(Singer-Songwriter Randi Russo. Photo: Derek Richmond)
There’s much talk about what constitutes, facilitates, or enhances commercial success as a songwriter. None will disagree that there’s as much business involved as there is craftsmanship, but with regard to which plays the bigger role, there is much debate. I have some thoughts that might help at least shed some light on the business side of things.
Most will agree that songwriting is a business. But there are many who believe the rules are different, or perhaps not quite as important, in the music business than those that apply to other businesses such as banks, restaurants and hardware stores. Not only are the rules the same, but I’d dare to say that the level of commercial success that a songwriter achieves has as much, if not more, to do with business acumen as it does level of craft.
Those who succeed commercially in this business, especially now with fewer potential slots on radio than ever before, are people who know and respect their competition. They are people who follow (as in have an awareness of) the trends. They know the major players, they know how to position themselves, they know how to create a ‘’niche” product or market, they are organized in the areas they need to be organized in, and they know how to make appointments and keep them. Most importantly they know which products to pitch to which potential buyers and when.
They also know how to make a good impression. They know how to communicate effectively and they know how to network. They act on foresight, not hindsight. They are people who are not angered or intimidated by the “system” or the competition to the point of retreat. Instead they view both as healthy challenges. They’re people who are persistent and relentlessly competitive who know how to find a way to succeed. They are hard workers who don’t make excuses. They understand and accept the framework of the infrastructure within which the business is conducted and they don’t resist it, resent it, defy it, or try to change it. They simply go with it and seek ways to use it to their advantage. They’re clever. They’re opportunists. They aren’t naysayers and complainers. And I’ve never met a songwriter that has found success in the music business that didn’t have a sense of humor. I’ve also never met one who took him or herself too seriously or one who didn’t love what he or she did.
None of these qualities has anything to do with song craft.
There are people with the goods who can’t sell lemonade at a lemonade stand, and there are people who can sell anything but lack the goods. And then there are those very few that have it going on in both arenas. These are the ones with the distinct advantage.
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Bill Renfrew has an extensive background in teaching songwriting and evaluating songs, and has years of professional experience consulting on songwriting and song rewriting, which he does through his website. He owns and operates Write THIS Music, an independent music publishing company, and Bombshelter Recording Studio, both of which are located in Nashville, TN. For more Renfrew, check out Writethismusic.com.