For Country Music Publishers:
Songwriting News From Nashville
following article contains songwriting tips from an experienced
songwriter who recounts
his professional experiences with the music business in Nashville,
TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE A HIT SONG!
music publishers in Nashville want hit songs. Yes, strong
album cuts are also welcome. But smartly written commercial
songs aimed at the heart of mass appeal are what gets country
music publishers really excited!
1.) Set your hook early and often
we all know, “hooking” is the key in commercial
songs. Hooking is the ability to grab the attention and interest
of a listener. According to Ralph Murphy at ASCAP, a song
should hook the listener within 60 seconds.
hooks are usually placed in a song's chorus, “hooklets”
can be sprinkled throughout the song in both the music and
Don’t bore us / get to the chorus!
chorus is the most important part of a commercial song, so
get to it quickly. As hit songwriter Jerry Vandiver noted,
“Nobody walks down Second Avenue humming a verse.”
choruses separate themselves by a change in melody or meter.
(This was one of the flaws pointed out in my song at an ASCAP
critique session – and which was confirmed in a TAXI
review. Jerry commented that if he hadn't had my lyric sheet
he wouldn't have been able to tell where the chorus started.)
Murphy said hit songs usually have five to seven repetitions
of the title, but he cautions not to overdo it. It takes
an average of 26 weeks on the charts for a song to reach the
number one spot, and you can burn out the title during that
publisher Michael Puryear noted that radio is very finicky
about needing a chorus. He also said the chorus needs to provide
a solution to the problem you isolated in the verse. For praise
and worship music, he says it's better to have a full chorus,
and to find a positive twist in the hook of the chorus.
Keep it simple
an ASCAP Sound Source session I was told by Jerry Vandiver
that my song was too complicated and to adhere to the acronym
KISS (keep it simple, songwriter). But at a Songwriters Guild
seminar with Chris DuBois (a songwriter and partner with Brad
Paisley and Frank Rogers in Sea Gayle Music), he advised against
too much simplicity. Contrary advice? Not really.
noted that my song seemed to be trying to tell two or three
different stories rather than sticking to just one. Chris
was referring to imagery, and noted, “You can't be too
descriptive in a song.” He said the more unique
you can be the better, and that a song needs to have
an identity in and of itself.
says the best thing is to play it for somebody, and ask, “Did
you understand what was going on?”
Start yourself up!
need to be disciplined self-starters. Ralph Murphy said
a typical day is spent writing for three hours and then conducting
businesses such as pitching songs to publishers, promotion
and tending to financial aspects.
and patience were emphasized as important traits. (At an ASCAP
Sound Source critique session one writer was discouraged that
he had spent five years trying to get a cut. Jerry Vandiver
responded that it took one successful songwriter 15 years
to find success.)
Focus on the music first
on the music and songs is the best way to spend your time,
according to Chris DuBois. He said songwriters need time to
write and grow. They have to figure out how to get their songs
to the next level.
is a writer's town where you are judged by your song, not
how you look. Chris says he still writes every day. Good
writers have the gift of perception, which they are born with;
everything else is craft, which can be learned and developed.
is a very important part of the process. One of the best analogies
I heard all week was at a Nashville Songwriters Association
International (NSAI) pitch session with BMG publisher Michael
Puryear. He advised writers to take time to develop a good
idea. He compared songwriting to cooking where all the right
ingredients are there to make a dish but if you don't bake
it long enough, it won't taste as good as it could have.
Don't flash your cash
with money to self-promote do not necessarily have an advantage
when they approach publishing companies, according to Chris
DuBois. If the writer has a good song most companies will
be more than willing to pay an advance and pay for recording
the demo. "The real issue is the whether the music is
as good as it needs to be," said Chris.
added that it's also important to conduct yourself in a professional
manner, which may seem obvious, but too often is advice that
is lost on some artists. Some would-be stars over promote
themselves to the point that they become pests and publishers
are no longer willing to listen to anything they have to offer.
Give your song its best chance
Vandiver noted that homemade demos are okay for purposes of
pitching a song with a simple guitar/piano vocal. If the song
is accepted by a publisher a demo will usually be made to
pitch it to performers.
Puryear suggests hiring a professional singer for a demo because
using someone who has a “commanding voice” will
hold the listener's attention and put the song in its best
light. Michael also suggests skipping any special effects
(rain storm, engine racing noise) on demos. It can be distracting
and delay getting to the meat of the song.
Jerry also suggests skipping extended instrumentals in a demo.
He says a 20-second solo can seem two hours long. And he recommends keeping lyrics to one page, because more than that
makes the song look too long. (You don't have to print out
the chorus every time if the words stay the same.)
suggests leaving the copyright date off the lyric sheets so
a publisher doesn't think he's listening to an old song.
Choose the right topic
Vandiver noted that subject matter is important because you
have to persuade a singer to do your song. BMG publisher Michael
Puryear suggests that songwriters ask themselves “Who
would record this song?”
we live in a “me” society, he advises directing
songs to the listeners and engage them by saying “you.”
the ASCAP critique session a demo was played on which the
female singer in the chorus sang that she wanted to do a duet
with a specific country singer, which limited the market for
the song. Ideally, a commercially viable song should relate
to as wide a range of people as possible.
my meeting with a BMI representative he questioned a reference
in one of my songs to “Dr. Wu,” a name from a
Steely Dan song that would probably confuse many listeners.)
Murphy adds that humor and irony are needed now in country
standard used to judge potential hits is whether the subject
matter is appropriate for the coveted 7 a.m. drive time audience.
Supply what's in demand
far as country music publishing goes, most people I spoke
to in Nashville believe the contemporary pop movement has
stopped working. They
cite disappointing sales of new albums by big crossover country
Vandiver agrees there has been a “pop backlash,”
and that “organic, rootsy” music is coming to
the forefront. That shift may become evident in radio play
in the future. Country music publisher Ken Earls says “Something
deeply rooted in traditional will survive.”
Find a writing partner
noted, collaborating (co-writing) is a big deal in Nashville.
At every songwriter's night I attended singer-songwriters
introduced their songs by crediting their songwriting collaborators.
Vandiver says a great co-writer can be a great editor. (Editing
was something that was noted as lacking on my song, which
I was told was about one verse too long.) A co-writer
allows you to get an objective perspective on song ideas and
can serve as a catalyst for developing new ideas.
conclusion, the important contributions made by songwriters
to the country music business was uniformly praised.
Murphy noted that without the songwriters there would be no
Ken Earls noted that Nashville is a song-driven market, and
songwriters hold the key to change people's careers –
creating them, extending them and reviving them.
© RICHARD TUTTELL
V. Tuttell is a songwriter and the author of "Good
Press: An insider's Guide To
Publicizing Business and Community News."
© All pages are sole property of Songwriters Resource