One More Time" (1999) and "It's My Life" (2000).

Martin, born Martin Sandberg in Stockholm, won the Grammy for producer of the year, non-classical, in 2015 and Album of the year (for Taylor Swift’s “1989” Album) in 2016. He has written 21 No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100, more than any other writer in history except for Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26). Martin has produced 19 of the Hot 100 No. 1s, more than any other producer except for another Martin: Beatles producer George Martin, with 23. Max Martin's run began with Britney Spears' "…Baby One More Time: in 1999. He has also written No. 1s for *NSYNC, Katy Perry, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift and The Weeknd.

Hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts is the absolute "Olympic Gold Medal" measure for a songwriter. In the Billboard Charts' Hot 100's 57-year history, only Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26) boast more leaders as writers.

Expanding the scope to the Billboard Hot 100's top 10, Martin's sum swells to an astonishing 58 top 10s on which he's credited as a writer. While it's not an all-time record (yet; McCartney boasts more).


Here are Max Martin's 58 Hot 100 Top 10s as a Songwriter

Peak Pos., Title, Artist, Peak Date

No. 7, "Do You Know (What It Takes)," Robyn, 8/2/1997

No. 2, "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," Backstreet Boys, 9/6/1997

No. 7, "Show Me Love," Robyn, 11/29/1997

No. 4, "Everybody [Backstreet's Back]," Backstreet Boys, 5/9/1998

No. 1 (two weeks), "...Baby One More Time," Britney Spears, 1/30/1999

No. 6, "I Want It That Way," Backstreet Boys, 6/26/1999

No. 10, "(You Drive Me) Crazy," Britney Spears, 11/13/1999

No. 6, "That's the Way It Is," Celine Dion, 3/4/2000

No. 6, "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely," Backstreet Boys, 3/18/2000

No. 9, "Oops!...I Did It Again," Britney Spears, 6/10/2000

No. 1 (two weeks), "It's Gonna Be Me," 'N Sync, 7/29/2000

No. 9, "Shape of My Heart," Backstreet Boys, 12/2/2000

No. 2, "Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson, 4/9/05

No. 6, "Behind These Hazel Eyes," Kelly Clarkson, 6/11/05

No. 9, "U + Ur Hand," P!nk, 5/5/2007

No. 9, "Who Knew," P!nk, 9/29/2007

No. 3, "Hot N Cold," Katy Perry, 1/22/2008

No. 1 (seven weeks), "I Kissed a Girl," Katy Perry, 7/5/2008

No. 1 (one week), "So What," P!nk, 9/27/2008

No. 1 (two weeks), "My Life Would Suck Without You," Kelly Clarkson, 2/7/2009

No. 1 (one week), "3," Britney Spears, 10/24/2009

No. 10, "Whataya Want From Me," Adam Lambert, 5/1/2010

No. 1, "California Gurls," Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, 6/19/2010

No. 2, "Dynamite," Taio Cruz, 8/21/2010

No. 1 (two weeks), "Teenage Dream," Katy Perry, 9/18/2010

No. 4, "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love," Usher feat. Pitbull, 10/9/2010

No. 8, "Teenage Dream," Glee Cast, 11/27/2010

No. 1 (one week), "Raise Your Glass," P!nk, 12/11/2010

No. 1 (one week), "Hold It Against Me," Britney Spears, 1/29/2011

No. 2, "F**kin' Perfect," P!nk, 2/12/2011

No. 7, "Blow," Ke$ha, 3/19/2011

No. 6, "Loser Like Me," Glee Cast, 4/2/2011

No. 1 (five weeks), "E.T.," Katy Perry feat. Kanye West, 4/9/2011

No. 3, "Till the World Ends," Britney Spears, 5/14/2011

No. 7, "I Wanna Go," Britney Spears, 8/20/2011

No. 1 (two weeks), "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)," Katy Perry, 8/27/2011

No. 3, "The One That Got Away," Katy Perry, 1/7/2012

No. 6, "Domino," Jessie J, 2/18/2012

No. 1 (one week), "Part of Me," Katy Perry, 3/3/2012

No. 9, "Scream," Usher, 8/4/2012

No. 2, "Wide Awake," Katy Perry, 8/11/2012

No. 1 (three weeks), "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor Swift, 9/1/2012

No. 1 (nine weeks), "One More Night," Maroon 5, 9/29/2012

No. 5, "Beauty and a Beat," Justin Bieber feat. Nicki Minaj, 1/5/2013

No. 2, "I Knew You Were Trouble.," Taylor Swift, 1/12/2013

No. 7, "Daylight," Maroon 5, 2/23/2013

No. 1 (two weeks), "Roar," Katy Perry, 9/14/2013

No. 1 (four weeks), "Dark Horse," Katy Perry feat. Juicy J, 2/8/2014

No. 2, "Problem," Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea, 6/7/2014

No. 4, "Break Free," Ariana Grande feat. Zedd, 8/30/2014

No. 1 (four weeks), "Shake It Off," Taylor Swift, 9/6/2014

No. 3, "Bang Bang," Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj, 10/4/2014

No. 7, "Love Me Harder," Ariana Grande & The Weeknd, 11/22/2014

No. 1 (seven weeks), "Blank Space," Taylor Swift, 11/29/2014

No. 3, "Love Me Like You Do," Ellie Goulding, 3/7/2015

No. 6, "Style," Taylor Swift, 3/21/2015

No. 1 (one week), "Bad Blood," Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar, 6/6/2015

No. 1 (one week to-date), "Can't Feel My Face," The Weeknd, 8/22/2015

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Britney Spears, Co-Writing Songs, The Weeknd, Ellie Goulding, Taylor Swift, Jessie J, Max Martin