The Most Important Thing Is Everything
by Barbara Cloyd
If your goal is for your songs to be hits on Country radio there are a lot of factors to consider when you write. Does every line make sense? Do they all work together to support one main idea? Is the language conversational? Is there a solid rhyme scheme? Is the melody memorable? Is the chorus catchy?
That’s just a small sampling of what it takes for a song to be a hit. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes you find the perfect rhyme that says exactly the right thing, but maybe it’s not a word people say every day. Sometimes you find a wonderfully clever line but you have to cram a few too many syllables into the melody. You have to make compromises sometimes, right?
Wrong. You have to get it all exactly right.
Once at a workshop I heard a publisher say that the people he pitches songs to are “looking for any reason to say no.” As soon as they hear one thing they don’t like, they pass and go on to the next song. If that seems harsh, remember, they have no shortage of songs to choose from. There are more than a thousand new ones written every week just by the staff writers who are writing full time with the support of a publisher. Plus every hit writer has a large catalog of songs that haven’t been cut yet. That’s your competition,
It’s also important to realize that when artists cut a song that becomes a hit, they have to live with that song for their entire career. They don’t want to make that kind of commitment if there is any little thing that doesn’t feel right.
If you want to make money with your songs, don’t settle when you write. I was told early on, “If you think maybe there might possibly be something wrong with your song, it’s wrong.” Be honest with yourself. For example, did you use a tired cliché instead of finding a fresh way to say it? Are you leaving it to the demo singer to make lines work where the words don’t fit the melody quite right? Are you keeping lines that don’t further the idea of the song because you love them? If you left a weak line in place so you could finish the song, did you go back and improve it?
Once you’ve worked out all the bugs, it can be a good idea to put your song away for a while and come back to it with fresh ears. I always do that, and it’s amazing how many times I see problems with a song that sounded like a masterpiece when I finished it. After fixing every weakness I can find my next step is to play it for other people who will be honest with me, and their feedback often points out more things that need polishing.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But if you aren’t willing to do it, there are lots and lots of writers who are. Tom Shapiro, who has written seventeen #1 hits, says that the difference between a really good song and one that will make you a lot of money is the last five percent. Your family, friends and fans are rarely as critical as Music Row. It’s great to soak up their support but don’t let it keep you from acknowledging how high the bar is set and pushing yourself to reach it.
Since it began in 1986 Barbara Cloyd has been hosting the open mic at the Bluebird Café, where she has seen newcomers like Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and David Wilcox, as well as many of today’s top writers. After Lorrie Morgan took Barbara’s song “I Guess You Had To Be There” into the top 10 developing songwriters began asking Barbara for feedback and advice. This led to her career as a teacher, offering one-on-one consultations and hosting the popular “Play for Publishers” workshops. She’s also well know for her ability to spot talent and many now-successful writers and artists owe their start to introductions she made for them. For her dedication to helping writers the Nashville Songwriters Association’s gave her the Maggie Cavender Award for Exception Service to the Songwriting Community.
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net