Back before the advent of downloads, the music business was a different place. It didn't take much to get your song heard, at least in Nashville. Getting a song cut – particularly a single – was a lot harder, of course, but the truth is, now it's harder than ever. Here are three ways to actually get a cut – and what is actually involved with each.
1. Pitch a song to an artist
This is, hands down, the toughest road. If you're not friends with the artist or have personal connections with the producer, label executive, manager, etc., your window of opportunity is slim. When you couple this with the fact that most labels encourage artists to write their own material, the odds get even narrower.
If you don't have any contacts going in your favor (and, really, even if you do) you need a song that's in the top 10 percent at least. It needs to be better than something the artist (or his or her people) could come up with that still says it in a way that fits with his or her persona. The truth of it is cutting an outside song takes money off the artist and his or her team's table. If they're going to do that, it needs to be nothing less than Song-of-the-Year material.
2. Write with the artist
Although it's got its own set of pitfalls, some of the legwork here is basically done. You're writing a song that (hopefully) already speaks in the artist's voice, and there's already at least some form of relationship that's been developed. That's still no guarantee, of course – the artist may decide that he or she doesn't like your song after all or wants to go in a different direction musically, or they may never get (or even lose) label interest. Regardless, even with all these potential issues, this approach removes at least some uncertainty.
Now, of course, you're not going to be able to just walk into Carrie Underwood's label and ask to write with her; you're going to need to start from the bottom and work your way up. The best way to find an artist is go to shows or rounds in your area – even better if you're near a big music hub. If you like an artist's music, approach him or her and see if he or she is interested in collaborating. If not, don't worry, there's plenty of fish in the sea. Ideally, you'll find several artists whose work you love and are working hard to be break through – with any luck, one just might.
3. Be a producer
Just like songwriting, the skill set of a producer can be learned over time, and it can reap great results. If you have access to a home studio (or have the money to build or rent your own space) you've already got a head start.
As a producer, writing with the artists you're working with is not only expected, but often encouraged. This increases your chances of getting a cut on the album even more. Granted, the artist could still decide not to sing it or the label could ax the song, but you'll no doubt have more than one song on the project. Even better, you'll be getting paid as a producer on top of things.
Much like the previous option, you'll probably need to start at the bottom – hone your skills and seek out artists who are starting out. Develop those relationships, because you never know where they will lead over time. And if you happen to be successful, then so much the better. Labels and artists will start seeking you out, and soon, you'll have your pick of who to work with.
Nothing in this article is intended to discourage you. In fact, I hope it helps you focus your efforts on pathways that are more likely to work. It's also important not to get discouraged if things don't happen right away. Things take time, especially in an industry like this one. Keep pushing, keep honing your skills, and be smart, and you're sure to find success!
- 5 Exercises to Write More Creative Lyrics
- When, How, and Why to Break the Rules of Songwriting
- 7 Easy Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Out of a Songwriting Rut
- How to Write Songs That Get Stuck in People's Heads
- How to Find Co-Writers
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.