What does it take to get a song cut these days? Many would say it takes a lot of luck, and some say it is more in who you know. Both of these may be partially true, but songwriting is more about just who you know, it’s also a craft. Writing and finding an idea that can stand out in a sea of songs is the key to getting it heard, which can eventually lead to a cut.
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If you really listen to the radio, most songwriters are writing about the same themes – breakups, heartbreaks, hard times, falling in and out of love…and all of those juicy song things. So how do we as songwriters make our ideas really stand out? I’ve compiled a list of tips that might help you take your song from good to great and have a better shot at getting it heard.
A catchy title. This is the first thing that a publisher or artist is going to see or hear when looking at or listening to a song. You don’t always have to have a title that screams “listen to me,” but sometimes having a title that grabs the listener and makes them want to hear the song is the edge you need to get to it heard.
The idea itself. Try to think of what listeners want to hear songs about. What do you as a songwriter want to hear songs about? What inspires you? Think of your target audience, and write towards them. Once you have solidified what you’re going to write about the real key to finding an edge to an idea that has been written thousands of times is making the listener feel like they’ve never heard it before. Challenge yourself to think out of the box or “left of center” both melodically and lyrically. Use a thesaurus to find new, fresh words to bump up that idea go to a new level lyrically. There might be a couple of chord variations that you could explore as well to make it stand out and be a little more unpredictable.
A couple of things that you can ask yourself when forming and developing your idea are:
Is there a totally different way of presenting this idea that feels fresh?
Are there other songs that have already been written on this subject matter? If so, what are some ways that you could approach the idea in a different way?
What is it about your song that makes it stands out against other songs that have been written about this same subject?
Being a songwriter myself, I love to hear songs that make me say, “I wish I would have written that. Why didn’t I think of that?” Coming at an idea from a fresh view and making the listener feel like they’ve never heard it put that way before is the key to turning a good idea into a great idea.
A “sticky” chorus. Along with the title and the idea, you need a chorus that is going to stick with the listener. Once the listener gets to the end of the chorus or the end of the song, you want them to remember the chorus.
Maybe you start with the chorus and chords…that works too, but I always say, “make it sticky!”
A conversational feel. Try to approach your lyrics like a conversation. If you read them down – do they sound like you speak them? Music is a conversation between the singer and audience. If you write towards this, it can help convey the idea and make it easier to understand as well as keep the flow going.
Don’t bore us – get to the chorus. You’re welcome for that songwriter pun, and however cheesy it is, it’s true. The faster you get to the chorus, hook and payoff, the better. Publishers and artists are looking for that payoff and chorus, so get there.
Keep the listener listening. As a pro musician you learn that it’s rare for publishers to listen to a song in its entirety. You have to make the listener WANT to keep listening. What can you do to the song to keep the story-line going, to keep the feel and melody fresh and unpredictable? What can you do to keep it hooky all around? Ask yourself these questions as you’re writing each section.
To sum all of this glorious information up, try to write songs that you want to hear. Focus on relevant topics, fun and fresh melodies and chord structures, and sticky choruses. Challenge yourself to think outside of the box when approaching a new idea both lyrically and melodically and make the listener feel like they’ve never heard the idea before. If you do hit all of these points, I’m sure your songs will not only sing but also want to be heard.
Megan Conner is a gold and platinum record singer/songwriter with cuts by Chris Young, Rascal Flats, the Swon Brothers, Linda Davis, Danny Gokey and many songs landed in the TV/film world as well. She has been writing professionally for 15 years and has had multiple publishing deals in both Nashville and New York City. Megan has traveled around the world composing songs, mentoring young artists and producing music for both herself and others.