Songwriters in the music industry can be labeled as amateurs or professionals. The only distinction between the two titles is money. Amateurs do not get paid and professionals do. Titles do not make you a good songwriter, but if you want to make a living out of creating songs, you better hope you make it to the professional side of the road. But how does one turn into a professional songwriter?
Simple, an artist needs to record/cut your song. That is it. Sounds easy right? But the ratio of songs to artists is absolutely in favor of the artist. Not to mention the long line of people between the artist and the songwriter that are allowed and encouraged to voice their opinion. Your song has to be bullet proof. It has to stand up against the opinions of interns, producers, A&R people, label executive, assistants, band leaders, publishers, song-pluggers, and the list goes on! Songwriters have to perfect their craft and network to get their songs out there. Just tonight my co-writer and I were discussing how we pitched a song to Trace Adkins and he passed it over. Rejected! “But it is a great song,” I commented. I asked my co-writer why he thinks it was passed over. After shaking his head in disappointment he pointed me to an article he has had for almost fifteen years!
In the 1995 March/April edition of American Songwriter, Michael Kosser published an article entitled, “Why Your Song Did Not Get Cut: Here Are Thirty-Three Reasons.” Although the article was printed long ago, most of the reasons still hold true today. As you read on, you will find some of his reasons funny and ironic. The point it is, for every rule there is an exception and for every “do…” there is a “don’t do…”
- Your song is not pop enough. It never got past the interns at the record companies because the interns all like pop music and your songs are too country.
- Your song is too pop. The only songs of yours that the interns let through are songs that are not country enough for the producers.
- You sing on your own demos. Have you ever listened to your voice on tape? I mean really listened?
- You think that your little Casio keyboard has a great string section and you use it on all your home demos.
- The producer put your song on hold too early and was sick of it by the time the session dates came up.
- The producer put your song on hold too late and didn’t have time to play it for his artist.
- The artist came off the road with a bunch of songs he had written himself.
- The artist came off the road without having written any songs so they canceled the session.
- The A&R person didn’t like the song.
- The A&R person doesn’t like you.
- The A&R person loved the song but the producer doesn’t like the A&R person.
- Your publisher says the producer turned down your song but he lied. He didn’t pitch the song because he doesn’t like the song, or he doesn’t like you, or he doesn’t like the string section on your Casio keyboard.
- The producer loved your song enough to find other songs that sound like yours but were written by the artist, or by more successful writers.
- The tapemaker at your publishing company made a distorted copy.
- The tapemaker made a blank tape because it hates you.
- You pitched your song to X artist because the song was written around the seven-flat chord and X artist loves songs with a seven-flat chord. Unfortunately his producer is turning down songs with a seven-flat chord these days because he thinks writers are sticking in a seven-flat to con him.
- The producer loved the song but the demo singer sounded like Garth, which made the producer angry because he thought you were pitching him Garth rejects.
- The producer loved the song but the demo singer is Garth, which told the producer that the song is an old one, which made him angry because you dared to pitch him an old song.
- The demo is over-produced.
- The demo is under-produced.
- The demo sounds so much like a master that the producer is afraid he won’t be able to cut a record that sounds as good.
- The demo singer is so great that the artist is afraid he won’t be able to cut a record that sounds as good.
- The producer hates the Syndrums, or he clavinet, or the lounge organ you added to the demo at the last minute to fill the holes.
- The producer goes out of his tree any time he hears a song that rhymes the words “gone” and “alone.”
- The A&R person thinks you’re an idiot for taking her seriously when she put out the word that she wanted something different this time for her artist.
- The producer is livid because you have pitched him a wonderful song that sounds like all of his artist’s biggest hits – or he is livid because you have pitched him a wonderful song that doesn’t sound anything like his artist’s previous hits.
- Your song happened to have been the ninety-eighth song the producer had heard that day. He turned your tape off halfway through the intro.
- The A&R person was furious because her intern had quit the day before, which meant he had to listen to all the tapes on her desk herself. She didn’t like a darn things she heard that day.
- The A&R person, the producer, and the artist played each other their favorite songs. They argues for a while and pulled their best power plays. The artist won. You lost. Then they went to dinner together. The record company bought.
- The A&R person loved your song but decided to play it for the secretaries in order to get input from the people. The secretaries hated it.
- The label head loved your song and made the mistake of playing it for the promotion department. Your song reminded the head of promotion of a song he had written once when he was trying to be a songwriter. He called it a piece of crap and that was the end of your song at that label.
- Everybody loved your song until the marketing vp worried that it just wouldn’t make a very good video. Then everybody hated it.
- And finally, maybe, just maybe, it’s not a very good song. Not a bad song, really, just sort of mediocre. Or maybe, as the Emperor of Austria told Mozart, it has “too many notes.”
Bonus reasons that have happened to me:
- You were running late and didn’t mix the song properly in Protools and the lead guitar overpowered the vocals.
- Your CD didn’t wouldn’t play in the publisher’s computer. But it played in your car?
- The producer praised the lead guitar solo before the bridge, forgot about the song, and asked for the guitarist’s contact information.
Congratulations, you made it through all thirty-three (plus my bonus reasons) and there are probably many more. You may have noticed a few words that made this article historically current to 1995, but the concepts are still strong. The song selection process carried out by a publisher, producer, A&R person and an artist is completely subjective, end of discussion. You have to stay true to the song you started out writing. Songwriters have to work out the kinks of a song. You may want to find a mature, more experienced listener to critique your songs. Your mother is not going to be the best judge of your music in most cases. They have too much invested in you to constructively criticize your work.
By featuring this article I hoped to illuminate the premise that there is no set equation or rule book for how to write a hit and get it cut. You just have to stay with it! Your odds of writing a hit song will increase the more songs you write. Someone once told me that for every one-hundred songs you write, you only have one hit. For all of you beginning writers that haven’t hit the one-hundred mark, write! If you think your songs are good now, just wait and see how much better they could be.