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”.
Over the years, I have made a lot of mistakes that hurt my career chances in the music business. Without those mistakes for sure by now I could be in a much better place in the industry, but I don’t look at them as failures. Mistake, yes for sure, but failures, no, they were just the price I paid to learn something from each event, and this is all this book is about! To tell you about those mistakes before you learn the hard way.
Also, I’ve observed a lot of people crashing and burning because of miscalculations in their own music efforts. So, I thought I’d write about 5 of the big ones as a cautionary tale for those of you that would rather learn from other people’s mistakes instead of trying them all out on your own. Here we go. Here are some things NOT to do if you want to succeed in the business:
A lot of folks’ emails are asking if I can tell them whether an idea is good and worth pursuing. Though I’d love to give an answer, I generally believe it’s better to teach a man to fish, than hand him a fish. This is what my mentors did for me and I’m lucky he didn’t give me the answers. Instead, they gave me questions! So, I’d like to share with you some questions I ask myself before spending too much time on an idea:
Does your song idea feel real or clever? Real always trumps intellectual or clever in my book! I like to find a lot of ideas that happen naturally in conversation. Like when I, or the person I’m talking to, says something with conviction. I’ve gotten some of my biggest songs this way. Especially with artist co-writes. Artists are great at expressing themselves. That’s their job! So, I like to take things they say and feel — and then write it!
This is one of the top questions filling my mailbox! The writer often states that they have songs and just can’t get the right person to listen. They feel their songs are as strong as what’s playing on radio, so how can they get a publishing company to take a chance on them? Well, I’ve been in those same shoes, believe me! I know the frustration of feeling like my progress was stalled and doors weren’t opening. And guess what, when they did open, nothing happened as I thought it would. Here’s the way it did happen and often happens. The Anchor-man Analogy: Imagine an ambitious aspiring news anchor-man. He knows he’s got the goods. He has spent countless hours practicing at home. He can speak as well and is as smart as those other guys at the big networks. So, he books a trip to the Big Apple. He walks into NBC and asks to speak to the head of the network. By chance, the chief happens to be walking by, so the aspiring anchor stops him and says confidently, “I’m your next network anchor I’ve been working my tail off practicing and I’ve got the goods!”
I can’t count the number of times that songwriters have complained to me about how the music business was trying to keep them out or the industry doesn’t welcome them as it should. These writers believe that the people already in the music business spend their time devising ways to prevent newcomers from breaking into the business. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the complete opposite is closer to reality. The newcomers are one of the most valuable “things” in the industry and most of big boys in the business are more than happy to introduce the next big player to the game and become the hero!
People in the music business survive by finding new talent. Their livelihood and longevity depend on it. And the competitive nature of the business creates a system in which people love to be the ones who discover the best new thing. Powerful people in the music business are actively looking for great songs, writers and artists.
Here are 5 things I try to do every day. Doing these 5 things helps me feel like I’m making progress in every area of my songwriting.
Learn something. I’m trying to learn to play harmonica now. Yes, sometimes I work on learning an alternative tuning on the guitar. I want to try to learn something that makes me better each day. This way I’m constantly forcing my brain to be active and don’t go lazy. Brain is just like the muscles on your body. The more you use it, the stronger it will get. Plus, learning all these can be fun and you never know when they come handy.
I do a lot of mentoring with writers that are working toward getting their first song recorded. The vast majority of them are holding themselves back because they are asking the wrong questions. So much of the growth we experience in life can be attributed to learning which questions to ask and which ones we shouldn’t be asking or are not ready to ask yet. Simply because these questions portrait who we are how we think and function, in the industry that connections are as important as the actual talent and nothing my be done, said or asked without thinking. Here are the questions I hear most often:
How can I get my songs to a publisher?
Where should I play to get discovered?
How do I get my songs to (insert major star’s name here)?
