6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Pitch A Song

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Let’s say you have the opportunity to pitch to an artist.  Maybe Aunt Agnes knows a guy that mows the lawn of the guy that cuts Blake Shelton’s hair.  Or maybe you’re a staff writer who knows you shouldn’t leave all the pitching to your plugger.  Either way, you want to make the most of your pitches.  Here are some questions to ask as you’re going through your songs.

1.  Does your song fit the artist’s brand?

As I wrote about last week, artists are brands.  Check out the blog post here.  But simply put, if your song is a french fry, don’t bother pitching it to Taco Bell.  They don’t DO french fries- it doesn’t fit their brand.

 2.  Can the artist sing the song?

I’ve been in an A&R pitch meeting at a label, and I pitched a certain song for a certain artist on their roster.  The A&R rep said the lyric was right up his alley, but she didn’t think he could sing it.  Pass.  My buddy, Anthony Orio, has pitched songs to a publisher before, and the publisher told him, “What guy can sing this melody?”  Well, Anthony could.  But the point is that not a lot of guys could sing a song that rangy, so it wasn’t as attractive to a publisher as a song they could pitch everywhere.

3.  Does the artist already write this type of song?

For example, Keith Urban tends to write his own feel-good mid-and-uptempo songs.  Most of his ballads and darker songs, however, tend to be written by other writers- “Raining On Sunday” “You’ll Think Of Me” “Making Memories Of Us” and “Stupid Boy,” for example.  Your best bet for getting a Keith Urban cut is probably to bring him something he records but doesn’t typically write himself.

4.  Is it a quality recording?

I’ve gotten cuts from demos.  I’ve gotten cuts from good guitar/vocals.  But unless it’s something I wrote with the artist, I’ve never gotten a cut off a worktape.  There are writers that can pitch a worktape, but they’ve had enough success that the listener expects to hear a great song because of who wrote it.  Also, they can probably play it directly for the artist or producer.  Depending on how close you are to the project, your song may have to get past an A&R intern, a production assistant, and who knows who else before it can get to someone who can give you the “Big Yes.”  I personally don’t count on every person in that chain to be able to hear through a worktape- especially when it’s sandwiched between great-sounding demos.

5.  Is this song a step into the artist’s future?

Right after Brad Paisley hit with “The Fishing Song,” he got blasted with fishing songs from everywhere.  Notice how he STILL hasn’t put another one out as a single?  I’m sure he didn’t want to get pigeonholed as the fishing guy (although that was an important part of his brand at the time).  Besides, he can write a great fishing song on his own- he doesn’t need to pay me for mine when he can make money on his.  Successful artists evolve over time.  Plenty of writers will be pitching them their LAST hit.  You need to pitch them their NEXT hit.

6.  Is this a great song?

I’ve made the mistake of pitching songs that were the right brand, but just okay.  It’s like kicking a field goal perfectly straight… but five yards short.  No points.  There are too many really good and great songs out there- why would an artist cut yours?

I hope this list is helpful for you.  It’s not an exhaustive list- each pitch opportunity comes with it’s own particulars.  But I think you’ll be well served to keep these questions in mind.  Happy hunting!

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YOU VS…

What questions would you add to this list?  Please post them in the comments.  Thanks!

SHOUT OUT…

Big thanks to my good buddy and cowriter, Anthony Orio, for cutting two of our songs last week!  Both were written with Matt Cline, and are for an upcoming release from Anthony.  You can check out Anthony here.  You can check out his previous two albums on iTunes here.  I’m blessed to have several songs on each.  Thanks, Anthony!

Brent’s Twitter: @Razorbaxter

Brent Baxter Music:  http://www.brentbaxtermusic.com

Luke Bryan and Aaron Goodvin

My buddy, Aaron Goodvin, just landed his first song on a major album, “Out Like That” on Luke Bryan’s new album.  You know what this means?  It means new writers can still get a major cut.  It means smart, talented, hardworking young writers still have a chance.  It means you should feel pretty darn inspired right about now.

www.aarongoodvin.com

-Brent

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Twitter: @Razorbaxter

Facebook: Brent Baxter Music

Wordplay Thursday #4

Here’s a writing prompt for you.  It’s a simple fill-in-the-blank.  You can use one word or several.  Feel free to get as crazy, genre-appropriate, or as imaginative as you want.  The point is to get the creative juices flowing.  And it’s a good thing to dig deeper, so don’t stop at the first idea that hits you.  Try coming up with at least five things.

“Our first date was as _______ as _____________________.”

I’ll give you one example to get you started:

“Our first date was as awkward as a dog on roller skates.”

I’d love to hear what you come up with, so please share in the comments.  Oh, and please keep your posts below an R-rating.  It’s a family show, after all!

SHOUT OUT!

Thanks to Patrick Beck, Bill, Kelley Osburn, Steve, Nila Kay, E.M. Street, and Andrew Clayton for their fun additions to Wordplay Thursday #3!  Great job!

The Band Is A Brand. Are You Brand Conscious?

