Songwriter U: Referring to Success

Written by Shelby Kennedy.

I have spent years watching the industry evolve for a few decades now where I’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat to learn how things can come together for success and I have also had a front-row seat to see how things can fall apart in failure as well. Success and failure affect so many lives and all of us who have chosen one of many career paths in this music industry want to do all we can to increase our odds of success.  

In today’s market, if you are independent, you might benefit from occasionally thinking more corporately, and if you are corporate, you should definitely think more like an independent. The expansion of thought for both groups will identify new opportunities with a deeper understanding of new options and decisions. Business planning cannot remain the same old checklists. The same old plans will lead you to the same old places and the horizon is a  new place where we will find the hit songs and unique artists in need of profitable introductions into the marketplace. If you can see the horizon,  you are more confident in navigating your path for a successful arrival and you are certainly comfortable and qualified to sit at the wheel for that journey. The problems often arise when the best driver is prohibited from sitting in the driver’s seat, or the person in the driver’s seat can’t see the horizon while we are all along for the ride. 

Hopefully, the responsibilities you have in your job are accompanied by all the authority needed to perform whatever function you serve. There is nothing more frustrating than having all of the responsibility for something without the authority needed to make the proper decisions or to take appropriate actions. That has become an all too common dilemma inside corporate structures. A company houses a family and in certain homes that family can be dysfunctional, but if all is well and balanced inside your house of business, you are better equipped for success. However, I still see something that continually presents an uncontrollable element of risk for success or failure in the music industry. We continue to depend on this risk whether we are a writer, publisher, artist, producer, A&R, manager, etc. We have spent decades on acquiring talent and content, as well as building our businesses based on “referrals”. Back to the car analogy…If we are all in the car and none of us can see the horizon, we are traveling in hopes that we pick up a hitch-hiker that happens to know the direction to the place we need to be going. How crazy is that? 

When previously serving as A&R Director at Lyric Street Records years ago, I depended on so many others to refer to the artist that possessed the “x” factor or the most unique songs that would best put our artists at the top of the charts. From where I sat, I was grateful to have relationships with the best people that showed up with both. But looking back, it was an uneasy and risky dependability. I have played the role of both the “referrer” and the  “referee”, but I had hoped that we might get better at controlling our risks in the industry’s evolution.  

Fortunately, we seem to have acquired some new tools for identifying new artists. Artist awareness is easier as social media and early independent releases have become quite the barometers for assessment of audience interests and financial risks. Referrals, once needed for discovering new artists, seem to be currently evaporating. The search for talent today is transitioning to data discovery. A&R used to stand for “Artists and  Repertoire” but now, I believe it could be defined as “Analytics &  Repertoire”. By identifying the artists and their audiences from social and streaming data, record labels, managers, booking agents and other stakeholders can better navigate their planning for success. Since artist discovery has developed alternative identifiers, the referrals from industry relationships can now play a supplemental role… or not.  

One area where the successful “referral” continues to be a dependency is the area of songs and songwriters. There is no data to analyze a new composition or a new songwriter. How do these get discovered? In my  past, I spent a number of years at both ASCAP and BMI where I served  songwriters and publishers as a “matchmaker.” Both rely on referrals for proper introductions. When a referral was successful, the publisher signed the writer and became another matchmaker themselves by targeting and pitching their songs to producers and A&R executives. If the publisher’s pitch was accurate, then the producer or A&R executive had to make their own pitch to the artist, you should start to get the picture…Everything in this pitching process is a referral. If the great referral doesn’t come, all is at risk of failure. Considering that risk while serving any of those positions should be worrisome. When it comes to creative decisions, we want to control what we can in our own destiny and not rely on it being discovered for us. 

Searching for new songwriters and songs is like shopping for clothes at the mall. If I’m depending on someone to bring me what they think I will like and in the size they think will fit…Good luck! What are the odds that they can guess that new, never-seen-before style is right for my tastes, not to mention my size? For too many years, this method of referral has  limitations for discovery. If I can go to the mall myself, I would certainly prefer to see the enormous selection as well as see what really fits. If I  can’t go to the mall, how amazing would it be if the mall could come to me? 

Because of that thought, and the unstable reliance of song and songwriter referrals in the industry, a new platform has been developed to bridge songs and songwriters to executives and decision-makers. It offers a  solution where executives don’t have to solely depend on referrals and the writers and publishers can connect without waiting on a third party’s guess at matchmaking. The platform is unique to allow executives to discover what writers and publishers will allow them to find in their private song lockers. It trades the referrals and “guesswork” for the executive’s ability to listen to what writers have that they can try on at their leisure. With more to discover on their terms, they are likely to find success which fits everybody’s needs. 

If you are a songwriter and live in a city that isn’t a music center, industry introductions are growing harder to come by, but you now have the ability to navigate your own destiny where success doesn’t all hinge on the dependence of a referral. Perhaps, the last referral you may need is the address of the unique platform that connects writers and songs to industry decision-makers.


Check out Amazing Songs here.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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