Songbay: Is It Worth It? An Honest Review
Living Music by Justine | March Edition
Songbay is an online platform for buying and selling original music and lyrics. We’re going to explore this in detail. But first, it’s disclaimer time.
DISCLAIMER: Songbay have kindly sponsored this article. I’ve been paid an hourly fee for my time. I have NOT been paid to give a positive review; rather an honest review was requested. The links in this article are not affiliate. This means if you make a purchase through a link in this article, I don’t earn a commission. Any links provided are to support Songbay and the artists, or to provide sources of more information.
This article was published March 2019. This review reflects how Songbay operated at this time.
What is Songbay?
The following sellers use Songbay:
Lyricists selling their lyrics.
Songwriters selling digital downloads of their songs (for personal use), and professional licenses for songs to be used in media (film, TV) or recorded by other artists.
Composers selling instrumentals or backing tracks.
This is not an exhaustive list but these sellers commonly use Songbay. The following buyers use Songbay:
Songwriters looking for lyricists.
Filmmakers, TV producers, and other media makers.
Musicians looking for songwriters.
Singers looking for backing tracks.
Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Buyers can search Songbay using this menu:
You can do a more general search here. The tracks featured are chosen for their high standard and production. Buyers can refresh the link for new selections, until they find something that tickles their fancy!
After clicking the above link, thumbnails of artists are shown at the top. You can scroll down to listen to a playlist of popular songs (popular as in sought after.) I love this idea because it’s a great way to showcase Songbay artists to potential buyers. Because the songs are randomised, and change when the page is refreshed, many standout artists get a chance to be seen.
My criticism is that some of the artists showcased on the carousel (above the popular songs) are yet to upload anything. This is wasted space that could be used to showcase exceptional talent. Also, sometimes too many songs by the same artist are featured in the music player. Hopefully, this will be improved over time. I know Songbay was a complex website to get up and running, so a few snags along the way are understandable.
Songbay and Me
When I started out as a lyricist, I couldn’t find anywhere to market my lyrics. I stumbled across Songbay seven years ago. I uploaded my lyrics to the site, and made these available to buyers. I’ve used Songbay ever since. Below are the reasons I remain a loyal subscriber.
You can sell your copyright on Songbay. I no longer do this and I don’t recommend it. A copyright sale means you give up all your rights to the piece, and will not receive a % of future royalties. Effectively, when someone buys that work, you are no longer the author. (If you do sell your copyright, charge thousands.)
Instead, I use Songbay to license my lyrics to songwriters. This means I give buyers permission to use my work (for a fee), but I keep ownership of the lyric, so receive a % of future royalties.
Some people believe lyricists should give songwriters their work for free, and earn money only if/when the work generates royalties. This is one thing on paper but I’ve lived that reality. I was taken advantage of time and time again. (I’ve got horror stories!)
After I started charging a licensing fee, I immediately found myself working with serious musicians who took me seriously. This is one reason I like and use Songbay. Especially seven years ago (when I first joined Songbay), it was refreshing to see a music company straying from the idea that writers shouldn’t be paid for their work. (I’m sure many of us have been told at some point that we should work "for exposure." Songbay stands against this.)
Music Gateway is another platform for licensing music and lyrics. They have a "Terms Only" option, which means the songwriter or lyricist works only for future royalties. I’m not here for it. Here’s why.
If you’re fulfilling someone’s brief, you’re probably spending a huge amount of time tailoring your work to the client. You should be paid for this. (I’m a paying subscriber to Music Gateway. I don’t dislike it as a platform, but the "Terms Only" option bugs me.)
Lyric writing is my business. I run regular competitions and giveaways, but charging an initial fee most of the time is the best (if not the only) way to build a sustainable business. Rant over! I’m happy to hear your thoughts on this (even if you disagree!)
A smooth road
Buyers can easily and legally license music and lyrics on Songbay. After choosing the song or lyric you want, the payment process and the legal side are done step-by-step. This is quick and easy.
In a blog post published last year, I chatted with my friend and client M L Dunn about our collaborations. He said, “[the licensing process] could not have been easier; easy online forms to fill in, I paid with PayPal, as I recall.”
Songbay has different types of licenses, suited to different purposes. Read more about this here. All the licenses are non-exclusive. Here we meet my main criticism of Songbay.
As a lyricist, I license my lyrics exclusively. My clients don’t want to record and release a song using my lyrics, and then have someone else use that same lyric. I combat this by removing lyrics from Songbay after they are licensed. (I also offer to send an exclusivity contract by email.) It’s a shame Songbay doesn’t currently offer an exclusive license.
