There’s a great, very Nashville saying that sh** makes great fertilizer and ya gotta write a lot of sh** before you grow some good songs. There’s wisdom in that for sure but just how much sh** do you need to write?
I coach writers all over the world every week and one of the things that will pop up from time to time is the amount of songs they write. Some use it as a source of pride; “ I wrote 100 songs last year”. Others are freakin’ out because their output is more like 10. Others will talk about how fast they wrote the song I’m about to hear. “15 minutes … all it took”. Still, others sigh and say “I’ve been working on this song for 6 months.”
Nobody cares. I’ll say it again. Nobody cares.
No one who hears your song knows how long it took you to write it or how many other songs you wrote in a year. They care about the one they’re hearing today. We’re all writing for the listener and we’re writing to connect. There’s no time clock in songwriting. If you study great songs and great songwriters you’ll come across stories ranging from “I woke up with it fully formed” to “the idea was in my head for years” and even co-writers who talk about getting back together to finish a song they started long ago. In the end, it’s all about the song.
There are cases for both sides of the quantity vs quality argument. I know writers who write or co-write a song a day. Writers on music row might write 2 or 3 in a day. If it works for you then it’s a great way to write. The odds go up of getting a cut if you have a ton of quality songs out there. Goes up even more if you have a couple of co-writers with publishers working all of these songs.
Will It Grow?
In truth, those writers are going to tell you not all of those songs are great. Some are fertilizer or maybe their publisher decides which have the best chance of growth. They are going to demo and pitch the great ones - that’s a given. I won’t even go into the current trend of producer-writers, writing by committee or with a team. You see 8 writers on some current hits. Enough said.
On the other side you have the writers who are the constant gardeners. They may write a bunch but they’re only gonna show their best. They may work them over, or dismiss them quick and not count them as songs until they feel they have a killer one.
If you reach the point of having to come up with less fertilizer and more roses you could fall in the area of having to contractually come up with say, 20 a year. Keep in mind publishers know their math. If you are one of 3 writers on a song, that’s a third of a song. Three of those co-writes makes one toward your quota.
I will say that at the beginning of your songwriting career it’s huge to make lots fertilizer. The more tools you develop the less of this you may do.
I would just hope to encourage you by saying at the end of the day, however you got there, whoever you got there with, your song has to connect with the listener and the listener has no clue how it was created. How many came before? How long did it take? Nobody cares!
May 19, 2017
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Check out this interview in the recent edition of M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!
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 through iDoCoach.com. 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. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.