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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YOU VS…

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!

SHOUT OUT…

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!

Wordplay Thursday #3

Here’s a writing prompt for you.  It’s a simple fill-in-the-blank.  You can use one word or several.  Feel free to get as crazy, genre-appropriate, or as imaginative as you want.  The point is to get the creative juices flowing.  And, as it’s a good thing to dig deeper, don’t stop at the first idea that hits you.  Try coming up with at least five things.

“Your kiss hit me like _____________________.”

I’ll give you one example to get you started:

“Your kiss hit me like a twister hits a trailer park.”

I’d love to hear what you come up with, so please share in the comments.  Oh, and please keep your posts below an R-rating.  It’s a family show, after all!

SHOUT OUT!

Thanks to Jayne Sachs, Steve, Nila, Michael August, E.M. Street, Dennis, Russ Fogg, Steve, and Andrew Clayton for their fun additions to Wordplay Thursday #2!  Great job!

7 Things Every Lyricist Must Remember

As I discussed in my last post, “But I’m Only A Lyricist” I’m a (you guessed it) lyricist- I don’t write music or play an instrument (enough to count, anyway).  I write the words to songs.  It’s a specific skill set, but one I have leveraged to land publishing deals and cuts by major artists.

Today, I’d like to talk about seven things every lyricist should keep in mind.  I’m not saying this is an exhaustive list, but realizing the following points has helped me tremendously in my songwriting career.

 1.  You are enough.  It’s okay to be “just a lyricist.”  Writing great lyrics is a valuable skill, and the people that matter know this.  Hold your head up high.  If you think or act like you’re not worthy, people will assume that you probably aren’t.  Don’t be arrogant, but be confident.

2.  Lyrics are only half a song.  For the other half, you need a cowriter.  So pick your cowriters carefully. I know from experience- it’s a terrible feeling to take an idea or a lyric that I LOVE into a cowrite and have someone slap on a sub-par melody.  

3.  Your cowriters have different strengths- bring in ideas that let your cowriters shine. One cowriter may write killer traditional country songs.  Another cowriter may write great female pop country.  Where do you think I’m going to take my cry-in-my-beer ideas?  I don’t go to a steak house hoping for great salad, and I don’t go to a vegan restaurant hoping for steak.

4.  Give respect to the melody. I didn’t used to care too much how a line sang- just as long as they got all my words in there.  That was a proof of both my arrogance and inexperience, and my songs suffered as a result.  Songs are BOTH lyric and melody.  If a line just isn’t singing right, keep at it until you find the line that both says what you want it to say and sings like it should.

 5.  Show up with two or three strong ideas. If you’re a young writer writing with a seasoned pro, they expect it from you.  After all, they can probably write a great song without you- they want your fresh ideas.

 6.  You don’t always have to write your idea. Your cowriter may just have the right idea for that day.  Or a magic idea may spring up out of your conversation.  Don’t let your ego or your need to justify your presence in the room cloud your judgement.  All that really matters is getting a great song.  If you take care of that, the rest will take care of itself.

 7.  They’re just as scared of you as you are of them. People who can create great melodies out of thin air may be a mystery to you- they may intimidate you because you don’t have that skill.  Well, I’ve learned that it runs both ways.  They are often a little freaked that you can write great lyrics WITHOUT melodies running through your mind.  So don’t worry- you each have something the other needs.  And that’s beautiful.

Enjoy the journey,

Brent

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If you like this blog, please subscribe by putting your email in the “Follow This Blog” section on this page.  It’s either in the upper righthand corner or down below.  Thanks!

YOU VS…

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  If you have things to add to this list, help out your fellow songwriters and leave them in the comments.  If you think something on this list should NOT be on this list, go ahead and tell us why.  Thanks.

HEY, YA’LL…

Congrats to Charles Billingsley on his new album, “Charles Billingsley In Concert” on Inpop Records.  I’m proud to have my song, “God Amazing” on there.  Thanks for playing it in your shows, Charles!  You can check out the song on iTunes here.

Wordplay Thursday #2

Here’s a writing prompt for you.  It’s a simple fill-in-the-blank.  You can use one word or several.  Feel free to get as crazy, genre-appropriate, or as imaginative as you want.  The point is to get the creative juices flowing.  And, as it’s a good thing to dig deeper, don’t stop at the first idea that hits you.  Try coming up with at least five things.

“His pickup truck was dirtier than __________________.”

I’ll give you one example to get you started:

“His pickup truck was dirtier than Playboy Magazine.”

I’d love to hear what you come up with, so please share in the comments.  Oh, and please keep your posts below an R-rating.  It’s a family show, after all!

SHOUT OUT:

Thanks to Russ Fogg, Michael August, and Stanley Grimes for diving right in on Wordplay Thursday #1!   Love it!

But I’m Only A Lyricist!!

I’ll be honest with you- I sing like a horse.  I haven’t picked up a guitar in years.  I’ve never played a writer’s night.  Oh, and I’m a professional songwriter who has had cuts and staff songwriting deals.

WHAT??

