Each Monday morning, I send an email with inspiring tips and encouragement to those who subscribe to my email list. Last week, that email included contact information for a new publishing company that was seeking songs.
Quite a few people sent their songs to me, in addition to the publisher I had referenced. A few of the songs were amateurish and simply not up to the industry standard. Some had predictable melodies, or melodies that were impossible for me to remember. Others had fatal flaws in their lyric. But most of the songs were perfectly—or almost—perfectly crafted. However, they lacked the elements needed to propel them above the competition. Some of these songs lacked a fresh, original angle—a new way to express something to which millions could potentially relate to. Many of the songs had melodies that were perfectly fine, but not “wow,” not exceptional. In short, they were “good,” but not special. It made me sad to hear the thousands of dollars these writers spent on recordings of songs, that in my professional experience, did not have what it takes for success.
From 30 years of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters Workshops, and presenting masterclasses in more than a dozen countries, I have learned that the number one thing songwriters and recording artists want is an opportunity to have their music heard by decision makers — those who can open the door to the success and validation we crave. They believe their songs are radio-ready.
I understand this mindset well. For more than ten years, I was 100% certain that my songs were smash hits waiting to happen. All I needed was the right connections and a little bit of luck. I learned I was wrong when several years into my songwriting journey, I pitched my strongest song to a panel of three record producers who pointed out the many aspects of my song that were “okay,” but not exceptional.
I was devastated, but in retrospect, I recognize that this was great news because there were actions I could take to bring my songs to the next level. I began studying the techniques that propelled songs to the top of the charts and I worked to incorporate these tools into my own songs, being sure to infuse them with elements that only I could contribute. I analyzed the melodic and rhythmic repetition the hits included and identified those aspects that drew me into the songs that I loved. I studied the grooves and chord changes and I put the concepts, titles, and lyrics under the proverbial microscope. I sought feedback from pros and reworked my songs until they were as strong as I could make them.
It was amazing how “lucky” I became when I focused on crafting the strongest melodies and the most original, relatable lyrics. As my songs became more competitive with those written by the hitmakers, it became easier to make connections.
Warning: Continue reading at the risk of taking your songs to the next level
What’s the solution if you are writing “good” songs, but not awesome ones? First, allow your creativity to flow unhampered. Then give your song a day or two to marinate, revisit it, and ask yourself some tough questions.
- Have I built this song on a title and concept that are fresh?
- Is the idea something millions could potentially relate to?
- Are there lines of lyrics that an industry pro would find exceptional?
- Have I avoided clichés and lines of lyrics that anyone else could have written?
- Are there one or more “magic” melodic moments? Unpredictable notes, rhythms, and chords that make the melody special?
- Do the melody and rhythms incorporate sufficient repetition to make them easy to sing and remember?
- Does the melody provide a singer with sufficient range and notes that will allow him or her to shine?
- Is there a fresh groove (if applicable)?
When you’ve checked off all of the above boxes, get professional feedback—critiques from a trusted person who will not sugarcoat things. (Note: your friends and family don’t count, unless they are music business professionals.)
Tuck your ego into your back pocket, and hone and polish your work until you have given music publishers, recording artists, record label executives, and other industry pros compelling reasons to choose your song over anything the writers they already have on staff—and the current go-to superstar writers—can deliver. Record a demo that demo-nstrates your song’s potential, only after you have done these things.
Don’t settle until your “good” songs are “great” ones!
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on https://tinyurl.com/yckat6fc. Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.