One of the Most Important Questions for an Artist.
In my many years as a studio engineer and music producer I’ve constantly come across an underlying theme when the topics of songwriting and arrangement arise.
Through decades of artist management and developing acts via our Rock Star Camp and Band Programs, I have asked artists to ask themselves this question hundreds, if not thousands of times.
“Who are you writing this for?”
The number one answer is “me”.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad answer. Of course you are writing your music for you, otherwise why would you do something you don’t enjoy doing? Why create something you would not be proud of? It’s your duty as an artist to share your passion with us. That being said, if your aspiration is to become a music professional, there is a much better answer:
“I am writing this music for my potential fan base or industry opportunities.“
“I am creating this because I want to make a career out of music.“
This doesn’t mean you now have to write a completely different style of music. Rather you should take some time to listen to some successful acts in the style of music you are comfortable creating. Many of these artists aren’t doing well because their label pushed them hard, or because they got lucky. They are doing well because they identified what their fans, or their industry were responding to and delivered it with focused and targeted songwriting.
Artist rebuttal: “I don’t want to sell out”.
I’ve heard this one a million times. Learning your craft and adjusting to what people are actually listening to isn’t selling out. It’s positioning yourself to be at a competitive level with artists who are succeeding. It’s understanding what songwriting your market is looking for and providing it.
I have come across some of the most unusual arrangements imaginable over the years. Never mind the typical 964 bar guitar solo, I’m talking about dance tracks in counts of 7, 29 bar verses, songs with no choruses, extremely poor melody and lyric choices, 6 meaningless key signature changes, all of the instruments in the same octave, solos over lyrics, entire frequency bands or fundamental rhythms missing and worse… Many very poor decisions that could easily be avoided with a little initiative.
If you want songwriting to be a career option take the time to study it and learn. When the time comes to record, use either a reputable studio or someone you know has the experience necessary to get the most our of your writing. A well equipped studio and engineer will provide benefits that your work deserves. You are creating something that should stand the test of time.
Tips when you are looking for reference material
Be relevant. Songwriting that was great 60 years ago may not have any impact on the current market at all.
Choose successful comparisons. Dozens of times people have brought me horrible demo recordings of unknown music as a reference. It’s very easy to fall in love with a melody or idea, but an unknown song by an unknown artist will very rarely carry any value as a reference track.
Base your reference track on the entire arrangement, not just one element.
Do risk takers and trail blazers succeed? Of course they do. Should you stop creating music you enjoy to become a robot that just follows current trends? Of course not. You still need to find ways to be innovative. To have a powerful message. To entice listeners with your songwriting. This should be done to a measurable standard. If you decided to open a hamburger joint, I think we can all agree that it would be a very bad idea to put the bun on the inside…
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