Is your songwriting bar set high enough?

SWP 4

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.

Rick Springfield

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.

Ouch.

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.”

Set The Bar

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.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS AWESOME OPPORTUNITY.

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,

Brent

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.

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16 thoughts on “Is your songwriting bar set high enough?”

    1. It depends on what your goals are, Chuck. This post is for songwriters who want cuts and hits. If you’re just writing for yourself and your fans, and you’re not aiming for cuts or a record deal, it doesn’t matter what industry people think. Except for the educational value of a professional opinion, of course. Thanks for adding your voice, Chuck!

  1. Yes if you want to be a stand alone songwriter with major artists cutting your songs the bar is incredibly high.

    To begin with you’re competing with the 5,000+ songwriters in Nashville who’ve already written a top 20 hit.

    Brent has had multiple hits including a top ten in the USA and a number 1 hit in Canada and he writes and rubs shoulders regularly with professional songwriters who’ve also had multiple hits.

    Even if you want to be an independent artist the techniques Brent teaches are invaluable because great songs help an artist get exposure on radio and great songs work a whole lot better live.

    Great songs also make it a whole lot easier for an artist to build a fan base and to get across their unique persona as an artist.

    Getting familiar with what professional songwriters do to write hits and raising the bar of your songwriting is a huge key for both songwriters and artists who want to take their careers to another level.

    And Brent is one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen at teaching professional songwriting.

  2. Hi Brent,

    I would like to sent some songs in for your (P4P) event. Do the songs have to be in a certain format? I am not the most computer whiz guy..LOL Would you please let me know as soon as possible so I may get some songs sent in

    Thanks Gerry

    1. Hi, Gerry!
      I would prefer them in mp3 format, but .wav files are fine, too. Basically, just something you can email to me at the email address I’ll give you in the instructions you get after you purchase.
      Thanks,

      Brent

  3. Hi Brent. I have had several songs recorded professionally (by your buddy Johnny Dwinell (great guy in every way). I could send those for eval and be very proud of the recording, but I have written many songs since that have not been professionally recorded (just me and my guitar), that I feel even more strongly about. I’m sure Mr. Oglesby can hear through a clean work tape and note the potential (or lack of), but I am also sure that he is used to receiving professionally recorded demos. Am I wasting my time sending a home demo? They are clean recordings, just not up to Johnny’s standards. BTW when you see Johnny, tell him doc7string said what’s up, and that I still owe him dinner!

    1. Will do, Paul! Well, what Chris and I will both be listening to is THE SONG. We’ll do our best to not be swayed by production. So my advice is to send your best SONG!
      God Bless,
      Brent

      1. Thanks Brent. I will send some songs your way and hope that I am deserving of some feedback. If nothing else, I’ll be helping you to help some wonderful kids!

        Paul

  4. Well put, Brent… it’s easy to fool yourself into believing you have a golden song if you have been working in isolation.

    Best advice I’ve received about this: test your songs, play them for people who have strong ears that can tell you what isn’t working, play them live, play them into your phone… and listen when you get that awkward feeling when you hear or sing a line, that means it needs more editing!

    My issue tends to be the opposite… I set the bar too high, spend too much time with some songs, getting stuck by trying to write the most epic song ever, when it’s already a great song and I’ve gone well past the point of diminishing returns. A problem I’m sure many would like to have, but it dramatically slows down my songwriting output.

    Any one have advice for conquering your doubts about your song?

  5. Hi Brent, This is Gerry again. I sent 5 songs in to you but it shows I only payed for one. Now every time I hit the pay button it says I have payed. Can you contact me on my email and tell how to correct this problem. I would like to get in done right away…
    Thanks, Gerry

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