The end of a year—and the beginning of a new one—is a perfect time to reassess our goals and recommit to them. I hope that revisiting the excerpts that follow will help you all attain a successful 2022.
I forwarded three songs to a list of publishers who have agreed to listen to songs that I screen. One of the publishers responded, “This song is very well written and commercial. But I’ve already got this kind of stuff by the dozens.”
When I shared this comment on Facebook, I was overwhelmed by the number of responses stating that publishers, record labels, and artists claim they want something new, but the writers keep hearing the “same old—same old” on the radio. I certainly empathize with the frustration of having songs rejected, but I have a different perspective.
Publishers and record label executives are not songwriters’ adversaries. They do not have a vested interest in passing on our songs. To the contrary, their careers ride on finding songs that will rise above the hundreds of other songs being pitched, as well as those written or co-written by recording artists. They have to sit across from producers, artists, and A&R execs and blow them away, knowing that a major record label will likely invest a lot of money to promote a single.
When publishers say they want something new they are NOT looking to reinvent the wheel. They need songs that sound like they belong on playlists of successful songs in specified styles—songs with universal appeal that have a new lyric angle and a fresh melodic or rhythmic approach. They seek songs that grab attention—in a good way; songs that push the envelope—not toss it out.
Regardless of our musical genre, we need to find compelling reasons to make music industry professionals believe our song has a better chance of elevating an artist’s career than any other song under consideration. If we want hit songs, we will have our very best shot if we incorporate concepts, lyrics, melodies, rhythms, chords, and production elements that will make music industry pros, recording artists, and fans think, “Wow, I’ve never heard it done that way before!”
Excerpt from “5 Tips to Help Find Good Homes for Your Songs”
Record Exceptional Demos
To showcase our songs to their best advantage we need to produce demos that demo-nstrate their hit potential. Those tasked with screening hundreds—if not thousands—of songs cannot be expected to imagine how your song might sound if it had a different groove, a memorable guitar lick, or a different tempo. If you hear strings on the chorus, include them (or a digital approximation) on the demo. If you envision a hooky guitar lick in the intro, include it. A unique vocal harmony part? Include it.
Our demos are typically our only opportunity to express our vision for our songs. Be sure the instrumentation, arrangement, vocals, and instrumental performances, as well as the sonic quality match the industry standard, and consider using unexpected instruments and unique sounds to make your song jump out of the pile.
Do Your Homework
In many instances a publisher will ask, “Who do you hear this song for?” Be ready with a list of artists for whom your song could genuinely be a good fit.
It can be beneficial to plant ideas such as, “This song could work well for artists similar to Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, or Maren Morris. In addition, it could be well-suited for placement in commercials that are seeking to evoke a sense of happiness.”
You might want to solicit suggestions from other songwriters and confirm that your casting ideas are good ones.
Make a Music Supervisor’s or Licensor’s Job Easier
When pitching songs for sync licensing (i.e., television and film placements) be certain you control all rights to the songs and the recordings and inform publishers or music supervisors of this. This means that you have signed agreements (such as work for hire or waiver agreements) with all vocalists, musicians, and producers. Also have documentation that all cowriters (if applicable) grant you permission to enter into a synchronization licensing agreement.
Knowing that if they choose it and they can quickly clear your song with no snags or impediments, can give you an edge and make you someone attractive to work with. It can also be beneficial to let a music supervisor know that you have alternate mixes and stem tracks available.
Grab Listeners Immediately
First impressions matter. As I shared in my article, “5 Things to Do in the First 30 Seconds of Your Song,” there are tools we can incorporate to command attention and telegraph that our song is not just “good”—it is exceptional:
- Start with a Hooky Signature Lick
- Be Sure Your Recording Is Up to the Industry Standard
- Use Fresh Rhythms in the First Lines of Vocal Melody
- Write a Great Opening Line of Lyric
- Incorporate Attention-Grabbing Melodic Intervals in the Vocal Melody
Present Yourself as a Professional
While we certainly want to draw attention to our songs, we do not want to do so in a manner that might imply that the submission has come from an amateur. Regardless of whether you are at a face-to-face meeting or are sending a digital file or a link to your music, stick to the basics. Do not extol the virtues of your song. Avoid hype, allowing the music to speak for itself. While it is fine to say, “I feel strongly about this song,” steer clear of comments such as, “This song will be a #1 GRAMMY-winning Song of the Year.”
