As an artist, a songwriter, or a music producer writing for/with an artist, it’s important to note that in order to break an artist, a song that makes a serious impact is required material. The kind that break the mold. Because in order to introduce a new artist to the public, you’ve got to carve an indelible signature into the hearts and minds of fans and followers. Obviously, that is way easier said than done or everyone would do it.
It starts with the artist knowing who they are. Not a given. I once heard Clive Davis say something to the effect of – what people don’t realize we did with Whitney was to make her more comfortable in her own skin than even she thought she could be.
Bam. It struck such a chord with me that from that point on, it is my singular focus in guiding emerging artists to gain their foothold.
In the mid-eighties, I had the good fortune of getting my demo to Clive through a friend. His response letter said that while he found me to be talented, that “the songs did not have enough energy to break a new artist at this time.”
While at the time, as an artist, this was painful to hear, as I myself became an artist developer I came to know, completely understand and respect the meaning behind his response.
Truth is, it’s way more than a pretty face and killer voice – it’s about finding who you are and your real message. And then, it’s about having the guts to say it.
Like the breakthrough songs from legends like Cyndi Lauper’s with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, or Adele’s Hello.
Signature songwriting is about branding who you are into your songs and making them fit you like a glove. That requires introspection, contemplation, risk, fearlessness (too many of us are afraid to reveal stuff), and ultimately revelation. Like Bob Marley’s Redemption Song or John Lennon’s Imagine.
The industry might tell you to write universal pop songs which translates to the novice songwriter (and even pro writers) as “generic”, lyrics that aren’t too heavy or revealing. The OPPOSITE of what great writing is all about, or should be about.
Great songwriting is like therapy, the more cathartic, the better.
If you want to break through as an artist no matter whether you’ve got five albums out or just one, don’t even think about putting your stuff out there until it’s got this kind of depth. Artists wonder why they have to go so deep. What about writing sexy uptempo songs? I say, until you can write deep stuff, your sexy uptempo songs will be too vague and without substance and weight ;). Start digging.
1. What Do I Write About?
I hear it all the time:
Artist: “What do I write about?”…
Me: “Well, what’s going on with you right now?”
Artist: “I don’t know, just life stuff…”
Me: “So tell me about that life stuff…”
One of the things you can do on your own is to start doing research on “you.” Write out the 3 defining moments in your life that changed you, or hurt you deeply, or where you saw things differently than before.
Hint: Usually they are things that are hard to talk about.
Write a song about each one.
2. Gaining Perspective.
Then apply that depth to what you are experiencing right now (might not be that different). #1 above will help you gain some perspective on yourself which is not easy to do, but is necessary for you to write anything of real value.
Hint: It’s hard to really write about something unless you’ve got perspective on it.
3. Taking A Deeper Dive.
Someone said it at an ASCAP conference years ago and I still hear people quoting it. They said something like: stop vying for attention from famous people in the business who are out of reach. Look around for the smartest and most talented people around you and rise up together. Check.
4. Conjuring Revelation.
Make your song your revelation. The thing you’ve been trying to say forever, but couldn’t until now. The thing that is hardest to say. What is screaming inside you to be said.
5. Taking Risks.
Our conditioning as humans tells us not to reveal what we’re thinking. Only to our closest friends. But songwriters have to pierce that veil. Risk is rewarded.
6. Telling the Truth.
What’s closest to the bone right now? If you don’t know, you need to spend some time getting to know yourself. Everyone who stands on the world stage has. You can too. Truth penetrates people – right to the solar plexus. Speak your truth. Only you can.
7. Giving Your Song a Payoff.
What is the payoff in your song? Be sure everything in the song points to the chorus. And please, make sure your first 4 lines foreshadow the payoff (the point). The more powerful your song’s payoff, the more we feel you.
If you want to get there faster (and better)… you might want to think about joining a songwriting program like ours below. It’s a great way to take a big jump ahead…
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