This Article Originally Published March 2007

by Sam Horn, Author of POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd

part one  |  part two

Do your songs stand out? Is your work getting the attention and respect it deserves?

The importance of being able to "stand out and get noticed" became crystal clear to me the first year I emceed the Maui Writers Conference. We were proud to give budding authors from around the world a chance to meet face-to-face with decision-makers — to have an unprecedented opportunity to pitch their books and screenplays to respected agents, editors, and directors who had the power to give their projects a green light.

One woman emerged from her one-on-one meeting with tears in her eyes. I asked, "What happened?"

"I walked in and gave the editor my manuscript," she said. "He took one look at it and told me, "I don't have time to read all that. Just tell me in a couple sentences what your book is about and why people will want to read it."

"My mind went blank," she said, "I thought it was his job to figure out how to sell it. I just tried to write the best novel I could."

During the rest of that conference, I discovered she wasn't the only one who thought the quality of her work would speak for itself. Other authors and screenwriters seemed to think that if they had succeeded in producing a quality project, it would elicit interest.

Wrong. There are thousands of well-written books. The point was, how was hers different? Why would it break out from all the other books on the shelves? What was a succinct sales sound bite that would motivate busy people to try it and buy it?

My heart went out to those discouraged individuals whose dreams had been shattered. It wasn't that their work wasn't worthy, they just didn't have a pitch ready that proved WHY it was worthy.

I started helping authors prepare succinct "Tell 'n Sell" descriptions that communicated the commercial viability of their projects in a way decision makers "got" it and "wanted" it. News spread about my clients' success, and other individuals and organizations started hiring me to craft marketing messages that got their projects noticed and bought.

I developed my own intellectual capital called POP!, which consists of 25 techniques for developing innovative titles, taglines, brands and business names that help you and your creations POP! out of the pack so you're one of a kind instead of one of many.

In this article, I'll share 10 of those techniques so the next song you write gets noticed, bought, and remembered.

POP! Technique #1: Develop a Pitch that is Purposeful, Original, and Pithy

"You've got to be a good date for the reader." — Kurt Vonnegut

Simply said, decision-makers (i.e., club owners, bookers, producers) have so much on their mind, the only way to get them to notice you is to pleasantly surprise them by saying something relevant, fresh, and brief. This is so rare, it indicates you could be a good "date" and they'll stop what they're doing and give you a chance. The key to intriguing people in what you have to offer is to make sure the first words out of your mouth are:

Purposeful = What do you say when a decision-maker says, "What's this song about? Why is it right for us?" If they are scratching their heads at the end of your response, you've just wasted their time. Ask yourself, "What are they looking for? How does my song deliver that for them?" Prepare a purposeful pitch that elicits raised eyebrows (a sure sign of interest) and a nod of understanding instead of a furrowed brow of confusion.

Original = No matter what type of song you're composing, it's one of many. One of many love songs, one of many country-western tunes, one of many theme songs submitted for this TV show. Decision makers are yearning for something that doesn't blend in and sound like everything else. How is your creation different from the competition? What new lyric or innovative melody makes yours stand out from all the ones they've heard?

Pithy = Did you know ALL of the top slogans of the twentieth century (i.e., Nike's "Just do it," Avis' "We try harder," Wheaties' "Breakfast of Champions," as selected by Advertising Age magazine) are less than seven words? Why? The human brain can only hold about seven bits of information in short-term memory. Is your pitch or song title longer than seven words? If so, people probably won't be able to repeat it. And if they can't repeat it, they won't be able to remember it. And if they don't remember it, they won't remember you. You've just unintentionally taken yourself out of the game.

POP! Technique #2: Identify and Write in the Mindset of Your Target Audience

"When are you going to realize that if it doesn't apply to me, it doesn't matter?" — Candace Bergen's character on the TV sitcom "Murphy Brown"

You may have a brilliant song, but if it doesn't apply or matter to the decision-maker, s/he won't be motivated to buy it.

That's why it's crucial to identify exactly who has the power to get your song produced or purchased. Who are you asking for their time, attention, and approval?

Don't think of the millions of people who (hopefully) will eventually buy your song. Picture the specific individual who has the authority to give you a yes and/or a check, NOW. The key to getting your project's foot in their mental door is to clarify the following information about them and customize your pitch so it's relevant to their circumstances.
  • Age: How old is this individual or business? What's their history? Have they been in this profession a long time? (i.e., You wouldn't want to insult a seasoned executive's intelligence with a basic pitch if they've been in the business for decades — you'd want to honor their expertise and wisdom.)

  • Size: Is this a one-person operation or a multi-national corporation? Is the individual petite, tall, large?

  • Income: Is this individual wealthy or barely making their mortgage? Is this company making millions or in a financial freefall? (The value of your work is relative to the person's buying power. The exact same song could be sold for 3, 4, or 5 figures based on the decision-makers' budget.)

  • Mood: Teen-agers know to check their parents' frame of mind before asking for the car keys. Is this business owner flying high or worried about his club closing? Is this company's stock soaring or are they downsizing and everyone's wondering if they'll have a job next week?

  • Extenuating Circumstances: Did this decision-maker just win a Grammy? Mention it! Does this agent represent clients who have a similar style? Indicate why you complement them vs. compete with them. What else could affect their ability or motivation to give you a deal? If you anticipate possible resistance, you can still win buy-in by addressing it and neutralizing it in your pitch.
POP Technique #3: Create a Tell 'n Sell Elevator Speech

"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." — Robert McCloskey

Do you find the more you try to explain what you do, the more confused people become?

That's because explanations don't clarify, they confuse. The best elevator speeches link something unfamiliar (your work) to something with which the person is familiar and fond. This often elicits immediate comprehension and an enthusiastic "I get it now."