Non-exclusive licenses make sense because if a song is licensed to be used in a film soundtrack, there’s no reason it can’t also be used in another film or a TV show. Financially, the more times a song is licensed the better for the writer. But for songwriters and lyricists selling songs and lyrics to be released by one artist, I hope an exclusive license is introduced.
How to Write Memorable Songs... Even if You Struggle with Lyric Writing
If you want to improve your lyrics, hone your editing skills, or find reliable co-writers, this quiz is for you. Answer 4 questions about your writing process, and I send you feedback based on your answers.
Songbay gives you an opportunity to display your work and be found by people you might not have otherwise connected with.
Will your work definitely sell? No. There’s no guarantee everything (or anything) you upload will sell. I don’t think this is a basis to criticise Songbay because it’s true of every licensing platform I use. I have yet to make any money from Music Gateway or SoundBetter. However, I wouldn’t tell people not to use these sites because it’s possible I will get sales in future.
If you’re not on a platform, you definitely won’t sell. If you have a profile, there’s a chance. On Songbay and SoundBetter, I got regular enquiries when fewer lyricists knew about these websites. When a platform becomes saturated, it becomes more difficult to get noticed but again, nothing is gained by not trying. I recommended SoundBetter to my online friend Hugh Webber. He almost immediately got paid work.
You can also promote your Songbay profile yourself. Be active, don’t just sit and wait for sales. I’ve had three sales on Songbay to date. A buyer discovered the first with no input from me. The other two were a result of me promoting my profile.
Songbay highlights sellers through their blog and on social media. We may not sell everything all the time, but that’s okay. I’ve always felt appreciated and supported by the Songbay team. This is one reason Songbay is my favourite licensing platform.
There’s another collaboration site I use called SongwriterLink. It’s not for me. It’s not a site I spend much time using. However, I created a profile on the chance it could lead to collaboration. A client discovered me through this and commissioned a lyric.
My opinion on Songbay, as well as similar collaboration platforms, is this: Why pass up the chance to be seen?
Do songs sell on Songbay?
Many users do make regular sales. Songbay publish reviews here. Positive feedback is mixed with constructive criticism, and often link to the reviewer’s profile. This makes me feel confident the reviews are genuine.
I like to be thorough. So I decided to reach out to regular Songbay users outside of Songbay (social media, email, etc.)
Multi-genre songwriter Dan Moodie said, “I’m definitely a fan of Songbay and have managed to do some business through them. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to other songwriters.”
Visit Dan's Songbay profile here
Lyricist Emma Chute said the following:
“I have really been enjoying the platform. It’s an amazing place of community, artists and creativity. The team are professional, helpful and really supportive. The new features [on social media] such as "Listen Up" for songwriters and "Star of the Week" for lyricists are both great ways of being promoted.
“As a member, when it comes to retweeting, I try as much as possible to look at someone’s lyric or song and then retweet. That way I can comment and hopefully get them some more exposure, and obviously as a lyricist, if someone reads my material, I might get that chance of it going further.”
“For people feeling daunted or disappointed that they haven't licensed out work yet, just keep going. See yourself licensing the piece; shaking hands with your fans... your imagination is key to manifestation. Plus we all have to appreciate and be in awe of the amount of talent out there, last time I looked there were over 40,000 artists. Supporting each other, even though we are still competing, is something I feel is very important... reap what you sow, etc.”
“Some time ago, a team member referred me to a musician they felt I would work well with. I really like this idea, for example I would like to work with a professional musician or producer but don't really know where to start, and this recommendation at least gives me a starting point. So a match up system would be a great feature.”
Visit Emma's Songbay profile here
I’ve had people reach out to me over the years to ask about Songbay. If you’re unsure, ask around! It’s a great way to network with other musicians.
Other notable features
Songbay has many services and features, including the following:
Set your own sales fees
All ££ from sales go to sellers - Songbay takes 0% commission
Free legal contracts
Free copyright service. This includes free registration and protection for songs and lyrics uploaded to Songbay. This is unique to Songbay and is one of their most popular features.
Free legal advice (music related)
Aesthetic display features; for example, you can select an image to accompany your work, and lyricists have the option to select a supplied backing track suiting the mood of their lyric. They can also upload their own narration.
Discover more features here.
Songbay are soon launching a song and lyric appraisal service. For a small fee, songwriters and lyricists can get detailed feedback, and advice on how to improve the submitted piece(s).
I’m excited to be involved with this as one of the professional lyricists. If this interests you, please subscribe to my newsletter. When the service launches, I’ll announce it here. Also subscribe for future (indie music related) blog posts.
You can visit my Songbay profile here.
Do you use Songbay? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Let’s talk!