This Article Originally Published October 1997


by Rex Benson

Frustration is a common foe to all of us who have put our creative souls on the line. It's the same at every level, and in every genre of music.

Recently, one TAXI member wrote to me and expressed specific and general frustrations which he has faced in his own creative process. Following is a letter I sent responding to his questions. Perhaps it may also address some of yours:

Dear _________:

Thanks for writing and expressing your concerns. I can certainly understand your frustration. It's the same trial and error process that we've all had to go through—not necessarily knowing why our work is being returned, or "passed on" in industry terms.

Please be aware that when we screen songs here at TAXI, we are screening with specific criteria in mind, as per each specific listing. For example, if we receive a request for songs for Alabama and a strong song comes in, but doesn't lend itself to harmony, or meet the conceptual needs as described to us by the record company running the listing, we still cannot forward the song. In effect, each TAXI member is pitching for a project, just as each publisher on Music Row is pitching for any given specific project. This explains why a song might be forwarded at one time and not at another. I myself have returned many tapes, only to later forward those same songs when they worked for a different listing.

Regarding The Hook: This term means different things to different styles of music. In country music, the Hook is the title. It is what will literally cause an artist to pick up your tape and put it in his/her deck.

Working at my own publishing company, I spend a lot of time with artists, and you might be surprised to learn how song selection is really done in country music. When an artist and/or his producer put out the word that songs are needed, they come in to that artist through the record company A&R department, through the publishers, the producers, the band members, the bus drivers, relatives, and through anyone else that can access the artist. Virtually hundreds of tapes will be collected on the artist's bus. In 90% of the cases, that's where the songs will be heard and chosen. What will get your tape listened to is the title—The Hook.

To be successful and to also get the artist's attention, the Hook needs to be either visual, like "Wichita Lineman," or a twist, like "If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me," or emotional, like "I Swear," or catchy, like "Two Of A Kind Working On A Full House." But regardless, it has to "hook" the artist, and in turn, the listener. A great title is to a song what a great piece of land is to a home. It's the setting. You wouldn't build your dream home in a poor setting, would you? Similarly, you'll want to have a great title as the setting for your dream song!

Song Sections: Currently, country music is chorus dominated. Two great examples of this are Ricochet's "Daddy's Money," and Faith Hill's "It Matters To Me." These songs really illustrate how the purpose of the first verse is to get to the chorus. The purpose of the second verse is also to get back to the chorus. In songs that have bridges, their purpose is provide a brief break between sections.

Current competitive structures are shown in the table below.

Keeping your sections simple will really help. Remember—country music is Hook/Lyric driven. It is a story-telling medium.

There's a reason why they say we only know three chords in Nashville. It's because many of the musical aspects of songs which are more prevalent in pop music, are down-played some in country music.

The Competition: It's tough, and we're trying to give our members a clear idea of what the real world is like out there in terms of placing songs. But at some point, things which you hear about from us now, will become instinctive to you—like riding a bike. You will no longer have to think about when the chorus should appear or whether your song needs a bridge. You'll feel it.

V1__________ V1__________ V1__________
__________ __________ __________
__________ __________ __________
__________ __________ __________
CH__________ CH__________ V2__________
__________ __________ __________
__________ __________ __________
__________ __________ __________
V2__________ __________ BR__________
__________ __________ __________
__________ __________ __________
__________ V2__________ __________
CH__________ __________ V3__________
__________ __________ __________
__________ CH__________ __________
__________ __________ __________
BR__________ __________
__________ __________
CH__________ __________
__________ __________
__________ __________
__________ __________
TAG_________ Repeat CH.

As a writer/publisher/song plugger, Rex Benson has placed songs with country artists such as Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Tammy Wynette, Kenny Rogers and others. Rex currently represents his songs and songs of other writers, in both Nashville and Los Angeles. He is also a member of the TAXI A&R staff.

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