This is the part of songwriting I didn’t know I was signing up for- the business, strategic side of things. Sure, I have my MBA, but I really just wanted to write my songs and have them pitched by somebody to somebody and- whammo! Cuts. But the world is how it is, not how I wish it were. So now I think about artists as brands and try to act accordingly.
An artist is a brand, and they and their team (label, promotion, management) work really hard to position their brand (artist) into a certain place in the market. In business terms, they want to increase their market share- on radio and in our wallets. Everything supports the brand image: album artwork and photos, songs, videos, etc.
Artists are looking for songs that fit their brand.
Whether you are writing FOR or WITH a certain artist, it’s important for you to understand their brand. Ask yourself: who is their audience- who do they speak to? What message do they send to their fans? How do they deliver this message? How do they want to be perceived? This goes deeper than just “traditional country” or “pop country.”
If you can write a song that really fits an artist’s brand, you have a great opportunity. Think about “Real Good Man” for Tim McGraw. What a great song for him. Musically, it fits him well. Great feel, and Tim can sing it. Lyrically, that’s totally his persona- a real bad boy, but a real good man.
The artist is Coke. Their songs are Coke Classic, Cherry Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, etc. They want songs that both reinforce and expand their brand. They may want Cherry Vanilla Coke or Raspberry Coke or something. Your song needs to fit on the same shelf. Your song may be the best $200 bottle of wine to be found, but it doesn’t matter. That artist is Coke.
Taco Bell doesn’t sell hamburgers.
My buddy, Tim Meitzen, told me one time, “They only have about three ingredients, but they keep putting them in different shapes!” That’s how some artists are. They keep giving you the same basic ingredients, but they put a little different spin on them. And when they do add something new, say, a Dorito as a taco shell, it still makes sense for the brand.
Luke Bryan is married with children. (So was Al Bundy, but that’s a different topic altogether.) Anyway, Luke has a family, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to his music. His music presents him as a Spring Breakin’ tailgatin’ good ‘ol party-boy who loves the ladies. I believe there’s only one song in which he has a wife and kids. But that was on his first album before he really found his image/voice/brand. And it wasn’t a single. Since he found his image, he has really stuck to it. And who can blame him? It’s working great.
It’s not about what you think an artist should sing or who they should be
… or where you think they should go as an artist. Unless you’re in their circle of influence, it doesn’t really matter what you want. Sorry.
I ran into a branding issue with Lady Antebellum.
Back before Lady A existed, I wrote a song with Hillary Scott, Casey Koesel, and Jon Armstrong called, “A Woman Scorned.” It’s a fun, rocking, fairly aggressive song that shows off Hillary’s vocals really well. Later, when she, Charles, and Dave formed Lady Antebellum, they started playing our song in all their shows (it’s on YouTube). They even cut it for their debut album. Score! Right? Wrong. When it came time to deciding which last couple of songs wouldn’t make the record, “A Woman Scorned” was reduced to a bonus track. That was disappointment with zeroes on the end of it. But after hearing their album, I understood why. It didn’t fit their brand. It was too aggressive. Even though the song had served them well and helped them get their deal, it didn’t fit the image. I couldn’t argue with that.
The lyric and melody BOTH have to work for the artist.
I’ve mainly focused on lyrical content, but the music has to fit the artist’s brand, too. Miranda Lambert isn’t likely to cut a song that sounds like Shania Twain no matter how well the lyric fits her. Ask yourself: is this song the right kind of pop? The right shade of country?
And it’s important to remember that these brands change over time. They aren’t locked in forever. Lonestar was one thing before “Amazed,” and another thing after. Toby Keith was one thing before “How Do You Like Me Now” and another thing after. Kenny Chesney had a slower, but no less important transition to beaches and nostalgia. So don’t lock a brand in your mind with super glue. Make sure to look for the shifts that are inevitable.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Pick a current artist from whatever genre you target with your writing. Break down their brand. Then be a sweetheart and post your notes in the comments. Together, ya’ll can really help each other out. Thanks!
Thanks to Chelsea Bain for recording my song, “Simple Is Hard.” It’s on her new album, “All American Country Girl.” You can hear her music being blasted off a stage at a NASCAR event or on Fox Sports. You can check out the song on iTunes here. Thanks, Chelsea!