Knowing when a song is finished is an entire article in and of itself so I’m going to predicate these comments on the understanding that your song is, indeed, done. While having a finished song is its own victory, there’s more work to do if you’re hoping to keep your records straight, stay organized and possibly generate income with your song. By treating your songwriting like the profit-making business you’re hoping it will become, you’ll be in a position to capitalize on your opportunities as they arise.
An accurate lyric sheet is a great place to start once your song is done. Use this lyric sheet to capture all the pertinent information about your new song. At the bottom of the page write out the D.O.C. (date of creation), the name of the writer (or writers in the case of a co-write) and all pertinent publishing information including the PRO (performing rights organization). This way, when it comes time to provide the necessary information to the record label or music supervisor, it’s all in one place. For example, the bottom of my lyric sheets look like this…
©3.28.16 Cliff Goldmacher, Famous In France Music (BMI)
Next, if/when you provide this lyric sheet to a demo vocalist, make sure that every word of the song is written out. Avoid shortcuts like writing “repeat chorus.” By writing out every word exactly in the order it’s sung, you’re making the job of the vocalist that much easier. And, to that end, I’d also recommend indenting your choruses so that they’re easily distinguishable from your verses and bridge. Finally, there’s no need to double space your lyric and it should all fit on one page. This makes it easier for the eventual demo vocalist to read it on the music stand among other reasons. If you’re over one page, you can fudge a little by combining lines or using a smaller font BUT if you really can’t fit your entire lyric on one page, you might seriously consider editing your lyric.
Now that your song is done, you’re going to need a quick and easy recording that captures its melody, lyric and chord changes. As I’ve mentioned in my workshops, there is no Grammy for best rough recording so a simple guitar or piano and vocal recorded directly into your smartphone or laptop is perfectly acceptable. This recording is useful for a couple of reasons. First, quite simply, it will prevent you from forgetting how your song goes. This may sound far-fetched for those of you who’ve only written a few songs but as you begin to write more often and start to build your catalog, you’d be amazed at how quickly these little buggers can erase themselves from your memory. Secondly, this recording will serve as the reference for the demo vocalist and session musicians should you choose to bring your song to the next level.
Speaking of bringing your song to the next level, it’s time to decide if your song is worth a further investment of your time and financial resources. If we’re honest with ourselves as songwriters, we have to admit that not every song we write is demo-worthy. However, if you believe that this particular song is genuinely ready for prime time, then you have to create a professional demo of the song so that you can present it to the music industry at large and be taken seriously. This is not the time to hope that music business professionals will be able to “hear through” your rough recording. Instead, I’d recommend investing the money on a professional studio recording using a trained demo singer and at least one session musician. If you’re prepared to spend the necessary time and effort learning to sing, play and record your own songs at the highest level, then by all means do this yourself. But, given the number of hours in the day, if you have to choose, I’d consider spending your time working on your songwriting and pitching your songs and leave the recording to the folks that do it all day, every day.
Once you’re the proud owner of a great-sounding, professionally recorded demo of your song, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got easy access to it. This way, when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll know exactly where to go and what to look for. I can’t think of anything more depressing than an artist, label or publisher asking for a copy of your song and you not being able to find it. To that end, I’d ask the demo studio for high resolution .wav file mixes of your demo with and without vocals (instrumental versions of your songs are always great to have). Then, I’d learn how to use iTunes to not only convert your .wav files to mp3 for easier emailing but also to embed the necessary metadata (song title, contact info, etc.) directly into the mp3. This can be a bit daunting at first but, remember, if you’re hoping to make money from your songwriting, then you’re running a business and knowing how to prepare your product is all part of it.
Now that you’ve got your songs and all the accompanying information properly labeled and stored, it’s time to set up a reliable backup system. It’s essential to remember that it’s not “if” but “when” your computer hard drive – with all your rough recordings, finished demos and lyric sheets – will fail. Not only do your demos represent a significant financial investment but your songs themselves are priceless. My motto is that if it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist. Learn how to back up your computer to a separate drive or, to coin the current phraseology, to the cloud. Under no circumstances should you go without some kind of backup. That’s simply a recipe for a catastrophic event.
I know this sounds obvious but once you’ve got a finished demo of your song, you’ve got to show it to people. It’s amazing to me – and I was equally guilty of this early in my career – how few songwriters make the effort to get their songs out there. There are a variety of reasons for this. First and foremost, it’s work. At this point, you could be selling shoes as far as you’re concerned. There is nothing romantic about having a product and figuring out who’s interested in buying it. But, as I mentioned earlier, you’re running a business and so it needs to be done. Secondly, even if you are willing, it can be a bit daunting trying to figure out who’s looking for what you’ve got. There are reputable pitch sheets such as www.SongAlliance.com and www.RowFax.com that, for a fee, provide the necessary information and there are organizations like www.Taxi.com that will do the pitching for you – again for a fee. Finally, there’s no substitute for getting out there and meeting the decision-makers yourself by traveling to NYC, Nashville and Los Angeles, attending music conferences and going to workshops. The opportunities are out there if you’re willing to look for them.
Writing a song is a remarkable accomplishment. Don’t ever forget that. However, once that’s done, I hope the information I’ve provided will serve as a road map for what comes next.