If you were a pre digital songwriter you’ve been navigating a whole new terrain. If you’re still operating under Old Rules (as I catch myself doing on many occasion), you may be wondering why the plumbing isn’t working the way it used to.
If you’re a millennial, the Old Rules never applied because the New Rules are all you’ve ever known. Lucky for you, no daze and confusion. That said you didn’t get to experience the gift of growing up on music from the ’70s :) Best ever. MO. Anyway...here are a few random Old/New Rules that even newbies may find entertaining….
Old Rule—As per the wise words of Suzan Koc, “We used to have fan clubs. Other people ran them.”
New Rule—Get your humble brag on. We are the head of our own fan club. And we’d better be able to toot our own horn on all social media platforms. Promote yourself even if it makes you SQUIRM! If you share a valuable musing or insight instead of just "come-to-my-gig-buy-my-record-listen-to-my-song," you'll have a much more appreciative following.
Old Rule—Seek out a publisher who’ll give you a decent advance so you can quit your waitressing job and make music full time. Hopefully, he or she will listen to all your songs (from the intro the through the fade!) They’ll pitch the ones they feel strongly about and sometimes even get in on an album that goes Diamond. (That’s 10 mill. It happened.)
New Rule—What album? Publishers aren’t pitching songs as fervently since understandably, they can’t recoup an advance from album sales. Better off finding yourself a manager who’s more able to get you in the room where it (a single) happens. Hang on to your day job though your 3rd top 10 hit.
Old Rule—Take you song to a “demo guy” who’ll track it and charge an hourly rate. No writers credit! Hopefully—God willing—he plays guitar. Midi is a huge leap forward.
New Rule—Learn Pro Tools, Logic, Abelton. Pick one. DIY as much as possible. (Personally, I never wanted to program. Thinking with that part of my brain took me away from writing the song. Admittedly, I have yet to put my money where my mouth is and I’m limited to the knowledge that a space bar has something to do with starting and stopping.)
For those of you who are deep into production you may want to check out "Produce Like a Pro," hosted by Warren Huart. We spent a fun hour last week talking about the Biz, altho, in this episode, we stuck to the topic of modern songwriting…as like I said…the space bar. (Oh and also, if you still haven’t read my book—grrrr—Warren arranged for a raffle to win a signed “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter.”) Thanks, Warren!
Old Rule—A duet stands a decent shot of being nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Duo because there are so few of them. If Celine records a duet with fill-in-the-blank it’s a shoo-in for one of the 5 Noms.
New Rule—If you’re itching for a Grammy, a duet is the last thing you want to write. That category is getting more competitive than solo performances since so many artist are featuring trending colleagues on a track in order to dip into their following. (Recently I saw a Billboard Ad for an album boasting "Double Platinum with No Features.” I had to think about the implications: If you can do it without Sia more power to you.)
Old Rule—2 maybe 3 writers Max on a song. More than that and you start losing the plot.
New Rule—Have a party. Bake a cake. Lots of ingredients. We often gather in my TV room to watch the Grammy telecast and legendary songwriter/A&R/manager Jon Lind once suggested that there should be a category for Best Song Written by Less than 5 People. :)
Old Rule— Send songs to labels. They WANT songs. They SOLICIT songs.
New Rule—It's the trusted gatekeepers and production companies who are working more personally with artists. You stand more of a chance getting a song on a record if you participate in a Song Camp or if you randomly strike up a conversation at a gas station with, unbeknownst to you, a playlist curator who could wind up doing you a good turn. If you pump his gas. Just kidding.
Old Rule—Pray your label can get your song on the radio.
New Rule—Pray your label can get your song on a Spotify Playlist. (With 60 million subscribers? Duh.)
Old Rule—Play out. Get signed. You need the muscle of a big machine.
New Rule—Own your MASTER!
Even Newer Rule—(There’s always the exception)—Chance and lesser known Youtube rapper, Bones release their own Mixtapes and had/have no interest in signing with a major. They’ve been thriving on Merch and Tickets sales. (I hope they’re cutting nonperforming co-writers in on that revenue.) That said, the reality is, that business model isn’t going to work for the majority of us. One needs talent, arrogance, ingenuity, stamina, savvy and luck. Let’s not forget Luck. (Have you seen The Defiant Ones? Worth watching.)
Old Rule—A Mixtape is a home-made compilation of music on a cassette.
New Rule—A Mixtape is a self-produced collection of songs for the purposes of a free-of-charge, independent release. It’s likely not on a cassette.
Old Rule—Stay connected to your creativity and your dreams through the ups and downs and in-betweens.
New Rule—Stay connected to your creativity and your dreams through the ups and downs and in-betweens.
Thankfully, some things never change. :)
Speaking of new rules…Here’s my friend Ian’s new song “New Rules.” He hustled long and hard and hung in there for years. Congrats Ian…and Emily and Caroline and Dua Lipa. (Love all the brunettes, btw!)
Thanks as always, for staying with me. Confessions of a Serial Songwriter is now available as an audio book, narrated by me! If you sign up for Audible the first book is free! Sign up for this Blog!
Shelley Peiken, SONA Steering Committee