So if someone ask me, I will say writing commercial music is not selling out our soul and in fact it’s an amazing accomplishment for a writer. At the end of the day we are writing music for people to hear it. At least that is exactly what we do in the professional world. And what is more successful than letting literally millions of people to hear and enjoy your songs?
Decide what type of songwriter you are. If you listen to radio consistently, you’ll hear cutting edge songs and throwback classic songs that sound as if they could’ve been written 10-20 years ago. I have a friend who writes classic music, typically, a ballad to mid-tempo songs. Every three to four years, he has a big hit on radio. He’s extremely good at writing these types of songs. He has to be, because there aren’t as many of these being cut as contemporary songs. He’s decided to stick to what he does well and do it the best he can. That being said, he doesn’t sit around listening to music written 20 years ago. Rather, he is constantly listening to new music, the latest new band, the latest singer-songwriter, and the latest pop diva. He soaks it all in so that his music, even though classic in form and style, has modern influences. His songs still sound fresh.
The other type of commercial writer writes contemporary music. Most of us start out this way. We are teenagers listening to the hottest, latest music with our friends. We pick up a guitar and learn our favourite tunes, then we start writing that style. A lot of my professional writer friends write this style of music. More slots are available on albums for the latest, most exciting music. If you decide this is who you are as a writer, then this also requires that you listen to a lot of new music coming out every year. You want to be aware of current styles and try to put your own spin on it.
Your music has to resonate with a lot of listeners. I don’t mean you have to pander to the latest demographic buying records, but rather, resonate with them. What creates this resonance? My top rule in writing is: Be real. Be believable. Ralph Waldo Emerson said something I love: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius.”
If you dig deep enough to the core of any emotion, sadness or joy, and write it well, then most people will feel that same emotion. It will reverberate in their soul on some level. So, I’ve laid out my top two keys for creating great commercial music. I feel I’ve managed a long songwriting career with steady success by keeping these things in mind, by growing daily as a writer, and by always writing with integrity. I don’t view commercial music as selling out. I don’t view commercial music as a choice that we must make to write a great song vs. a hit song. I approach each day with an open heart and mind, learning from music all around me and trying to write the best song I can. I know that if I do this daily, then on some of these days, I create magic that resonates with millions of people.
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