Saying the same old thing in the same old way. The hardest part of songwriting is saying the same old thing in a new way. If you say the same old thing in the same old way, you’re dead in the water. Why we say same old thing? Because writing songs is all about emotions. Human emotions are limited to a few emotional senses and you can’t go any further than that. Therefore, you need to talk about one or more of those same old emotions, but your creativity is where you can do so in a new and creative way. For example, your better half had left you and you are heart broken about it. Write about it, but look at it from your very own point of view. Make it unique. There is only one “you” in this world so there is only one point to look at this one particular story between the unique you and the unique her! You see? Just in this one example, there are so many things that make it pretty unique and you just need to see it this way. Then you can write it as is, even you can add some more drama to it for the artistic purposes if it’s not already enough of drama involved.
Looking at the songwriters whom I am mentoring, and the messages and emails I receive all the time, I can say as an average, the biggest question most aspiring songwriters have is “Why am I not getting songs recorded by major artists?” This is a very hard question to answer because there are many factors affecting your process in getting a song, but in my experience, there are several primary reasons people don’t experience the success they want with their songs. Here they are:
Your songs aren’t good enough yet. Well, I always had been saying “write better songs”. That doesn’t mean your songs aren’t good enough, but it means you can write better songs that what your written until this point. Today, you should write a song better than what you wrote yesterday, and tomorrow you should write something better than the song you wrote today. In more than 90% of the cases I’ve encountered, this is the problem.
A recognizable structure. People can get confused if a song does not fit one of the common song structure patterns. This is an unwritten rule in listeners brain that a song have to have certain structure and if your song isn’t following that and they can’t say which part is which part of the song, you’ll get your listeners confused and we'll, nature of human being will make them to avoid what makes them confuse, isn’t it? They are used to hearing songs being in some variation of the Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus format. Straying too far from that can leave a listener wondering where they are in a song. “Pretty Woman” is a hit song that wandered all over the place because of its beautiful lyrics and super catchy melody. But, most people I have polled can’t sing that song to me. They can sing pieces of it, but they can’t put them together. Song structure is important.
If you get a chance to write with a producer, an artist or a writer bigger or more experienced than you, there are some key questions you can ask that will give you a better shot at getting a cut on their record. Those opportunities are valuable, so be sure to ask these questions before you start writing!
What’s been going on with you? I always start there for two reasons. I truly am interested in what’s happening with their career. And it helps me know what to write when I hear the answer to that question. Often, they will say something that sparks a song idea. When I’m mentoring younger writers I always encourage them to go out there and talk to people. Ask them questions, learn about them, understand them. Each person is filled with thousands of interesting stories and as writer who have a voice in the society, it’s our job to be their voice and say their stories. That being said, who could be better than your co-writer? When you get the ideas from your co-writer and working on it together with them, during the process they can contribute more too because they feel close to the story.
One of the biggest factors that keeps songwriters from succeeding in the music business is that they overlook the fact that it’s a business. Understanding the fact that “music business” is made from two words of “music” and “business” and they are equally important. Unfortunately, most of young musicians I know just care about the music part and they mostly complain that they can’t make enough money to make a living! If you are from this group, you should know the most important and the simplest reason you are not making enough money is that you are too focused on the music side and forgotten about the business part. On the other hand, there is another group of musicians that they are focusing way too much on the business side and they forgot that they need to be a good musician or a good songwriter to have fresh and constantly produced material to do business with. They just write a couple of songs and then they focus so much on selling those few songs! That’s not how it works. You must focus on both side of the music business at the same time and understand that these two, together, can bring success to you.
A great song connects with people. Timeless songs connect to millions of people and continue to do so over time. When you play a great song for someone, they are able to connect to it emotionally. That connection is what causes someone to love your song. If your song about your broken heart connects me to a time when I had a broken heart, I’m connected and interested.
A great song causes a reaction. The listener is compelled to do SOMETHING when they hear a great song. It might cause them to dance, laugh, cry, sing along, etc – but they will do something in response to a great song. It’s almost impossible to avoid reacting when you hear a well written, great song.
A great song stands the test of time. A great song will usually be relatable and relevant 25 years or 50 years after it was written. There may be exceptions, but a great song sticks around.
I see lots of mistakes being made in regard to pitching a song. Pitching the songs can be very tricky and sensitive. Tricky because you must make sure you understand what exactly they are looking for and you pitch the right work. And sensitive, because with couple of wrong pitches you can put your name in publisher’s list of people who always send the wrong song and the publishers will never open your emails anymore. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success, to help you appear more professional, and to keep you from burning bridges:
Learn as much as you can about the artist you are pitching to before you pitch a song. Pitching a love song to Kenny Chesney is as useless as spitting into the wind. He won’t cut one. Katy Perry isn’t going to sing a song that makes her look like a weak woman. Don’t waste your time or hers by pitching her one. Learning what artists will and won’t say is crucial to success in pitching songs. Be sure you have a song that you think is perfect for that artist, not just in the ballpark.
If I had a dollar for every time someone offered to let me entertain them for free in exchange for exposure, I could buy a new house. I’ve had offers from TV shows, wanting me to grant them a license for my song for free so that I could “pad my resume” and get “exposure” for my music. I’ve had countless bar owners offer to let me play “any time I want” for free so that “word can get out” about my music. The list goes on. The main problem with this is that I can’t get that exposure to supermarket and use it to buy grocery! The other problem with these offers is multi-faceted. Everyone else in the chain is getting paid.
The guy making the TV show, the actors, the prop people, the gaffer (whatever that is), the cinematographer – they all get paid. Every single one. They aren’t working for exposure. In the case of the bar or restaurant, the same thing applies.