Patience. One of the hardest things to come up with when you’re passionate about your music and truly believe that your songs are good enough to be cut by famous singers and played on the radio. But it’s patience – and a world class work ethic – that you’re going to need most as you move forward in your career. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Talent, in almost all instances, simply isn’t enough to have financial success as a songwriter. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning on getting your songs cut.
One of the first things to keep in mind if you’re wondering why an artist hasn’t cut one of your songs is whether you’re writing songs that an artist would want to sing. What I mean is that it’s one thing to write a great song that you as the songwriter and singer feel connected to but it’s something else entirely to write a song that an artist would want to represent themselves with. Simply put, artists are much more willing to cut songs that put them in a favorable light whether it makes them look smart, funny or insightful. One of our tendencies as songwriters is to deal with sad or difficult situations by writing about them. This is a wonderful way for something good to come of a difficult experience but, as a rule, most artists aren’t interested in singing a song that makes them look sad or like someone who’s made a mistake unless it’s exactly their story. I’ve written an entire article about this topic that might be worth exploring if you’d like to know more.
Whether it’s fair or not, almost all music industry decision-makers don’t have the time or patience to “hear through” a poorly recorded demo. When in doubt, assume your “book” will absolutely be judged by its cover. One of the first ways to mark yourself as a serious songwriter is to make sure your songs are professionally demoed. This doesn’t mean they have to be full-band, heavily produced recordings but it does mean you need a great demo singer, a professional studio instrumentalist and a quality recording. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but one of the quickest ways to take your song out of the running for a pitch opportunity is to present it with an amateurish-sounding demo.
Speaking of pitching, you absolutely have to get your songs out there if you’re hoping anything good will come from them. I know this sounds obvious but as songwriters we get so intoxicated by the process of writing – and even demoing – our songs that we either forget or avoid the less romantic and more pedestrian work of looking for placement opportunities. Having a great song and a beautifully performed and recorded demo is only the beginning. You have to get the song out there in as many different ways as you possibly can.
I tend to look at success in songwriting as the process of reaching a critical mass or tipping point where good things start to happen. It often takes years and hundreds of songs before your first cut or song placement. Not to scare you but, in my case, I’d been writing songs for fifteen years before my first major label cut. However, when it finally does happen, I believe it’s the result of some mystical combination of songs written, songwriting skills refined, songs pitched, relationships developed and lots of other intangibles. All this to say, keep going and, for heaven’s sake, make sure you’re writing songs because you love doing it. Writing songs with the sole hope of making lots of money is a recipe for disappointment.
This post is designed not to discourage you but, rather, to give you some insight into the things to keep in mind and do as you move forward in your career as a songwriter. I’m here to tell you, twenty-five years in, that if you keep at it and aren’t afraid of doing the necessary work, good things will happen. As a matter of fact, good things may already be happening that you aren’t aware of yet. The only way you’ll know for sure is to keep going!