I discovered this technique while on a speaking tour in Denver with my sons. We had a free night so we asked our hotel concierge for suggestions. He took one look at Tom and Andrew and said, "You've got to go to D & B's."

We were from Maui at the time and had no idea what he was talking about. I asked, "What's D & B's?"

Instead of explaining that it stood for Dave and Buster's (which would have meant nothing to us), he grinned and said, "It's like a Chuck E. Cheese for adults."

Perfect. Seven words and we knew exactly what it was and wanted to go there.

Do you have a clear, concise, and compelling elevator speech?

Even if you hate being asked "What do you do?" you might as well get used to that question — and get good at answering it — because it is never going away. When people meet us for the first time, they have no framework for us. This is simply their way of getting a handle on who we are so they have a hook on which to hang a conversation.

Instead of dreading that question, why not view it as a carte blanche opportunity to craft an intriguing response that a) launches enjoyable conversations, b) favorably positions you and your work, and c) increases the likelihood of you making meaningful connections with everyone you meet?

You may be thinking, "Okay, I agree this is important, I just don't know how to do it."

Simply ask yourself, "What is my business, music, or idea like . . with a twist? What movie is it like? What person is it like? What book is it like? What song is it like? By comparing something unknown to something this person knows and likes, they get an instant Aha! You've made the obscure clear. I call this The Eureka Moment.

For example, a suggested tagline for the move Jaws was "It's like Moby Dick... with a shark." The slogan for popular restaurant Smith & Wollensky's is, "If steak were a religion, this would be its cathedral." A friend pitched her book about her life as a dating grandmother with "It's like Bridget Jones' Mother's Diary."

From now on, when people ask, "What do you do?" or "What type of music do you play?" compare it to something they know and like. If they light up and say, "Oh, that's interesting, tell me more," you've succeeded in crafting a Tell 'n Sell elevator speech. If their eyebrows knit and they look puzzled, it's back to the drawing board.

POP! Technique #4: Pair the Unexpected to Create a One-of-a-Kind Phrase

"I was forced to go to a positive-thinking seminar. I couldn't stand it. So I went outside to the parking lot and let half the air out of everybody's tires. As they came out I said, 'So, are your tires half full or half empty?'" — Adam Christing

I believe the best way to corner a niche is to create a niche. And the best way to create a niche is to coin your own word.

How can you do this? By combining the multi-faceted aspects of your work into a new phrase — what I call a Half and Half Word — that belongs to you.

For example, imagine you want to create a new type of dance music for teens and twenty-something's. Simply get out a fresh piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center to create two columns. Label the left column "New Dance Styles" and label the right column "Old Dance Styles." Now, list all the different styles of dance you can think of in their appropriate column. Your list may look something like this.

New Dance Styles

  Old Dance Styles

Mashed Potato
Big Band

Now, start blending the first half of the words on the left with the last half of the words on the right. Keep playing with combinations until you come up with something that POP!s.

Let's see. There's rap-room. Stepping in the Mashed Potatoes. Hmm, how about Hip-bop? That's half hip-hop and half bebop. In fact, I recently saw an article about the Country Music Awards Show. Guess what a reporter called a catchy tune that made you want to kick up your heels and hit the dance floor? Hick hop!

By the way, the second you come up with a commercially viable new word, you know what you might want to do next?

Head to or your favorite domain registration site. If it's available, you can lock in that URL for $7.95 a year (the current price in 2007 while I'm writing this) and build a website around that coined word. Now, you don't just have a one-of-a-kind phrase that's going to get your work noticed, you have the beginnings of a business empire.

POP! Technique #5: Capture WordPlays that Get a Smile and a Sale

"Let's give 'em something to talk about." — Lyric in Bonnie Raitt's song

The above system provides a systematic way to produce new words that get "talked about." We also can create new words by mistake when we mispronounce them or get them mixed up. Instead of apologizing for your gaffe and moving on; play with what "came out" to see if you can turn it into a funny song title or lyric. If it made you smile, it will probably make other people smile.

For example, I was explaining the concept of serendipity to my son. I could tell Andrew was really intrigued by the idea that "there is no such thing as a meaningless coincidence." Later that night, he came up to me and said, "Mom, I really like that concept of... seren-destiny." A smart musician could capitalize on that sublime phrase and turn it into a chart-topping song.

Comedian Rich Hall calls these humorous words that aren't in the dictionary, but should be, "sniglets." Some favorites include:
  • staremaster (workout buffs and gym rats who constantly look at themselves in the mirror")

  • intaxation (euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to begin with)

  • reintarnation (coming back to life as hillbilly)

  • gramstand (to brag excessively about one's grandchildren)

  • Entrée'preneur (a celebrity chef or restaurant owner)
Just as a jazz pianist riffs off standard chords to improvise new music, you can riff off common words to improvise new language.

See the word Entrée'preneur above? I turned that into Authorpreneur which refers to writers who take entrepreneurial responsibility for promoting their books. By using that same process, you could call TAXI boss Michael Laskow a Songpreneur or a Musicpreneur.

Don't forget to check out Part Two!

Sam Horn helps individuals and organizations develop innovative titles, taglines and identities so they are one-of-a-kind instead of one-of-many. Through her convention keynotes, one-on-one consulting, CD series and books, and weekend Brand Camps, she has helped thousands of people catapult their creativity and income.

Visit for free articles, to purchase Sam's products, to schedule one-on-one consulting, to find out when Sam will be speaking in your area, or to register for an upcoming weekend retreat. Her work has been praised by Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Jeffrey Gitomer, Ken Blanchard, and Edelman Sr. VP Marilynn Mobley who said, "If you liked Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, you'll love Sam Horn's POP!"

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