Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters

Why Are Most of the Pitch Leads Country?

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Image-2-2015-BillboardChartWe’re often asked why so many of the SongU.com pitch leads for original songs are for the Country genre. The reason is a fairly simple one: Country is one of the rare popular genres of music in which many of the major artists are open to recording “outside” songs. What does that mean? It means that they are willing to listen to and record a song that they did not write or co-write themselves.  My friend, song plugger Jeffrey Nelson, regularly compiles a list of major-label Country artists who have recorded outside songs. In the last part of last year, he counted 27 Country artists who recorded 50-100% outside songs on their albums, and another large group who recorded at least one or more outside song. Some of those songs were written by songwriters who hadn’t previously had a major-label artist record their songs. In other words, there are still many big Country artists who believe in the power of a great song no matter where it comes from. Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, and Faith Hill are all notorious for recording great outside songs. Thus, they all can boast an incredible number of hits.

This is in sharp contrast with most of the Pop and Hip-Hop stars, who create their hits in the studio together with a group of other musicians and songwriters who contribute beats/tracks, topline melodies, lyrics, and hooks. Often these major artists rely on only the hottest hit makers and producers like Max Martin or Dr. Luke or Pharrell, making it much more difficult for an untested songwriter to insert themselves into their projects.

Justin Timberlake talks about working with Pharrell, Timbaland, Max Martin

Admittedly, some of the iconic pop singers like Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston, for example, always depended on great outside songs, as have some of the more current pop stars such as Rhianna. And while this year’s Shawn Mendes’ hit song “Stiches” was written by Daniel Parker, Teddy Geiger, and Daniel Kyriakides, and Selena Gomez didn’t write her hit “Same Old Love”, major-label pop opportunities are decidedly tougher to come by. Rock/Pop bands tend to build their reputation on the strength of their own sound and their own self-written songs and unique vibe.

If I don’t write Country, how do I get my songs recorded?

Where does that leave you in terms of pitching if you’re writing Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, Electronic, Retro, Americana, Classical-Operatic, or a variety of other valid genres?

1) Independent Artists.  – If smaller indie artists cut your song on their album, it probably won’t net you much (if any) income, but there are still many advantages. First, it’s simply flattering that your song speaks to an artist so much that they want to sing it and record it for their audience. Also, it’s a good way to get a new recording (demo) of your song that you can use to pitch to bigger artists. In addition, it’s exposure for your song. Songwriter Jon Ims, for example, tells the story of how a local band had recorded one of his songs on their album and took it to Nashville in hopes of landing a record deal. While in Nashville, they played it for a big record producer. That producer, Garth Fundis, had no interest in signing the band, but loved the song Jon wrote called “She’s In Love With The Boy”. Fundis decided to record that song on his new act, Trisha Yearwood. Needless to say, “She’s In Love With The Boy” became Trisha’s breakout single and launched a stellar career for her AND for songwriter Jon Ims (who after moving from Colorado to Nashville that same year had another hit single “Fallin’ Out of Love” for Reba McEntire).

2) Placements in Film/TV/Media. – Films, TV shows, commercials and other alternative media always need music but don’t want to pay top dollar to get big hits by by big stars. That leaves the door open for you if you’re writing songs that have a certain “sound” or specific genre that they just happen to need. We had several members get Country songs placed in the TV show “Nashville” for example. But the song needs are as vast and varied as the media itself. If you’re writing in any genre, there’s a chance to get your song placed.

  • At SongU.com we offer regular opportunities by our guest music supervisor, Nancy Peacock, who will give us current leads from her contacts with production companies. She’s taken our members’ songs for specific leads, but also for a non-exclusive contract to pitch on comp tapes that she sends out when there is a need (i.e. love songs for Valentine’s Day commercials that can also be used for background music in a movie or TV show).
  • The occasional unexpected opportunities come along too. Through an odd encounter I had at the Jersey shore, I was able to put up an exclusive listing for our members to submit their songs to the music supervisor for the NBC Olympic Games in Beijiing. Over 50 songs from our members went to those games!
  • We have a great series of DIY webcasts by Benn Cutarelli and Dan Robinson called “The Next Rung” all about how to get your songs into film/TV/and media. They’ll let you how their song got into the major motion picture “The Longest Yard.” Go to the DIY course catalog to find these courses.

3) Network and Collaborate. – The Jon Ims story above reminds us that networking at any level, even locally, has the potential to yield big results. Other important network outlets are music publishers and songpluggers, performing rights organization reps, and of course your peers. The new songwriters and aspiring artists of today, might be the next big thing tomorrow.

kelsea-ballerini

Breakout Country music superstar, Kelsea Ballerini, said in an interview recently that her first album is a bunch of songs written by her and her friends. Her friends were unknown emerging songwriters that had been networking and co-writing and sticking with it. They were all just doing the “hang in there” thing that we do when we’re creative people wanting to earn a living through our efforts. Sometimes you get lucky. It paid off for one of our SongU.com alumni, Lance Carpenter, who was one Kelsea’s co-writer friends on her #1 Platinum-certified breakout song “Love Me Like You Mean It” which skyrocketed her into the spotlight. Chalk one up for breaking in to the music business! (Also known as ten years to overnight success.)

Additonally, several of our members have had great success with smaller music markets. Two different members, Barbara Wilkinson and Ed Williams both had #1 songs on the Bluegrass Charts with separate artists. Another, Don Eidman, was nominated for a Dove Award for best Christian song (Bluegrass), and another, Pat Kelley, had a single with a major Christian artist as well. Just this month, Canadian-based SongU.com member, Stephen Adrian Lawrance, broke into the major-label Canadian Country market with an “outside” song for Aaron Pritchett, “When a Momma’s Boy Meets a Daddy’s Girl”  (co-written with A. Godvin/M. Webber) with the assistance of previously-mentioned song plugger Jeffrey Nelson, who he met through SongU.com. Find details of those successes here.

Remember that you can choose to look beyond the roadblocks and find alternative routes to success. The only real reason to write songs is because you love doing it. There are no guarantees except the ability to enjoy the ride. Sure, that ride can be bumpy, maybe take longer than you anticipated (“Mom, when are we gonna get there!”), but it’s always rewarding, not to mention fun, to follow your passion.

Author: Sara Light

Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score." Sara has always combined her love of teaching with her love of songwriting and has given countless songwriting seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2001 she co-founded, along with her husband Danny Arena, the online educational website www.SongU.com. Besides being one of the main administrators (and now bloggers) Sara teaches Song Feedback and Lyric Writing at SongU.com.

3 thoughts on “Why Are Most of the Pitch Leads Country?

  1. Sara, Thank you. this is a great article! You and Danny are Awesome. Love and hugs, joyce >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderfully stated. You have a way of giving encouragement while keeping it real.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed this article on writing and pitching. I always like hearing the stories behind the songs. Thanks for the sharing your knowledge and providing good advice. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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