I write a lot about encouragement and perspective because I believe they are two of the most important issues that songwriters face at any level. For me, I stay in my “happy place” when I see progress every day. It can be the smallest bit of progress, but I need to feel a little momentum or movement in the right direction each day. The days that I get down are the days when I feel like I’m slipping backwards. A big co-write cancels. I lose a hold I counted on. Or a cut doesn’t make the record.
I feel myself slipping back into the abyss and I get scared. The “voices” start telling me that I’ve had my last cut. They start making me wonder if I’m cut out for songwriting. They tell me I should have found a stable job to work at. I fight the voices with my daily progress. I prove that I’m moving toward success and away from failure by taking at least one step forward each day.
We usually get a lot of questions in Flipside's website in regard to co-writing etiquette. There is a lot of factors in creating a reputation in the industry and make people want to write with you or simply making them to avoid you. It’s important to know whether you are on the “naughty” or “nice” co-writer list. Here are some real-life experiences I (or friends of mine) have experienced.
Naughty Co-Writer #1. This guy takes a phone call during the co-write and stays on the phone for more than 5 minutes without explaining what is going on. Usually, he leaves the room, so you don’t know where he is and if/when he is coming back. Nice Co-Writer #1. Apologizes for his phone ringing, explains that it is urgent and comes back to let you know if he is going to be a while. Communication keeps him in the “nice” category.
The other day, a friend and I were talking about a songwriter that is on fire. He’s getting an amazing number of cuts. We were talking (with a little envy) about his success and wishing for something even close to what he is experiencing. Someone else came in the room and heard us mention his name. They said, “Do you know his story?” Both of us admitted that we did not. So, he told us the story. This writer came to town and was living in his car. After several months of living that way, he met a song plugger who really liked his music. The plugger discovered that he was living in his car and invited him to live in the spare room in his house until he could afford a place to stay. The writer said that he didn’t want to impose. Instead, he asked if he could just live in a tent in the song plugger’s yard. He would not change his mind, even though the plugger begged him to stay in the house. He cooked his food outside and only went inside to wash clothes or to use the restroom.
Last year a publisher friend asked me to write with a new singer/songwriter who had recently moved to town. The first thing out of the publisher’s mouth was “this guy has over 80,000 Instagram followers.” Not that that the artist was a great writer or singer or guitar player. The publisher was blown away with all the Instagram and Twitter followers. So, we set a date for the writing appointment, I remember it because it happened to fall on Valentine’s day. Not that it particularly matters to this account. The artist arrived before me and when I walked into the writing room he was on his computer and couldn’t wait to show me how many comments he just got on a recent Facebook post.
Here are five ways to catch a publisher’s attention with your music. These techniques will really increase your chances of succeeding with a publisher IF you write a great song.
Write strong up-tempo songs. They always need more. It is much easier to get a great up-tempo song cut than it is to get a great ballad cut. So, writing a great up-tempo song makes the publisher’s job easier. Making their job easier makes you more attractive to a publisher.
You’ve got the song. So, you’ve been writing and put together a nice collection of songs; And you’re ready for that next step, finding a publisher. That person who believes in your writing and has the connections to make things happen. Here are 3 common mistakes that can kill your chances of working with a music publisher:
Pitching your songs. It means playing songs for publishers, artists or record label people in hopes of getting them to record or help you get a song recorded and it is one of the most important steps of being in the music industry as a writer – otherwise your songs without being pitched basically means nothing – yet, pitching is one of the areas where songwriters make the most mistakes. And, those mistakes can be costly. Sometimes the cost can be losing all your credibility as a writer while maybe your songs are actually pretty good, but you’ve already ruined your reputation by making these simple mistakes. You don’t get too many chances to make a good impression before you are put on the “burned bridge” list. Here are some of the important dos and don’ts to remember when you pitch songs.
