What A Songwriter Hears And What It Really Means

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I was coaching one of my favorite songwriting clients this week, and some interesting questions came up. Not the kind that have easy answers. More the kind that I have to think about for awhile and usually dig into my own experience to come up with something to say.

We were talking about the kind of comments that come up when you play songs for other people. People in power, people you know, people who know people…all people you want to love your songs, of course! This writer is working hard, getting better by the week, and absolutely determined to knock down doors. You might be in the same place. Nashville, New York, London or just making the every-so-often trip to a music center to see where you stand.

Putting Yourself Out There

Sometimes you get the lecture when all you really want is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A state of the music business lesson when you’re really just dying for a little encouragement. An “it’s broke” when you want to know how to fix it! Hopefully you're getting constructive criticism but you also may be hearing some comments or critiques that leave you a bit confused.

A bit of a disclaimer here, I'm one of the ones who may hear your song at a workshop or online and I promise you I try hard to make sure whatever comes out of my mouth is the truth as I know it. So do the majority of writers, publishers and producers who put themselves out there. But sometimes the truth is time is limited and you may not get the answer you're looking for.

So...here are some things my client heard recently followed by my interpretation based on years of meetings but still, just my own opinion.

 

What She Heard:

 

  1. “I love this! Not for my artist but for someone, it’s going into my special drawer. The one I go to find that one unique song that fits that artist I’m looking for.”

  2. “With a few minor fixes this could be great!” They may suggest some changes, but when asked if you can send them the edits they decline.

  3. “Call the next time you’re in town!”

  4. “This would be a great country pitch if Nashville were actually still cutting country songs.”

  5. “This one sounds like where the market should be heading, you’re a little ahead of the curve right now.”

  6. “You’re a little behind the curve right now.”

  7. “This is very cool…but...I already have writers signed to my company that I can’t get cut!”

  8. “I think you’re at that stage where you need to ‘write up’.”

  9. “This might be a hit, but I need a career song.”

  10. “ I like it...I just don’t LOVE it.”

 

What It Means:

 

  1. They might really mean it as a compliment, it’s too good to dismiss but not something they can place. The flip side is I’ve heard this even from my own publishers on occasion but I also know the sheer volume of songs coming in usually makes this a real long shot.

  2. Can be a bit of a kiss off. True, some people (and I’ve been one of them) do critiques with the best intention but just don’t have time to hear the updates. I still like to think if they really believe it’s a killer song in need of a few tweaks, they'd like to hear the edit and then pitch it.

3)   Again, use your own judgment if you get this response. May be polite or may be a ‘keep trying but I’m not willing to invest right now’ deal.

4)   Hmmm…some truth but there are real country songs creeping back into Nashville thanks to some great new artists. Most write their own but a great song, is a great song despite the current state of the charts.

5)   Might be a sincere comment but a smart song person will grab on to potential so this may fall into the ‘keep trying’ bin.

6)   Kinda like the last point but a bit tougher to take!

7)   Well, this one is often the truth. Think about it. If a publisher is invested in their writer they don’t need to bring in songs that are very similar in style.

8)   Usually a compliment but it’s easy to go away thinking “Yeah, of course that would be great but how?” This is a whole ‘nother blog but it is possible!

9)   Two ways to take it. A ‘no’, or know that the person you’re hearing this from really is on a mission to find that “Girl Crush”-esque song.

10) Man this one is tough, eh? Been there many times. Your song ticks all the boxes but just doesn’t stand out enough to make that person want to run with it. Truth is, your song needs to be unique to stand out from all the ones this person has been hearing from established writers. It’s hard but not impossible!

If you’re hearing any of these, don’t let them discourage you for a even a second. Weigh the info and the source, and if you’re hearing the same things over and over,  decide how to take ‘em to heart and dig in and by all means... don't shoot the messenger!

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

March 25, 2016

Photo: Shutterstock

 

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About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. Mark’s resume includes hits on the Pop, Country, R&B, Jazz, and Rock charts and several publishing deals with the likes of Virgin, Windswept Pacific, and Steelworks/Universal. Mark calls on his decades of experience in the publishing world, as an artist on major labels, co-writer with everyone from Eliot Kennedy and Burt Bacharach to Simon Climie and Kye Fleming, composing, and recording to mentor clients around the globe with iDoCoach. He is also a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting, Songwriter Magazine,  , sponsor for the ASA, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops.Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.