Songwriter’s Column: Nicolle Galyon on Navigating the Road of Almosts (Exclusive)

the almosts.
It’s always baffling to me how many basketball games come down to free throws. Out of all the offensive moves made and shots taken, it’s the least flashy shot—the uncontested, get-on-the-line, routine, down-the-middle one—that can really determine the game. You can’t help but watch a team miss a few in a row in the first quarter of a playoff, and whisper to a buddy, “They’re gonna need those later.” 

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Based on that, you would think that a crowd’s most visceral response would come when players make free throws. But, as I recently noticed as I watched our hometown team at the state tournament, it’s not. It’s when the ball looks like it’s a sure thing, goes halfway in the goal, somehow catches a weird trajectory halfway through the net, and somehow slings on out. The people gasp. Several players’ dads cuss under their breath. Just…how?

It’s not the make. 

It’s not the miss.

It’s always the almost shot that gets everybody’s attention. 

That got me thinking about Nashville. In Nashville, they tell you the road to a yes is paved with a thousand no’s. As if every door you encounter will simply be slammed in your face, until one magically opens and the rest is history. Not to be overly dramatic here, but it’s actually a lot more brutal than that. It’s a road of almosts—the road no one tells you about—that lets you know you’re headed in the right direction. 

Here is, in my experience, the treacherous roadmap to the top for a songwriter. This path is not for the faint of heart. If you have encountered any one of these, you should not lick your wounds and go home. If any of the following are ripping out your heart, that means you’re closer to making it than you ever have been before.

the almost meeting: this is when you end up at a bar engaging in small talk with an A&R rep or a song plugger from a highly esteemed publishing company and they say, “Come play me some songs sometime.” So you schedule a meeting. Then the day of the meeting, their assistant has to reschedule and “will be in touch.” You definitely made a contact, but only almost got the meeting.

the almost cut: the artist has had your song on hold for months. The label has even re-confirmed the hold a number of times. After being on hold for a year and one short week before the artist’s cut date, they narrow down the list from 40 to 20. You’re notified your song is now off hold. You know your song is definitely good enough to be recorded, but it was only almost cut. 

Nicolle Galyon (Photo by Claire Schaper)

the almost tracklisted: the artist tells you how great the song sounds the day they record, but when the album details are announced all over the internet, your title is nowhere to be found. So close you could taste it. And sometimes so close you could even hear it when they secretly send you a rough board mix they’re so hyped. You definitely made the cut, just not the album. 

the almost single: the artist says to go buy a boat. ‘Cuz, man, this one’s gonna be a smash. It’s for sure the label’s favorite. So much so that they greenlit the budget to make some New Age-sounding word-for-a-video for it. Words like “focus track” and “release strategy” are getting thrown around. You definitely get to share all the glory on social media (Spotify shares straight to IG stories, am I right?). But then words like “impact” and “algorithm” start creeping into the conversation, and when that radio add-date comes, it’s Track 2—and you’re Track 3. You made the record, but only almost heard your song on the radio.

the almost hit: this one is probably the crown jewel of all the stages of this maddening torture we call being a songwriter, and an artist. You got the single. You even got the heads-up from a coordinator on the radio promo team when WSIX would play it this weekend. So you get to sit in your car parked in your garage and selfie-vid a snotty cry as you FINALLY hear your song on the radio for the very first time in your life. Parents are called. Friends are texting. And then 16 weeks later, the song peaks at No. 56 on Mediabase. Almost every hit writer I know can tell you what song this was for them. The one that made them think they were finally ‘passing go’ on the musical Monopoly, only to watch that title disappear off Billboard like David Copperfield. Mine was, ironically, a song titled “Gone Like That.” And as the song says, it was, in fact, ‘gone like that’ and only almost a hit. No boat purchased.

Every time a writer I know almost has a hit, I quietly rejoice for them because I know that they have now completed the final round of almosts and are now teed up perfectly for a fast-track of yeses. Yes to the right idea on the right day with the right writers for the right artist and the producer says yes. And so does the label. And the right players play the right parts and it’s the right track to lead with for the right album concept and it goes to radio with the right promo team at the right time and it goes right on up the charts. But then the writer gets up at the No. 1 party, and makes mention of how many NO’s it took to get here. But it was really the almosts.

So, if you’re standing there and that song comes off hold, or that write gets canceled at the last minute and it feels like your shot just hung on the edge of the rim and then fell out, it means you’re in the game of almosts. And if it feels like it took your breath away, it’s because you’re one shot closer to the game-winner. Because, in songwriting—unlike basketball—almostdoes count.   

Photo by Claire Schaper

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