Excerpt from “What’s HOT—and What’s Not—In Songwriting”
Songs and recordings are continually evolving. Pop songs have gotten shorter and hip-hop songs have gotten longer. Power ballads and the AABA song form have fallen out of vogue and much of the traditional sounds of country have been replaced by songs with unmistakable pop and hip-hop influences. A post-chorus, a section that adds a new vocal hook at the end of a chorus, is now included on more than half of all pop hits.
The instrumentation that is typically used and the process by which songs are recorded have also changed. It is more likely that the instruments you hear on today’s country hits are digital, programmed sounds rather than the fiddles and pedal steel guitars that were once mainstays on country recordings. Similarly, while pop songs, such as the Motown classics written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland and the iconic Beatles’ hits were written and recorded using live instruments such as guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums, today’s Top 40 hits are almost exclusively written and recorded on computers. In some instances, guitars or other live instruments are added, but the music for many pop and hip-hop hits is computer generated.
While some people decry the changes, I find them exciting. Music in every genre changes, pushing envelopes and challenging listeners. If it didn’t, it would become stale and predictable. But one thing never changes: listeners crave songs that touch their hearts; songs that make them feel understood; songs that make them want to dance or sing along; songs that become an indelible part of the soundtrack of their lives.
Excerpt from “5 Mistakes to Avoid When Casting Your Songs”
While a film or TV show’s casting director is tasked with finding the right actors for a given role, those of us who create and represent songs have the job of identifying the ideal artists for our songs. Whether you are a songwriter pitching your own material or a music publisher hoping to place songs from your catalog, the ability to identify artists for whom your songs are a perfect fit is crucial.
Don’t Target Artists Who Only Record Songs They Write
Telling a publisher or record label executive that your goal is to have your song recorded by an artist who writes his or her own material, makes it clear that you have not done your homework. However, you might use your songs as a calling card, in the hopes that a publisher or other music business executive will connect you to collaborate with artists who co-write their material.
Avoid Writing Songs That Sound Like a Different Era
I have heard it said that many songwriters default to writing the kinds of songs they listened to in high school. That’s great if we are writing solely for our own satisfaction. But if the goal is to have current artists record our work, we need to write the kinds of songs that are consistent with the latest trends, and those that anticipate the next big thing.
If you want today’s hit artists to record your songs, familiarize yourself with the latest successful songs in the genres that you are targeting. Search online for a list of current hits and research whether the recording artists co-wrote them. Watch the videos, study the lyrics, analyze the melodies and grooves, identify the instrumentation, and the chord changes. Be sure your songs sound consistent with today’s hits—and tomorrow’s.
Be Sure Your Lyrics Are Appropriate For the Pitch
Are your lyrics as edgy as those the artist has previously recorded? Are they incorporating jargon and lingo that is consistent with what is heard in the genre? Are the words age-appropriate? From what you have read and heard about the artist, and from their previous songs, be sure the lyrics are consistent with the artist’s values. Don’t send them a song that contradicts their beliefs.
Don’t Pitch Songs With Too Much – or Too Little – Vocal Range
When determining whether a song is a good pitch for a specific artist, it is a good idea to listen to several of their hits. Identify their highest and lowest notes—and the span between them.
In my article, “Are Your Songs Too Rangy?” I noted that singers who have exceptionally wide ranges tend to record songs that allow them to showcase that element. Some recording artists have a more limited vocal range, in some cases spanning approximately an octave and a third. Most of these artists have a distinctive, instantly identifiable sound that contributes more to their appeal than the inclusion of high or low notes. When pitching songs for these singers, it is important to be sure the melodies do not exceed their vocal ranges and will be comfortable for them to sing. If you have a song you think would be a perfect fit, if only it didn’t include so much range, consider writing a version, that is less demanding of the vocalist.
Pitch Songs That Don’t Rehash Territory the Artist Has Already Covered
A common mistake I observe is pitching an artist a song with a topic the artist has addressed in a previous song. The problem with this approach is that artists are likely to feel, “been there—done that.” Artists need to evolve in order to maintain long, successful careers. Our job is to provide songs that can take artists to a next level—songs with music, lyrics, and productions that push the creative envelope and break new ground—not ones that revisit their previous hits.
When you consider pitching a song to an artist, ask yourself:
- Are they open to material they did not write?
- Is the song consistent with current songs in the genre?
- Are the lyrics appropriate for the age and style of the artist?
- Will the range showcase the artist’s vocal abilities without exceeding it?
- Do the melody and lyric break new ground for this singer?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are on your way to finding the perfect home for your song!
Wishing you hits and happiness in the coming year!
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone magazine, and the New York Times. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.