What’s worse than having someone hate your song? Having them immediately forget it.
It’s easy to listen to today’s country or Christian (or pop, or…) radio and think, “Wow – most of these songs are written within a pretty small box. Most of them are pretty similar, and there aren’t many risks being taken. I guess if I want cuts, I have to play it safe, too.”
Or maybe you get so much advice about, “don’t make the singer look bad,” “don’t alienate the listener, etc.” (and I admit I’ve said that, too), that you only want to play your “safe radio” songs for publishers or other people in the biz.
I think playing it safe is sometimes a big mistake.
Nashville is all stocked up with safe, sound-alike songs. We don’t need yours. We already have writers and artists that are really good at writing what’s already on the radio. And they’re more connected than you. Plus, most other aspiring hit songwriters are playing the same kind of stuff all up and down Music Row.
You can’t stand out in a sea of sameness by bringing in more of the same.
You need to bring something new to the table. Fresh melodies, fresh ideas, crazy tracks. Bottom line: they’re not looking for what they already have. Here’s a piece of advice:
Write some songs that feel “too real for radio.”
Write some songs that are so honest that you feel a little uncomfortable playing them across the desk from a publisher. Don’t just write what you think a songwriter would say. Tell the truth. The truth- the raw, honest truth- is always fresh and relevant.
The point is not to make the publisher or whoever stand up and shout, “This is so great, it’s gonna change our whole format!” No, the point is to make the listener think, “Wow. This person is a songWRITER.” Let them know that you can access honest, real emotions. Yeah, sure- also bring in a song or two that shows them you know how to play in the safe commercial sandbox. But it’s really important to show them that you can draw on things a lot deeper than pickup trucks and riverbanks.
The honest line you want to rewrite because it’s “too honest” is exactly the line that will make the listener feel something.
After all, didn’t you feel something when you wrote it? Chase that! If you felt an honest emotion, maybe the listener will, too.
It’s better to be too real than too safe.
I’m not talking about adding in shock value just for the sake of shock value. No, I’m talking about fearless honesty. Maybe these aren’t the ones that’ll get cut. It’s a success if the publisher says, “Wow. That’s great. It’ll never get on the radio, but it’s great.” It might feel like a back-handed compliment, but it’s actually a very good compliment.
I had a publisher tell me once, “Too many writers get so concerned about what will or what won’t get on the radio that they knock all the cool stuff off their songs in the writers room. Don’t worry about going too far- that’s MY job! I can always reign you in, but I can’t draw you out.”
Oh, and the comment about, “It’s great, but it’ll never get on the radio…”
That’s what people said about my song, “Monday Morning Church.” And that song became a top 5 single for Alan Jackson.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you gotten a “too real for radio” reaction? Or a “too vanilla” reaction? Please leave a comment!
If you want to become a songwriting pro (in how you think, write songs or do business), then a great place to start is RIGHT HERE. I want to help you on your songwriting journey. I’ve been in the music business for years, and I’m here to help you get the cuts – and avoid the bruises. CLICK HERE TO START HERE.
God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,
Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.