When you’re starting out as a songwriter, a common scenario is that something in your life moves you to the point where you’re inspired to write about it and, thus, your song is born. This may still be the case – and on some level I hope so – but if your hopes extend to getting your songs cut by someone other than you, there are some important considerations to keep in mind.
Making your song memorable has several facets to it. First and foremost is there something about it that sticks in the listeners mind and sets it apart? That’s a great place to start. Almost as important, though, is whether the song is easy to learn. If it is, then lots of things can happen. Not only can music fans pick up on it and sing along but an artist is much more likely to connect with it and learn it as well. Lyrically, making sure your rhyme scheme is consistent in the verses and that your choruses are simple and the same from chorus to chorus is a strong start. Regarding your melody, while it should be unique and memorable, it also helps to keep away from something so complicated that it’s tough to learn. Remember, in order for an artist to record your song, they have to learn it. The easier you can make that job for them, the better.
Just as important as making your song easy to learn is making it easy to sing. Not only will that help the artist in the studio as they’re recording it, but if the song is easy to sing then performing it night after night becomes less of a chore if – fingers crossed – it becomes a hit. A few things you can do to make your songs easy to sing are to keep your lyric more relaxed and conversational and make sure your melody’s range isn’t out of reach for most artists. An early indication that you might be missing the mark is if your demo singer has trouble either with the range or remembering the melody. Demo singers are specifically trained to work in the studio and if they’re having trouble then how can you expect an artist – who isn’t necessarily a studio pro – to be comfortable with it?
Another thing to keep in mind is how the artist will “look” singing your song. As songwriters we sometimes forget that when someone else sings our song, most listeners will just assume that the words the singer is singing come directly from them. Given that you’re hoping an artist will attach their name – and reputation – to your song, it’s that much more important to make sure your song portrays the artist in a favorable light. Does it make them seem like a good person? Do they appear insightful? There are very few artists who want to appear like a lost cause or someone who’s not put together so keep that in mind when you write. This may sound obvious but, often, we write to process feelings of sadness or frustration and while that may be good for us, it might not be all that interesting for another artist to record.
This is a tricky one. While you want to write from a meaningful, personal place, it’s important to keep in mind that it still has to be a universal message that people can relate to. Here’s the good news. Sometimes our most personal stories are the most universal. In other words, by telling the truth in your writing and staying sincere, it’s highly likely that others will relate to what you’re saying. Unless, of course, you’re a sociopath, in which case you might want to reign it in a bit…
Given that pretty much ALL songs are about love and people, what have you done in yours to make it somewhat unique? Have you taken a fresh look at an old story? These are the kinds of things that you should consider when reviewing any song you’re hoping to pitch to an artist. Also, it’s worth noting that writing about current events is problematic because, often, by the time a song gets cut, those events are old news.
Let’s assume you’ve taken all of the above suggestions to heart and you’ve got a song that’s ideal for pitching to an artist. Now comes the hard part. You have to do your homework and figure out how to get your song to the people connected to the artist or artists you have in mind. Making sure that you’ve slowly and organically grown your network of industry connections should always be in the back of your mind. By having relationships with managers, producers, publishers and record labels, you’ll be in a much better position to get your songs into the right hands. I know this is much easier said than done but it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Start attending music conferences, taking trips to music cities like New York, Nashville and Los Angeles and join a local songwriting organization to get the ball rolling.
A widely-known “secret” in the industry is that you’ve got a much better chance of getting your song cut if you write it with the artist. What you might not have considered is that before Garth Brooks was “Garth Brooks,” he was just another artist hopeful singing demos around town. Given that the likelihood of Garth Brooks writing with an unknown songwriter is next to zero, why not find the next Garth Brooks and write with them early on in their career. I can’t tell you how many songwriting success stories have started that way.
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. Writing a song is a victory in and of itself. It’s something you can – and should – be very proud of. However, if your ultimate goal is getting your songs cut, then keeping the above considerations in mind, might be worth your while.