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The annual salary of a songwriter varies dramatically and is based on the success of his music. Many songwriters struggle to sell their songs or to get their music played, while a successful songwriter could earn enough money to last a lifetime with a popular set of tunes.
The average salary for a freelance songwriter who doesn't write as a part of a band or as a solo artist is difficult to quantify. Employment is never a given and a freelance songwriter may go months without a job or request to enter the studio and assist an established artist with songwriting or receive a request to submit completed songs to an artist. According to State University's website, as of December 2010 a successful freelance song writer can expect to earn an average salary of $43,000. This figure can vary widely depending on the reputation of the songwriter and the success of songs she's written previously.
A music composer is typically writing music for large-scale productions involving orchestra level instruments and arrangements. This position is more established than that of a freelance songwriter since a composer is typically employed by an established orchestral company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2008 a salaried music composer working with an established company could expect to earn an annual salary of $41,270.
A songwriter who is performing her own songs can have a much higher income over a freelance musician who is selling his songs to another artist or a producer. The average salary of a songwriter in this category varies depending on how successful the artist's music is commercially to how large a venue she can command for ticket sales. Some artists are able to earn millions of dollars a year while others can barely scratch enough of a living to keep food on the table.
A songwriter who retains the copyright on his work is guaranteed by law to receive royalty payments on the sale of his work. These payments are commonly referred to as residuals. Royalty payments for songwriting can vary greatly depending on the success of an album or the individual sales of the song if it is available for digital download. A songwriter is also able to license her music to other companies for the purposes of advertising. The boost in salary a songwriter sees from licensing his material can range into the millions of dollars.