Writing songs for top acts used to be a reliable source of income. Now, thanks to a rapidly changing industry, songwriters face trouble making ends meet.
After years of struggle and even a few months of homelessness, Kimberly “Kaydence” Krysiuk was sure her big break as a songwriter had finally arrived. In August 2018, Ariana Grande released her fourth album, Sweetener, and there, at Number 12 on the track list, was the acerbic kiss-off ballad “Better Off,” co-written by Krysiuk two years earlier over a Hit-Boy beat. At age 27, she had achieved every young songwriter’s dream, her lyrics and melodies sent aloft via a superstar’s silky voice. The world was hearing her work. Big money, she assumed, was on its way.
At the time, she didn’t mind that Grande took 10 percent of the songwriting credit for what Krysiuk describes as “changing three or four words,” tweaking the lyric that ended up as “watch you smoke and drink.” (Producer Tommy “TBHits” Brown, who worked on “Better Off,” disputes Krysiuk’s account: “That was definitely not [Grande’s] only contribution,” he says. “We sat down there with the entire song and worked on it together. [Grande] is very, very hands-on with everything she does. She’s not one of the artists that just take songs and doesn’t do anything.”)