Old Dog - New Tricks?

By Jason Blume

I recently listened to songs by several writers who are exceptionally talented, but frustrated by their inability to translate their musical talents into a full-time living. Their songs and productions were excellent and really sounded like they could have been hits, but there was one huge problem. They sounded like they could have been hits—20 years ago.

I've heard it said that we tend to write the kinds of songs we listened to back when we were in high school—and in my experience, that tends to be true. I'll confess that while I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the talents of artists such as Daughtry, Alicia Keys, Timbaland, Amy Winehouse, Maroon 5, Kanye West, Nickelback, Beyoncé, and many other current stars, when I listen to their music, I don't get that feeling I got when I practically wore out my Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, the Beatles, the Doors, and Joni Mitchell albums, as a teenager.

Those writers, whose songs I evaluated, told a familiar story. They'd set their artistic goals on the back burner to earn a living and raise a family—and now, in their 40s or 50s, they want to pursue their dreams. Is it possible?

Yes... but it's going to take a lot of work—and the willingness to conform to the demands of the current market. My prescription was that they study the current songs and productions they enjoy, and use these songs and productions as models and templates to help move them into the current mainstream.

The reality is that I can't write Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell songs and realistically expect to earn a living in 2008. Nor can you write songs that would have been perfect for Huey Lewis, Kansas, Robert Palmer, Whitney Houston, James Ingram, Black Sabbath, or the Bee Gees, and expect to place them with current recording artists.

Similarly, if you want to write Country hits—listen to and analyze the hits by Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, and Kenny Chesney—not Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Willie Nelson. Not that these legends weren't extraordinary artists—but their music is not being played on current Country radio.

It's true that there are fewer artists than ever recording songs they or their producers haven't had a hand in—but it is still possible to land outside cuts. Artists such as Celine Dion, Josh Groban, the "Radio-Disney" acts; and lots of Country artists are still open to recording an exceptional song. There are also lots of "popportunities" beyond the U.S., including the winners and runners-up in "Idol" competitions in more than 30 countries (and Jordin Sparks included "outside" songs for her post-"American Idol" debut). And remember that while there are fewer outlets for us to place songs with artists, there have never been more network and cable TV channels (all using music 24/7), as well as chances to place songs in films. But unless a film or TV show is set in the past, the music they use will need to sound current.

Consciously targeting the current market is not an easy or quick shift to make—but it's do-able—and virtually every songwriter currently on the charts, who has passed "the Big 3-0," has found a way to tailor his or her work to the demands of the current market.

If you don't like the kinds of music being played on the radio—don't write it. But I'd bet that if you look hard enough you can find ways to take the essence of what you want to write, and tweak it and produce it so that it can find a slot in today's marketplace.

Write what you love—but if what you love is mired in the past, don't expect to find a home for it in the future.

I wish you all the best of luck.

Jason Blume

P.S. Come access my weekly blog at www.myspace.com/jasonblumesongwriter

Jason Blume's songs are on albums that have sold more than 50,000,000 copies and have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Gipsy Kings, the Backstreet Boys, Jesse McCartney, and top Country stars. One of the only writers to ever have singles on the Pop, Country, and R&B charts all at the same time, Jason authored three best-selling songwriting books, all published by Billboard Books. For info about upcoming workshops and more visit www.jasonblume.com.


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