STREET SMARTS: Songwriters and this Magazine…

The last few years have seen tremendous changes in this magazine, much to the joy of some people and the horror of others. I’d like to talk about these changes and explain why they are good for all songwriters.

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For many years, American Songwriter magazine was largely aimed at the non-performing, Nashville-based songwriter. After Bob Clement and Doug Waterman took over the magazine back in 2004, they began to cast a much wider net over the songwriting community.

A considerable amount of space is now devoted to writers based in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, our nation’s campuses-in fact, wherever songwriters hang out, American Songwriter wants to know about them.

Also, the magazine devotes much of its coverage these days to performing songwriters. This is not to say that they are now neglecting traditional non-performing songwriters. The editors are constantly attempting to find what they consider to be a proper balance of articles that pertain to both breeds of songwriter. Likewise, the editors are aware that many of their long-time subscribers are country songwriters and they want to make certain that country songwriters continue to receive the information that drew them to the magazine in the first place.

The American Songwriter I write for-and read-carries a great mix of articles about both performing and non-performing songwriters, and I sincerely hope that non-performing songwriters read about performing songwriters. I hope even more that performing songwriters read about non-performing songwriters. Each should respect the other and seek each other out, because each has something the other needs.

Performing songwriters are directly connected to their audiences. They get constant feedback on their material, particularly when their audiences have heard their music on CD or Internet. Often they have an emotional feel for what it is that their audiences love about them, and that may help to guide them in their approach to their music.

Non-performing songwriters often have a level of craftsmanship that is higher than that of their performing peers. They work in a highly competitive environment and if their songs are not at a high level of excellence they will not get the recordings they need for professional survival.

Performing songwriters with bands that create great productions can take an OK song and make it a great record. Non-performing songwriters don’t have that option, although these days many of them spend huge amounts of money making demos that sound like records.

I’m a great believer in cross-pollination. I would like to see guys in bands look up outside songwriters to write with. Nashville, L.A. and New York songwriters have been booking songwriting sessions with each other for years. I’d like to see more of that going on, and not just so pop writers can try for country cuts and vice versa. Pop and country writers often have different approaches to writing a song, and each can learn from the other. On the other hand, I’d hate to see the pure country songwriter disappear, because the pure country song has its own gift. But as songwriters in any genre pursue their quest for hits, and as consolidated radio and the labels they intimidate continue to stifle creativity, there is a tendency for “hits” to sound alike. Sometimes great things happen when Nashville songwriters work with top songwriters from other places or genres.

And I hope that the thousands of songwriters who have discovered this magazine over the past year or two won’t just read about their own genres. Many of our greatest music figures of the past 50 years, artists like Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis, have loved and been influenced by a wide variety of musical genres. For most of us, widening our musical interests can only make our songwriting better.

Equally important, non-performing and performing songwriters, songwriters in different genres and from different parts of the country discover different ways to expose their songs and advance themselves professionally. All these things can be found between the covers of this magazine. If you want to maximize your professional potential it’s a good idea to know what the other guys are doing and how and why they are doing it.

I remember back in the ‘70s when the pop labels were hiring 40-year-old A&R guys, guys with long flowing tresses down their back to make up for the hair they lost on top. They all looked like William Shakespeare but they had convinced their bosses that THEY KNEW WHAT THE KIDS LIKE. The guys who edit this magazine are young enough to know that nobody KNOWS. They just want to give you the best magazine they can, by covering the entire spectrum of songwriting. If there’s anything you feel you’re not getting, I suggest you email Doug Waterman or Matthew Shearon and tell them where you think we’re falling short. I guarantee they’ll be interested in what you have to say.

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