What You Listen To = How Well You Write

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Environment. Environment! Environment!!

That’s right, today we’re diving into your “environment” and how environment directly affects your success. In this case we’re specifically going with the premise that “What You Listen To = How Well You Write.

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In fact, I just sent an email out to my publishing clients with an important suggestion. In fact, I think this will potentially be game changing for you. At the very least, food for thought.

Have you ever heard the saying “you rise (or sink) to the level of your environment“? James Clear talks about this in his awesome book “Atomic Habits.” Essentially, it means that people naturally gravitate towards the “norm” of the environment surrounding them.

You’ve probably also heard people say that you’re the average of your five closest friends.

There’s actually a great real world example of this in Clear’s book. It’s about two world-class chess grand master champions. Turns out they have a kid – and surprise, that child also grows up to be a world-class chess champion! Actually, it’s no surprise. Why? Because this young person grew up in an environment, where being a chess champion was totally normal and expected.

Atomic Habits book cover

The same applies to songwriting. If you surround yourself with other hit makers (think the original Brill Building in the ’60s in NYC or the golden era of Motown in Detroit or via the infamous Max Martin / Denniz Pop helmed Cheiron in Stockholm via late 90s/early 00s), if you were lucky enough to be a writer or artist there, you naturally rose to the level of that hit making environment.

In other words, if you’re part of the crew, it’s only a matter of time before you start having hits too because that’s the norm.

The Hit Maker Map

So, here’s my question and subsequent challenge this month:

What are you listening to, and in what environment are you surrounding yourself?

The right environment can help exponentiate and be the cause and effect of your hit-making.

In other words, what you surround yourself with often becomes “normal.” It’s the proverbial “bar” of expectations.

For instance, are you constantly listening to the digital music services “Best New Music” playlists (what I consider to be the best of mediocrity today) and scrolling through mediocre trending TikTok artists as a primary listening experience? HINT: “Best New Music” here is purely sarcastic (far from the best new music available in my opinion).

I’m saying the above while also recognizing it’s of course important to do your homework on new and up-and-coming artists, the current marketplace, etc. However:

Here’s an experiment. For the next month, can you make a shift and immerse yourself in the very best songs of ALL TIME ever written?

If your environment shapes your perception and ultimately your output, then immersing yourself in the best songs of all time (and learning from and modeling them) versus “new music” playlists (lol), will create a whole different state, environment and results for you.

Best New Music Playlists vs Best Songs of All Time

On that note, here are three playlists I’d love for you to have on the forefront of your daily listening experience for the month:

Billion Streaming Songs

Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Songs of All Time

Benjamin’s “Songs I Need More Of” Playlist

For context, the “Songs I Need More Of” playlist are the types of songs as a publisher, I wish I had more of to pitch! Note that any of the above songs in any of the playlists can also be template ideas or directions you might want to explore for new songs to model. (That’s how the greats become great).

Alternatively, you could create your own custom playlist of artists that got you inspired to make music in the first place and “live” that playlist for the rest of the month.

Album covers for Abbey Road, Purple Rain, David Bowie - Low, and Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder

And why is this more important than ever?

The daunting yet exciting shift that I see happening – right now – is the rarity of songwriters and artists who can actually make real substantial copyrights and hits. Consistently.

In other words, most people are happy to get on a “new music” playlist and write something that’s an 83%.


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The result is – even writing with major label artists, where those songs are released, can result in low value results. (Watch out for the next post where I talk about how “writing in the room with an artist” is not as high value as you might think.)

The answer is not to write more “B” songs nor is it to get more “artist cowrite sessions.”

The answer is to write the highest value songs possible (regardless if an artist is in the room or not).

The Singles To True Copyrights Pyramid

Recently, we even heard a major label President, who was a guest at one of our song camps, saying that there’s a huge problem in quality. A&Rs are facing what he called a true “lack of evergreens and long lasting copyrights.”

So what’s so exciting about this?

The exciting thing is this is a real opportunity for each of you to dig deep and create those modern copyrights and hits. The opportunity exists more than ever – for you to be a recognized first call hit maker.


Quite simply there are fewer people capable of making hits and modern copyrights, and fewer people willing to put in the extra work or even know how to do that! There are more people happily content with the 81%-89% level – which, even after a “best new music” look on a DSP (if you’re even lucky to get that) – that song can hold little value after 3 months. Why? Because there’s literally another 10 Million songs that have been released in that 3 month window.

You want to be holding our bar and level of songwriting – to those songs written by the greats in the aforementioned playlists. Not what is the flavor of this month.

What if I told you you could write a 10/10 song

Lastly, I also wanted to express that through “high value listening” – the other opportunity is to recalibrate your taste and perception.

Today, most people’s “9” or “10’s” are really at best a “5.5” when put up against those aforementioned billion streaming songs or a “best songs of all time” playlist.

In other words – right now – towering copyrights are what you’re going to get paid for, literally more than any time in history, in my opinion.

And those amazing high level songs – even if originally released to the sound of crickets – through the power of AI, social media, word of mouth and the lack of actual greatness, have more opportunity, in my opinion, to float to the top more than ever before.

In fact, we’ve been seeing 2 year old songs only recently topping the charts! Sometimes it takes time for that cream to rise.

Hope this was helpful and let me know how you get on.

Environment. Environment! ENVIRONMENT!

About the Author

The Author of “How Do I Get A Record Deal? Sign Yourself!”

My career in music publishing extends over 25 years, including BMG Music (bought by Universal) and EMI Music Publishing (bought by Sony), as well as the 1st U.S. employee of Kobalt Music Publishing, where he helped build the roster over 10 years as Executive VP of Creative.

Benjamin is currently heading up his own publishing company, Brill Building, as well as label and music filter, We Are: The Guard. Benjamin’s signings range from Ryan Tedder, Kelly Clarkson, The Lumineers, Grimes, Savan Kotecha, OneRepublic, SOPHIE, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin, Tiesto, Kid Cudi, TOKiMONSTA, TR/ST, Cut Copy, Big Freedia, Lindy Robbins, Peaches and yes, even Steel Panther. His specialty in the music business is early artist, writer and writer/producer development.


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