Write a better first line. The first line is literally the very first thing one would hear when they are listening to your song. So, it is the super important how you want to start your “conversation” with your listener – from the listeners to the artists and label people – and convince them to sit through and keep listening and waiting for your hook and punch line to come up. It’s all about the first line, specially when professionals are listening. With the very first line of your music they hear, they already start judging your song and for sure you don’t want them to stop listening. Because if the first line is too weak, there’s a good chance they might stop listening. Interesting first lines grab the listener and make them want to hear more. They can be the difference in an artist or A&R person listening all the way through or passing on your song right away. And they can be different through the listeners when the song gets recorded.
When I was first starting on my commercial songwriting journey, I was dying for someone – anyone – to like my songs. One day I got the call that a publisher was interested in one of my songs. Not just any publisher. It was actually a very well-known publisher. Not one of the big majors, but almost everyone would know the name of the publisher if I threw it out there. I was elated! I was so elated, that I nearly just signed the single-song contract without having a lawyer check it out, or matter of fact, almost without looking at it at all. After all, this was a real publisher. They wouldn’t give me a bad contract, because who am I that they try to rip me off, right? Fortunately, I decided to take it to an entertainment lawyer just in case there was an issue with it. Turns out, there was an issue. Not a little issue. A deal breaker issue. In the contract, it stated that the publisher (who was already getting 100% of my publishing in the deal) would get 50% of my writer’s share if they changed “one note of my arrangement”.
There are many misconceptions of what it means to be a “staff songwriter.” So, I thought I’d make an attempt at clearing that up. In layman’s terms, a staff writer has signed an exclusive agreement assigning a publisher some portion of every song they write during the term of the agreement. So, if a songwriter signs a “5 Year Deal” for a straight (100%) publishing deal, the publisher will own 100% of the publishing on every song the writer writes during those 5 years. However, a “5 Year Deal” is almost always actually a one-year deal with 4 extra options that the publisher can exercise.
That means that the writer gets to write for the publisher for one year. At the end of the year, the publisher may or may not pick up that option. If they do pick it up, then the writer hangs around for another year. The same thing happens another 3 times. The publisher decides yearly to keep the writer or let them go. The writer generally does not have the option to leave until all 5 years are up.
I think that’s a valid question for every songwriter to ask themselves from time to time. We all had been there, thinking about it and we all will come back to thinking about it. On occasion, I hear songwriters say things like “It’s not really worth writing a song if I can’t get a publisher to listen.” Or “Why bother writing another song no one will ever hear?” Or even “It’s so hard to get on the Billboard Charts or make money with music these days”. When I hear those comments, I challenge the writers to examine their motivation for writing. So, I’ll ask you the same questions I ask them. Maybe they will cause you to think about your own motivation. Would you keep writing if you knew you’d never make a dollar with your music? Is your motivation solely based on money, or would you keep writing for other reasons even if it never paid off? Could lack of publisher interest make you give up? Do you really want to give them that much power? Does the size of the potential audience for your music factor into your decision to write?