I’m a lyricist, which means I write the words to songs.  Personally, I don’t write a lick (pardon the pun) of music.  God, in His infinite wisdom, chose not to give me the gift of music.  But He gave me words.  Maybe you can relate.

So how does a person find success as a lyricist?  Well, I can only really tell you what I’ve learned from my journey.  I decided early on that if I were ONLY (as if it were something to be ashamed of) a lyricist, then I would be a GREAT lyricist.  I figured if I were going to have success in the music business, then…

…I’d better be great at one thing.  At least ONE thing.

 

So I focused like a laser on my strength.  I wrote and wrote and wrote some more.  I was living in Arkansas at the time, and only had one steady cowriter, Tim Meitzen.  But I didn’t wait for a cowriting session to write.  I wrote by myself, and I focused on structure.  I focused on hooks.  I focused on storytelling.  Then, when Tim and I would get together, I’d usually have a stack of lyrics ready and waiting for him.

We all love a song that has a great hook.  Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a hook as a writer, either.  If people talk about you and say, “Man, Joe is the guitar-riff guru,” or “Suzi is the queen of country hooks.  You need a hook, go to Suzi,” then you have value in the songwriting community.  It gives you something to hang your hat on.  It’s marketing, really.

“He’s a great lyricist” will get you more attention than “he’s a good songwriter.”

I’ll admit to having bouts of frustration and low self-esteem about being “half a songwriter.”  But, you know what?  If that’s what God has gifted me to do, who am I to say it isn’t enough or that He should’ve given me different gifts?

If God has called you to do something, He’ll gift you sufficiently to do it.

Now, I don’t want to leave you with any false impressions.  Making a living as a songwriter is extremely difficult.  Making a living as a lyricist is by no means any easier.  In many cases, it leaves you with extra hurdles to jump.  But if you’re great at what you do, keep a positive attitude, and learn how to leverage your skill set, you just might get a seat at the table.

HEY, YA’LL…

I want to give a big “congrats” to my songwriting buddy, Gord Bamford, who has been nominated for SEVEN Canadian Country Music Awards!  I’m excited to have a song (“On My Best Days”) on his current album, which is nominated for “Album Of The Year.”  Good luck, Gord!

FOLLOW THIS BLOG

If you like this blog, please subscribe by putting your email in the “Follow This Blog” section on this page.  It’s either in the upper righthand corner or down below.  Thanks!

Wordplay Thursday #1

Here’s a writing prompt for you.  It’s a simple fill-in-the-blank.  You can use one word or several.  Feel free to get as crazy, genre-appropriate, or as imaginative as you want.  The point is to get the creative juices flowing.  And, as it’s a good thing to dig deeper, don’t stop at the first idea that hits you.  Try coming up with at least five things.

“She treats me like _________________ treats __________________.”

I’ll give you one example to get you started:

“She treats me like a baby treats a diaper.”

I’d love to hear what you come up with, so please share in the comments.  Oh, and please keep your posts below an R-rating.  It’s a family show, after all!

Bullseye

Brent is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ray Stevens, and more.  He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

 You walk into a room called “Country Music” and Mr. Music Row hands you darts.  He says, “These darts are your songs.  Hit a bullseye with a dart, and that song gets cut.”  You look at the wall on the far side of the room, and you notice that there are bullseyes of all different sizes.  Some are fairly large, and some are small.  Some are so small, you’re not sure they’re really even there.  It’s up to you to pick your darts and start throwing.

The room is also full of other songwriters.  Some are just lobbing darts in the air.  They don’t aim at anything, they just throw.  They figure if they throw enough darts, something is bound to land eventually.  Some songwriters throw dart after dart after the smallest bullseyes on the wall.  Some throw darts at blank spots on the wall, where they would like a bullseye to be.  Some are so busy aiming, that the dart never leaves their hand.

If your goal is to get a song recorded by major artist, your best bet is usually by throwing at “the big bullseye.”

Well, how do we do that?

We make choices as songwriters.  And the better we are at our craft, the more options are available to us.  For example, you can choose to write an idea as a slow ballad, or you can choose to write it as an uptempo (fast song).  The uptempo song is the bigger bullseye.  You can choose an idea that makes your singer look good (bullseye) or look bad (small bullseye).  You can write the song from the point of view of an 85 year old woman (small bullseye) or as a 21 year old girl (bigger bullseye).

How do you know what the big bullseye is?  Well, size of the bullseye is simply a measure of how demand there is for a certain type of song.  This changes over time, so you need to be aware of the market.  Trends shift.  What was a big bullseye in the 1990’s might not be a big bullseye anymore.

However, one type of song always seems to be a big bullseye.  This is the “first-person uptempo positive love song.”  That’s not exactly shocking news, if you pay much attention to country radio.  This type of song is probably your best bet to get a cut.  I’m not saying, however, to never write a small bullseye.  Those can be hit from time to time- it’s just harder to do.  What I’m saying is to be aware of the realities.  Be intentional.  Be aware of the choices you make.

God Bless,

Brent

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