Writing Songs for Major Artists


Joe Cocker 
Image Courtesy Naaman Saar Stavy

The most common question I get from my songwriting students is “How did you get your songs recorded by major artists?”. The second most common question from my students is “So how can I?”.

Networking & working your network. If you are writing songs, you gotta do both…a lot!

Years ago I set out to write songs for the artists I loved. In the beginning it was mostly my favorite singers, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross and as time went by, I expanded the list to include Country and Jazz artists. When I started, I had no clue how I was going to get them to actually hear the songs I wrote much less record them. I was naive but determined.

The Unsolicited Song Demo

Just sending songs blindly never worked then and doesn’t work now. Unsolicited stuff makes it…into the trash. Labels, producers and artists do not want to take the chance of being sued by someone who may accuse them of copying a song that was sent to them. Too risky.

Publishing Deals

Signing with a publisher is the holy grail for a young writer but getting harder by the day. With an ever shrinking pie publishers are less willing to develop a new writer. But…you can still get your songs to people who can make a difference.

The Music Business Attorney

I always urge songwriters and artists to get a good music business attorney. Might be an investment but if they’re in your corner they can open doors and make introductions. To publishers, labels, producers and even artists. Once the door opens a crack they can help protect your interests by advising you about your publishing and more.

Chaka Khan  Image courtesy Ben HoudijkPlaying Your Songs Live

Playing live may get your songs noticed especially in a town like Nashville. This is a great way to build your social media network. More doors will open if you’re bringing your fans with you. Start wherever you live. The point is, you want to establish credibility and most of all…a track record. If you can land that first cut you can build on it.

Writing Songs and Artist Development

Developing your own artist and being part of their songwriting and production process is a proven winner. They start to climb and so do you. Look in your backyard first for someone to work with. We all see major artists names on co-writes with production teams. Like it or not this is a reality of the business and becoming part of a team is just one more way to get where you want to go with your writing.

Work Your Network

I mentioned the working part of networking. In these times it’s up to you as a songwriter to work it. Get your songs in front of as many people as possible, as often as possible. The right person hears one song and may want to hear more. You can’t create, develop and grow your craft in a vacuum, so sooner or later you have to get out there. Join associations like ASCAP or BMI and meet the people there. Make a connection. They can pass along a song by an unknown writer if you make them a fan of yours. Attend every workshop you can. Connect.

The Stars Align: Multiple Factors of Songwriting Success

Tina Turner eventually recorded one of my songs because a co-writers publisher believed in it, and Joe Cocker, because my publisher worked his network smartly. Chaka Khan, Diana, Wynonna and some Country, Jazz and various Pop Idol winners cut my songs but it was a slow build. I had to continually seek co-writers, opportunities, new connections and most of all, keep writing and improving. A move to another town or city might even be an idea to consider if you feel you’ve exhausted all the resources in your area.

Above Playlist: Songs written by Mark Cawley;
Wayward Soul, performed by Joe Cocker
Dancing in my Dreams, performed by Tina Turner
My Angel is Here, Performed by Wynonna

Songwriting for the Evolving Artist

I wrote many songs only to have them get recorded by my target artist only to have it go on hold and, in the end, not make the record. I had a great publisher, had done my homework, built to the point where I could get the song heard by the powers that be but kept falling short. The key? I started writing for myself, and I do not try to write a copy of the artist’s most recent hit.

Great artists are trying to grow and evolve. They don’t want to repeat themselves. Everyone of those artists that recorded a song of mine had their own vision, and that vision did not include repeating themselves.

The songs that made the cut were the kind of songs I hope you’ve written or the songs you will write that move YOU first. If it moves you, chances are it will move someone else. Combined with all your persistence and networking, it increase the chances that it will be heard by a major artist, who just may be moved by your song.

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Visit Mark Cawley online at IdoCoach.com.

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Feature image of Joe Cocker courtesy Naaman Saar Stavy

Image of Chaka Khan courtesy Ben Houdijk



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Charlie Thompson
Charlie Thompson

Where do I find artist that are ready to take that step, I work for a production company here in south NJ and I am having a hard time getting clients, I attend many open mics, most seem not ready or have no money.  Am I doomed because I live near Philly, should I be in NYC? Any help would be great!  

Charles Thompson

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