How These Songwriters Became Recording Artists (And You Can Too)

Feb 05, 2018

Bruno Mars is celebrating a clean sweep of the Grammys last week, having walked away with awards for Song of the Year (“That’s What I Like”), Record of the Year (“24K Magic”), and Album of the Year.

But did you know he started his career out of the limelight, writing songs for others? Among his credits are hits like CeLo Green’s 2010 hit “F**k You” and Flo Rida’s “Right Round.”

And he’s not alone. In fact, there is no shortage of Grammy standouts who broke into the business in the writer’s room, toiling out of the spotlight for others.

Before Kesha scored an emotional performance Sunday night of “Praying” (along w/ her nominations for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance), she started her career penning such hits as “Time of Our Lives” for Miley Cyrus, and “Pink Champagne” for Ariana Grande.

Lady Gaga got her start writing such hits as “Full Service” by New Kids on the Block, “Elevator” by the Pussycat Dolls, and “Quicksand” by Britney Spears (for whom Gaga originally wrote the hit “Telephone” but was rejected). Others like Sia, Jessie J, Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean, Ne Yo, Lenny Kravitz, and many more started off as songwriters as well.

But for every successful transition, there is a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and financial risk involved. So songwriters eyeing this path need to take every advantage they can get to make it a successful one.

Take Tiffany Fred. For more than a decade, Fred has written for and collaborated with the likes of  Zendaya (“Replay”), Jason Derulo (“Pick Up The Pieces”), and Joe Jonas (“Kleptomaniac”), with the highlight being Jennifer Hudson’s “Invisible” from her Grammy-winning self-titled debut album.

This past December, she dropped her first album with her band Fred & Co., called Drake… featuring jazz renditions of Drake songs (which she calls “the most creative thing I’ve ever done.”)

To get there, she found she needed to let go of her songwriting past… both figuratively and literally.

Creatively, Fred says she needed a clean break from her older work.

“I wanted a fresh start,” she said. A successful back catalog, can become just as much a burden as a crutch when you’re trying to create new work for yourself.  “For me, that catalog represented my songwriting career. My new catalog is building a whole new thing. I’m performer now, a producer now.”

Financially, it’s even harder.  Songwriters making the leap to performer quickly learn that there’s far more involved after writing the song. There’s also recording, distributing, promoting, and performing it as well. And those costs can add up if you’re pursuing a DIY approach.

What’s more, songwriters who came up during the 2000s, like Fred, had difficult publishing deals as a result of the industry landscape at the time. The industry was still struggling through the switch from physical to digital formats, so publishing deals were tight, and sometimes outdated.

Fred summed it up best in this 2015 interview:

“The way we make money now in this business is so different. Sometimes its very hard in the beginning, and even in the middle, to have a consistent income.

You gotta be smart with your money when you get it.”

So she made a financial break as well… selling the royalties she made from her catalog to private investors via an online auction at Royalty Exchange.

“Why not sell what I built over the last 10 years to fund what I’m doing now, rather than turn to someone else to fund it?” she said. “Why not cash in on myself?”

She turned the $18,000 a year she was making on the publishing from her back catalog into nearly $110,000 to put to work right away, earning nearly six times its annual income.

Other songwriters have done the same. One is Fred’s close friend, songwriter Mickey Shiloh. In fact, it was Shiloh who recommended this strategy to Fred in the first place.

Like Fred, Shiloh also had a successful songwriting career, penning tracks for the likes of Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Pitbull, and Jennifer Lopez.

As outlined in a recent LA Weekly profile, as well as on the Royalty Exchange blog, Shiloh saw selling her writers share of her back catalog (while retaining her publishing) as the best way to make a clean creative break from her past in a way that allowed her to fund her future.

She raised nearly nine times her annual royalty income through an auction on Royalty Exchange, and used it to further establish her performing career (funding, for instance, her first music video for her single “We Ain’t Friends”).

“Now I’m focused more on my own stuff rather than trying to land placements for the old stuff,” she said. “I’m not playing that game anymore.”

Perhaps next year’s Grammys will highlight another songwriter-turned-performer, just like Bruno Mars. After all, everyone starts somewhere.

Are you ready to step up to the mic? Royalty Exchange can help you leverage your songwriting catalog to fund your recording career, and let you take the spotlight for yourself. Find out how...

Get Started