Ask Not What Your Song Can Do For You, But What You Can Do For Your Song

So, you realize that you’ve written a very good song.  Not good because YOU think it’s good, but because other people have voted by saying they want to use it … either on their album or in their regular worship services.  Or because you’re starting to get numerous requests for the chord chart.  Congratulations!  It sounds like you’re on your way.  Now what?

You may be wondering, “Wow, how big will this song get?  Is it a hit?  Will it buy me a new car … pay off those bills?”.  Hopefully, you’re asking what might this song do for other people (i.e. “Will it bless them, or help them in some way?”).   But invariably we also ask, “What could it do for me?”.

In my experience, a good song is like a good car.  And taking your song to the top of the charts, is like taking your car to the top of a mountain.  It takes fuel.  And unless you keep putting fuel into your tank, you’ll never make it to the top. 

Many great songs seem like a “flash in the pan” … straight to the top and then they disappear almost as quickly.   Others may make a slow climb to the top and then linger there for decades.  Why?  Is it all just random?  The answer is a resounding, “No.”.

I have learned over the years that for your song to make it to “hit” status, you have to take it there.  You have to drive it, just like you do the car.  And for your song to not only make it there, but to maintain that level of status and income for an extended period of time, it takes a strategy and a lot of hard work.  That must be done by either you, your music publisher, or both.  It doesn’t happen automatically.

GIVE YOUR SONG FUEL:
Those people who first gravitated toward your song … how did they know about it?   How did they discover it?  You had to do something to get the song in front of them.  You recorded it on your album, or made a video, or played it live, right?   Those uses of the song, are your fuel.  And you need A LOT of fuel to get to the top.    The bottom line is that each and every new tangible form of the song, or new performance of the song, has the possibility of reaching an additional group of people.  Therefore, creating as many unique commercial, and non-commercial, uses of the song as you can, will help drive the song to the top.

If you’re a songwriter/artist and you’ve recorded the song on your own album, don’t be afraid to let someone else record it too.  What you want is a male version, a female version, a rock version, a pop version, a kid’s version, a choral version … as many different recorded versions as possible.  You want printed versions for piano players, for guitar players, for singers … chord charts for bands, choral arrangements … even a marching band version when your song hits the radio (And we could go even deeper with this – easy piano, intermediate piano, advanced piano and the same type of thing for guitar, choir, etc.).  You want the song on television, in film, available as ringtones, and even in advertisements when possible.  You want visual resources for church worship (if it’s a congregational song).  You want multiple artists performing the song live and on different radio formats.  You want churches to use it in their services (for congregational songs).  You want the song on concept albums and compilation albums. You want the title of the song to be used as the title of projects.  You want the song to be available in all these ways in as many languages as possible, and available in as many countries as possible.  The list goes on and on.  The more people you can put the song in front of, the better chance it has of making it to the top.

That’s the hard work I’m talking about.  This is why a music publisher is so important.  The publisher has contacts, relationships and business deals that most songwriters don’t have themselves, or couldn’t secure as an individual.   With these relationships and business deals, the publisher’s primary job is to keep your song tank full of fuel by generating consistent uses in various formats year after year after year.   Ever wondered why a decades old song may have a modern resurgence?  That’s the work of a good publisher, generating a significant new use of the song years after the song was a successful hit, to do it all over again!  

One of the most common mistakes I see today is that many young artists are afraid to work with a publisher, because they don’t want to give away any portion of the income that they might make on the 5,000 copies of their indie album.  The common phrase in my town among these amateurs is, “keep your publishing”.  But they’re missing the bigger picture.  Although these indie songwriter/artists may even score a successful radio hit, their songs rarely find their way onto any other commercial project past the artist’s own, and the song soon dies.  They are thinking about what their song can do for them, instead of what they can do for their song (which ultimately WILL benefit the writer).

I realize that every good song is not going to be signed by a publishing company.  That means it may be a longer road and a slower climb.  But there are many things you can do yourself to maximize exposure for your song.  My philosophy has always been to “give it away” first.  Seed the market, create interest and demand.  Get it to as many people as possible, in various forms.  If you can consistently generate great exposure for your song, exposure that will touch a broad spectrum of people types … and if your song is truly a good one, it will catch on like wildfire.  But you have to keep putting fuel in the tank (0r on the fire, in this case) to make that happen.  The good news is that with social networks and email, this process is much easier now, than ever before.  When your great song gets the right level of exposure, the people making commercial projects will hear about it.  So, work hard and don’t be surprised when you get that phone call to use it on one or more of their projects!

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