One day early in my career at a major publishing company, one of our
hottest songwriters at the time ( he was in the midst of a string of
#1 records) came into my office and asked my opinion of a new song he
"What are you
asking me for?" I asked. "I haven't written any number one songs lately."
He told me
something I've never forgotten: "I tend to get too close to my own songs.
I lose my perspective and I need the objective opinion of someone I
trust. Plus, you've gotta write 99 pieces of crap to get that one good
song, and sometimes the songwriter is the least able to tell the difference."
So I told him
I thought the bridge seemed twice as long as it needed to be and that
the chorus should come in after the first verse, not the second. He
thanked me and eventually changed the song. I was struck that a professional
writer of many hits would feel the need to ask anyone's opinion. It
was this moment that I began to realize that offering an opinion on
a song could be a benefit to the writer, not just a complaint or an
observation of weakness.
That same year,
we received a tape from our London office of a song by Graham Lyle and
Terry Britten. I was beyond excited when I heard the songI was convinced
this song could be a number one hit. After sending it out to a few well-chosen
label execs and producers, I sat back waited for the excitement to begin.
Certainly each and every one of the recipients would be amazed at my
great ears (oh, and the great song, too) and would all be calling to
put a "hold" on the song. I knew I had just hit my first home run.
No one called.
No response at all. Not even to "pass" on the song. Now I was certain
I had blundered in a major way. How could I be so wrong? Maybe my ears
were not perfect. A dark thought, indeed.
Then I got
a note back from a legendary A&R man: "A nice song, but not the 'top
5' smash we are looking for." Getting a response from this bigwig which
praised the song gave me some reassurance, and I continued to pitch
the song for several months. Still, no one responded. Oh, I made follow-up
calls to "make sure they had received the tape" but no one heard what
I heard in the song.
later, someone else from our company (from the London office, I think)
sent the song to Tina Turner who was working on a comeback album for
Capitol. "What's Love Got To Do With It" was the song that re-launched
Tina's career, went to #1 and became the biggest single off one of the
biggest albums of the year.
Was I right
about the song? Yes, though in the end I wasn't responsible for the
cut. Was everyone else wrong? Not neccessarily. As all you TAXI members
have heard, a song not only has to be good, it has to be right.
Is the lyric
something that artist would sing? Is the song too similar to another
song on the album? Is the tempo right when compared with other songs
on the album? Is the artist moved enough by the song to want to cut
it? All of these factors and more have to line up for a song to get
story on this same point: Again that same year we signed the writers
(Mary Ann Kennedy, Pat Bunch, and Pam Rose) of a Country song entitiled
"Safe in The Arms Of Love," among others. This outstanding song became
a #1 hit for Martina McBride in 1996almost fifteen years after it
was written. Great song, right circumstances.
I grew up thinking
great songwriters were bornnot made. That talent was a blessing that
came complete and a successful songwriter's life was the happy (and
well-paid) pursuit of one's calling.
Then I read
a quote from Randy Newman saying that writing songs was like torture
to him, that he had to force himself to sit down and write. Paul McCartney
tells of George Martin sending John Lennon and him back to write better
songs after hearing their first demo (they came up with "Please, Please
Me"). Paul wrote many songs for other artists (at the absolute height
of the Beatles) that were turned down by those artists! Some wanted
to change songs like "Yesterday" and "Come and Get It"!
I spent many
years pitching songs by the hottest writers in the business. It always
surprised me when their songs (great songs!) wouldn't get immediately
cut. It still surprises me that most of those songs never got cut.
the way it is. If it was easy, everybody would be a hit songwriter.
If you are writing songs because you want to be rich and famous, chances
are you'll be disappointed. But if you are writing because you love
to write, because you must write, then get involved in the process.
Come to terms with the process. Realize that the hurdles and disappointments
you face are shared by every songwriter. You have something in common
with the great ones.
Wanna publish this article on your website? Click here to find out how.