When I first started to pursue a career in music, I set out on a path to try to become the best at everything. I saw people making their own demos, so I went out and bought a ton of gear. I saw people coming up with really cool guitar licks, so I started working at that. Others were singing their own demos, so I tried to get better in the studio with my vocals. And the list went on and on. After a couple years of writing on my own and making no money, I did manage to get a publishing deal. My publisher made it clear that I was getting the deal based on potential, not based on having even one song that was commercially viable. It was sort of like a girl asking you to the prom and saying “I had hoped to find someone else, but you are the last guy available”. But I digress. Two years into the writing deal, I realized that my relentless quest to become the best at everything had failed. I was improving some in every area that I had been working on, but I was still not getting any activity with my songs. And, I was in extreme danger of losing my writing deal altogether.
The proper way to format your lyrics sheet is one of the most overlooked details in the songwriting business! Since starting our music label, Flipside, I have had the chance to see many songs and / or song lyrics presented to me. I’ve seen some wild lyrics sheets — or in many cases, even no lyrics sheets — accompanying songs being presented, and as a publisher, nothing can discourage me from listening to those songs more than having the song and don’t have any lyrics or have a very messy lyrics in front of me.
Publishers, Producers, and other people in the industry all speak a common language. The professionals in the industry share a style of working that had been developed over the years, without any written rules about it. One of the very little but important details you should care about when you are presenting your songs to someone you hope will record it is a typed, formatted lyrics sheet to be understandable by everybody. The format includes all the contact information, name of every writer, and each section such as verse and churns to be cleared.
Money is the big green elephant in the music business’s living room. There are many reasons we don’t like to talk about it. Some of us feel that putting a price on our art cheapens its value or implies that we’re in this for the wrong reasons. Some of us attend the school of “Faking It Till You Make It”, which means we don’t want people knowing we had to sling beers for a paycheck at midnight last night, so that we could be available for that 10am cowrite this morning. In general money is an uncomfortable for lots of musicians to talk about. Now let’s see if it is right or wrong.
I’m here to talk reality, and the money part of music has been an extremely interesting part of my journey. When a song of mine was first playing on the radio, the phone started ringing. Because we live in a culture of excess, we believe the glamorous images that are presented to us of the entertainment business.
Often songwriters are caught up in the trees that they can’t see the forest. They spend lots of their time looking at the minutiae – I’ve always wanted to say that word – that they lose sight of the big picture. For instance, in a one of our songwriting courses at Flipside, I spend six weeks teaching students a framework that will improve all of their lyrics going forward. At the end of the course, someone said, “I wish you could have critiqued these three lyrics of mine instead.” There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment, but it misses the big picture. If you learn the proper framework and foundation for writing lyrics, you can not only improve all of your lyrics by yourself and going forward, you can also go back and fix anything you wrote before you learned the framework. It’s sort of like the old proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
How high is the bar for songwriters? When you mention the word “bar” to songwriters, most of them start craving a beer. But that’s not the bar I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the “How good does my song have to be to get it recorded by an artist?” kind of bar. Not every songwriter wants massive commercial success. But if that’s your goal, learning where that bar is may be the most important thing an aspiring commercial songwriter has to do.
The biggest hurdle. The problem with many songwriters, when confronted with the height of the real bar, is that instead of taking steps to learn how to get over the bar, they start trying to find a lower bar that helps them feel better about their music. It’s the equivalent of an aspiring NBA basketball player trying out for the Celtics and not making the team on his first try. So, instead of getting more coaching and improving his game, he goes to the Y and signs up for a pick-up basketball league. He feels better. He finally “made the team”.