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I want to clear something up for you: There is no such thing as just “selling a song”.
I understand, you’ve painstakingly written this incredible hit song, and everyone is telling you how great it is. You’ve got girls dancing on the bar when you play it. Now, you want to sell the song to a major artist or a publisher here in Nashville. You’ve heard about this Internet thing and think you can send off a few emails or post it all over Facebook and make $50,000 because Blake Shelton is going to write you a check for this song when he hears it.
It simply doesn’t work like that. It’s not like manufacturing, where you build something tangible and sell it for a profit.
The reason it’s not that simple is complicated to explain, but just understand that in Nashville there are thousands of great songwriters who are already here writing great songs for publishers and artists literally everyday.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s very likely that your song just isn’t that good. I’m not saying mine are, but I will say that everything I had written before moving to Nashville doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff I have written since living in Nashville.
To be a songwriter, you have to live, eat, sleep and breathe the craft. There are so many incredible songwriters here that will inevitably open your mind and make you a better writer. It’s also partly about who you know. Sure, you have to have good songs, but knowing the right people is what opens those doors to having one of your songs cut by a major artist. There are many approaches that will get you to where you want to be, whether it’s a writing deal or a serendipitous encounter with someone that sets you on the right course.
With the Internet, you can certainly build yourself a foundation which will give you more exposure and credibility, and you can pursue certain channels outside of Nashville that will get your songs heard by some of the right people. But actually living here in Nashville is a musical journey that any serious songwriter has to take if they want to improve their chances for success. You might not have to move here, but visit here, stay a week, make friends, go to writers nights. You have to keep at it. Your bubble will only burst if you have the impression that your song is so good, that anyone who hears it will buy it on the spot. That just doesn’t happen – it has, I mean, there are stories, but how many times have you played the lottery and hit the jackpot?
In the country market, songs are rarely written by the artists. Taylor Swift is a good example of the exception to that. But typically, all the creation happens in the big machine that is “country music”.
Around Nashville, there are established networks that are in place to keep Joe the songwriter from bombarding executives and artists with crappy songs. It’s a pretty tight filtration system. You have to play the game if you want to join the circle. When you move to Nashville and stick around long enough for people to realize you are a serious writer, doors will slowly begin to open. Think of advertising, and how many millions of dollars go into exposing you to a product until you finally remember it and eventually buy it. It’s the same with songs; the first time someone hears your song, they might be distracted, or they might not fall in love with it. So you have to keep playing around town and expose people to your style of writing. You have to show that you are actually a songwriter and write other good stuff besides that one good one. Eventually, people will begin to recognize you and remember they liked your songs the last time they heard you, and they’ll stick around to hear you again.
You’ll meet a lot of smoke blowers and over time, you’ll learn how to act around the people who can really open doors for you. Remember, just because someone has had success in the industry does not mean they can help you. Your personalities might not match, or it might not be the right timing. Also, remember that just because someone has had success does not mean they are rolling in the money; their own professional connections might be dwindling. Every hit songwriter is searching for their own next big hit, so if you do have that great song, they are usually not willing to just introduce you to all their connections. They’ll likely want to build a relationship with you and start co-writing so they can get a piece of you and help you grow. They all have their own publishing companies, so they’ll be sure to sign you up under theirs so they can get their share. However, if you get signed up under one of the better publishing companies with the stronger connections, you are more likely to have your name on the next hit song. It’s so hard to do this unless you are living here in Nashville for a while. That’s why songwriters move here. It takes time. And it takes a major hit song, or a lot of moderately hit songs to make a living. Everyone is working hard to make that living.
There are advantages to being with a bigger publisher; they schedule you to write with other great songwriters, and when you present them with a good song, they will pay to have a demo recorded, and with all their major connections, they’ll pitch it to be on a major artist’s upcoming album. There are definitely advantages, but if you’re like me – a non-country songwriter – this system is pretty much useless to you.
Me personally, I am not in the country market, but I see several people who are and I pay attention to their struggles and successes. Even though I don’t write country music, if I wanted to, I would take my own advice. Since I have my own style, I am taking a different approach with my personal strategy. I record my own music and I am my own artist. I enjoy performing and feel I have my own special message to share with the world.
If you are not going to be just a songwriter and also like to perform, then I suggest you take the steps to record your songs professionally here in Nashville; stop making demos and start investing in yourself. That is the ultimate reason I moved here. I knew there would be extremely professional musicians, producers and engineers who could capture the sound I wanted for my music.
So each of us has our own path, but if you are taking the path to being a country music songwriter, you are taking the path most traveled and therefore have a lot of other travelers taking that path with you. In advertising, it’s called “noise”. However, in taking the country music songwriter’s path, you’ll find that at least you have a solid road map and if you follow the course, you’ll get to your destination. Step one: Be in Nashville and find your course. Step two: Stay the course.