As the music economy continues to move toward a streaming based model, people are drifting rapidly toward the idea that music should be free. I think it’s vital to remind ourselves (And our friends) from time to time WHY it is important to pay for music:
For my song to get out to the public, I have to demo it. A conservative estimate of the cost of that demo is $800. I make approximately 9 cents per sale of the song. So, I need 8,888 people to buy the song before I even cover the cost of my demo.
Most songwriters I know have a lot of people who have helped them get to whatever level of success they are enjoying – even if it is simply being able to write regularly. Here’s my list. I’m guessing many of you have similar lists.
This is one of the questions I get all the time. People will say, “I called COMPASS and they never called me back. Why are they so rude?” Or, “I went to five publishers and none of them would listen to my music”. Or I even get Facebook messages from people I don’t know saying “Here are links to three of my songs – listen to them and let me know what you think.” All of those questions or statements reveal a lack of knowledge of the way the music business works. And that is precisely why the people involved aren’t giving their time to the people making requests.
One of the most common questions people ask me is “Do you think I have what it takes to do this?” They are usually referring to their music. In reality, the current quality of their music is not the primary factor in answering that question.
When I got my first writing deal, I didn’t have any songs that my publisher wanted to pitch. And, none of the songs I brought in ever got cut. Zero. I got signed on potential. My publisher told me that he signed me because:
The line between pro songwriters and aspiring pro songwriters is primarily a line of thought. Pro songwriters learn to think differently as they write. That different line of thinking usually involves a series of questions that they keep asking as they write. Those questions cause the song to be more commercial than it would have been without them. Here are some of primary questions a pro asks while songwriting.
Music History is filled with great songwriting collaborations. John Lennon-Paul McCartney, Elton John-Bernie Taupin, Mick Jagger-Keith Richards, and the list goes on. Two heads can truly be better than one when writing a song, but only if it’s the right match! And finding that right match can seem impossible at times. Over the years I have written with many artist, producers, and writers; some went great and spawned multiple hits while others were a dud. Here are some of the qualities I look for in a co-writer.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked this question literary from everyone, family and friends to fellow musicians! And, the answer is ever changing. More and more writers and artists are finding creative ways to get paid for their music. I’ll start off with the simple answers and move on to some of the more creative ways people are finding.
You've spent a lot of time songwriting, brainstorming production ideas and many hours in the studio recording your babies (aka your songs). You think the work is finally over, but you're far from the finish line. It has just begun, and now it's time to prepare for your successful release. You've worked hard on the creative side of your music, but the only way to make music your career is to have a strategy and business plan in place. I'm going to give a few tips that will help with a successful release as an indie artist. These are all the things I've learned from mentors along my journey to releasing my albums and EPs. We'll start with promotion and the truth is, it begins months before a single hit the airwaves or internet. This is a long thought out process that goes past the isolation rooms and mixing boards.
It seems like so many songwriters and in general a huge number of people in music industry have egos that are out of whack in one direction or the other. I personally take these egos as syndromes some people have and treat them as if they are sick. Not only me but I think most people in professional music industry do the same, even the same people who have such huge egos. Even they don’t like others to show them their ego and attitude! Run through this list every now and then to make sure you are staying cantered.
It is important as a record producer to understand that each situation is unique, and the relationship between the record producer and the artist varies greatly depending on the arrangement between the parties as well as the genre of music. Producers have traditionally been paid for their services as employees or as independent contractors, and their contributions to the creation of the sound recording in the studio are generally deemed to be a work-for-hire under the copyright law. As such, the copyright in the sound recordings is owned by the artist or the record label.
So, we all had heard about the so called "X-Factors" in entertainment industry. But what are people's concern when they mention this whole x-factor? Well, first of all we have to see which part of entertainment we're talking about. Are we looking for stardom in music? Or as an actor? Or as a social media influencer? Or maybe anything else? All of this industry have a lot of requirements in common but certain qualities must be emphasized in each of the sub-industries in entertainment in order to make one as "star". Here we are going to have a breakdown of the most common must-have qualities.