This blog post reminds me of some of my favorite memes, you know the ones that say, "You Had. One. Job." But when it comes to the role of a professional songwriter … it’s totally true. You only have ONE job.
And I’m going to break it down simply. Your only job is … ONLY … TO MAKE … FIRE! YES. FIRE! That’s it! Not just any fire … but F I R E in a Brian Johnson, AC/DC kind of “FIGGGGHHHYAHHHHHHH!!!!” way. (For those uninitiated please refer to this link to “For Those About to Rock” for my reference).
In other words, your job isn’t to make “nice” and “pretty good” music. Why? Because everyone and anyone is already doing that. And at the end of the day in my book of “what counts” (especially today), no one cares about passivity especially today within the context of 100,000 new releases per week … literally (that number is not an exaggeration).
Your only option as a songwriter today in this climate is to make hits (aka “FIRE”) or do amazing with synchronization licenses (which are also usually “fire” songs!).
Now, let’s make sure for any of the “sensitive” artists out there (but this applies to them as well), this blog post is mostly within the context in the frame of the duties of a “professional songwriter.” That is … creating hits for other artists. If you’re an artist, this post also 100% surely and absolutely applies to you as well, but I wanted to frame the specific conversation about writing hits (notice I didn’t say “nice songs”).
So let me say this again. In the role of a professional songwriter, A&R people and major labels only want one thing from you. FIRE. And … when it comes to their time, they only want to talk with, take meetings with, and surround themselves with who???? You guessed it.
If you’re not getting the 1st tier (much less the 2nd tier) or any (!) A&R calls for a project or a superstar artist for songs or co-writes … it’s simply because of this. You are not (yet) a recognized fire maker. Please note that “fire maker” is not synonymous with “currently having a hit” or “recently had a hit.” Those titles help … but at some point, every professional songwriter gets to earn that title … even myself.
Being a recognized “fire maker” is extremely and vitally important because major labels know that you are ONE OF THE ONLY people they can count on to deliver the ONE THING that keeps the major labels alive. FIRE … YES, FIRE! 1st Singles. That are usually ...uptempo - or have tempo. In other words … FIRE.
But quick prehistoric lesson here. Why do we give so much respect to fire? Well, quick analogy here and hopefully this will frame the context of why this is so important.
Back in the caveman days … the most important people were the caveman or cavewoman who could literally … create the fire. You don’t want to hang around those lame cavemen people who don’t know how to use flint and steel when you’re starving and freezing your ass off do you?
It’s the perfect analogy. Because if you can’t bring the fire … you’re the equivalent to the useless caveman holding the flint not knowing how to use it. I’m so sorry.
No one cares about you.
Sitting on both sides of the fence … meaning, the one who’s actually pitching and selling the records for you, and a past semi-professional songwriter, that’s the only type of song I would be writing, if I was sitting down at the keyboard/computer today within the context of the role of a professional songwriter.
Solely and only … making what A&R people need.
That concept is so simple … but you’d be surprised how many songwriters sit at their studio desk and spend entire years creating music that A&R people simply....DO. NOT. NEED!!! Part of me thinks it’s because no one has told them and/or much like the light shown down on John Belushi in “Blues Brothers”… but sometimes it just takes time, sometimes years for those future hitmakers to figure it out. And then it’s one year … no hits. The next year + 10 hits. And recognized Fire Maker status!
Let me give you another analogy.
You go to the pizza parlor to get pizza, right? The pizza restaurant makes pizzas for people who LOVE and want to eat pizza. And you want to get the BEST pizza in town, no? But what about the pizza place where you go to order a pizza and they say, “Sorry, we only have kale or fruit salad today.” You’d be like, “WTF kind of trickery is this?”
That’s what it’s like when most A&R people get songs from writers. They want pizza. They’re STARVING for a great slice!!! And you know they want pizza. But instead, you send them some cold tofu with some beet sauerkraut.
That’s an extreme but that’s what I’m talking about. You need to deliver what the labels need, otherwise why on earth should they open your email, take your call, listen to your songs or god forbid ... have a meeting.
I say this all the time, but it is truly a WRITER’S MARKET, meaning if you can deliver the fire … there are millions ready to be put into your bank account.
So before I get into what “fire” is (in my opinion), I’ll say this one more time. Your job is a FIRE MAKER. Not a “snooze bomb maker.” So before becoming a fire maker, we need to know what is a FIRE song?
What makes a good song? This is your list.
So … what are “FIRE SONGS” not?
Don’t be a dummy. I think you know the answer to that. It’s everything 180 degrees from the above.
But lucky you, I included some ancillary study material here which I really urge you to check out. It’s what I call my Spotify “SONGS I NEED MORE OF” playlist. As a publisher, these are simply the type of songs I wish I had more of at the moment in my song arsenal. They are all gems of pop writing masterpieces. And truthfully you’d be shocked and surprised at how many of these “types” of fire songs I have had at any point in my last 25 years as a music publisher. It’s usually “1” … and sometimes “zero.” And when I get one of “these” types of records in, it usually disappears and snatched up by a major artist within the next 3 months. So heads up, if you write these songs - at or even near this level - you’ll be a fire master.
Don’t be a wet noodle. And don’t be scared. Don’t think that if you just continue to follow the pack and the charts and what’s “safe” that the doors and the positions on the charts are going to open up for you.
You NEED to be doing DANGEROUS and risky work. (Dangerous and risky can also be pouring your guts out and being vulnerable in a ballad...because while I usually want uptempos...ballads can surely be FIRE! ). If you are on to an idea and your ‘auto editor” in your brain speaks up, raises it’s hand and says … ”that’s too crazy” or “what will people think?!” … then you know you’re onto something.
My favorite author Seth Godin said it best, summarized as ”right now … to be risky … is by doing the “safe” work. To be safe … you need to do the risky work.”
FIRE is about taking risks. And you might burn yourself along the way too … that’s great. But then if you do this right so many times, you’ll have a nice swimming pool to jump into to cool off.
Time to start laying down that tinder, douse it with lighting fluid … and throw the match.
You are already the fire. It’s in you! So what u gonna do?
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