I used to think my songs were pretty dang good. Then I played them for a pro.
Back when I was in Arkansas, writing songs and dreaming of getting cuts and hits, I thought I was a pretty good songwriter. After all, my main cowriter, Tim Meitzen, liked our songs, and so did many of the people who came out to Tim’s gigs. Tim just finished an album, and the studio owner / producer had good things to say about the songs – most of which I cowrote. So I was feeling pretty good about myself. (The phrase “as good as the stuff on the radio” might’ve been said once or twice.)
Then I played my songs for a pro.
I knew Danny Tate (a little) from back home. His dad was the minister of music at my church. Danny was a pro singer/songwriter who’d spent time in both Nashville and LA. He’d gotten several cuts, his biggest being “Affair Of The Heart” for Rick Springfield in the ’80’s. He’d also had a record deal and landed at least one video, “Dreaming'” on VH1 during my college days. So he was no rookie.
I sent him some songs, and he was kind enough to listen. He was also kind enough to be honest. He gave me some valuable feedback, basically saying that “there’s a whole ‘nother level of songwriting” in Nashville. Be told me my stuff was okay, but it didn’t meet professional standards.
By Little Rock, Arkansas, standards, Tim and I were doing strong work. But by Nashville standards, we had a long way to go. A later trip to meet Mike Doyle at ASCAP confirmed this. I left that meeting encouraged but reminded that the bar was set higher than I was reaching.
Those moments were NOT fun, but they were NECESSARY.
I appreciate Danny and Mike. Their feedback was sometimes frustrating, but it helped me to reach higher. Their feedback helped me turn pro.
It’s easy to let “the bar” slip down lower than it should. It’s easy to start judging your work against what your cowriters or other amateurs are writing. Having your friends and family like your songs and request them can lower the bar. But “friends and family” is not where the bar is really set.
If you want cuts and hits, you can’t set the bar at “what mama likes.”
So… how do you “re-set” the bar? How do you raise your songwriting standards? Here are a couple ways.
Go to great songwriter rounds.
Open mic nights don’t count. I’m talking about hitting the later rounds where the pros play. Yes, it’s fun to hear their cuts and hits. But pay special attention to their songs that haven’t gotten cut yet. You’ll hear songs that blow your mind- and it’ll blow your mind that those songs haven’t been recorded yet. Those great songs? That’s your competition.
Get professional feedback.
There are some places that offer song evaluations and coaching, and that’s great. But I’ll be honest- I used to do a bunch of coaching sessions, and it’s easy to start grading on a curve. A song may sound pretty good when it’s in the middle of a bunch of beginner coaching sessions. That same song might sound very different if you’ve been listening to pro demos all day.
Your best bet to get an accurate assessment of your song is to get it in the ears of someone who is actively in the trenches. Play it for someone who has their own songs (or the songs of their writers) judged by the highest standards on a regular basis.
Having a pro re-set your songwriting bar can be uncomfortable. But it’s worth it.
If you’ve never played your songs for a pro, I encourage you to do it as soon as possible. If it’s been a while, you’re due for a tune up.
So, how do you get to one of these pros? Well, there are a few ways… but let me tell you about an event I have coming up.
In October, I’m hosting the first Songwriting Pro Play For Publisher (“P4P”) event. This is YOUR opportunity to get YOUR song heard by a successful, active music publisher. And we’re kicking off our first P4P event with a great guest: Chris Oglesby of BMG Chrysalis! Chris is a 25-year music biz veteran, and he works every day with hit songwriters like Tony Lane, Brett Beavers, busbee, Hillary Lindsey, and more.
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.