First of all I have to credit this blog post to one of my publishing mentors, Steve Lindsey (one of the only o.g. Publishers, who I really respect as far as identifying and developing new talent).
I asked Steve … “How can I impress upon the writers and artists on my roster - just what it takes and where the bar is, and how important and urgent it is to deliver exactly the “bar” of what the label needs, if we are to land actual singles on the charts?!"
And that’s right - I said actual radio singles on the charts.
Now, don’t get me wrong - it’s great to have a song on an Apple or Spotify “Best of the Week” editorial playlist, but what happens the week after? How about the week after that? Maybe nothing - maybe something.
Because of course, regardless of “radio” or lack of radio plays - your "non radio driven" song can still go on and rack up 100 Million streams and more.
Not bad. But what about a billion?
What about having a song on the radio that becomes a real HIT, earning 10-30X what you normally would make just as a good “streaming” type song. And yes, make no doubt, the “big game” is still all about radio! With a radio hit you get tons of synchronization licenses. With a radio hit you can go on tour. With a radio hit you can sell more merch. And the performance royalties...fahgetabboutddet! You get the idea.
So - what do we, as artists, writers, music publishers, etc. have to deliver for that “moonshot” career-defining hit song event to take place? Remember - the responsibility is on us.
Steve illuminated my query (and to be honest, frustration in the moment) with some of that old school music publishing knowledge. It’s 1000% compelling and intriguing and should lend the framework for whenever you start (or end!) your writing session.
It’s what I have affectionately termed the “Annihilation Song.”
But before we get into the inner workings of the “annihilation song” - and what exactly this is … it’s important to get our mindset right.
Swing Battah Battah …. Swing….Battah
Mindset is everything...especially when making your “moonshots.” So for sake of argument, let’s look at a baseball analogy, where the the equivalent of writing an “annihilation” song is the same as hitting a grand slam home run.
And don’t get me wrong - it’s great to get a base hit. Even better if it’s a double. And a triple...yes!
But even if you hit a triple … absolutely no one really cares in the big picture, unless you round that base to home plate and score.
In other words - you don’t get “points” for achieving the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award for merely hitting a double.
So, let’s keep this baseball analogy going.
Imagine you’re a rookie who just got your first break and signed up to a minor league team. It’s your first season.
You’re up to the plate and the pitches are coming through.
What’s your mindset? What’s the internal self-talk?
It might be something like that … "I need to get on base. I need to get on base. I need a single. Or how about a walk … I need to get a walk. I can’t strike out. Don’t let me strike out on this pitch. Please Dear God just get me ON BASE!" In fact, you might even be swinging at everything … or paralyzed and not taking enough chances!
On the other hand...
Let’s jump in the DeLorean and go back to the year 1927.
Babe Ruth comes up to the plate.
What do you think his mindset is? Yah - the babe’s! Of course, there’s NO WAY, the “babe” is thinking - “I really hope I get to first base with a single!”
Just consider this legend’s mental frame...stepping up to plate after hitting 59 home runs for the season. The mindset, beliefs and self talk is completely different. The mindset is something probably like this: "Here comes #60 Home Run!" "I’m going to point with my bat where I’m going to hit it out of the park, literally," etc.
So what’s happening here? First do you see the different types of mindset? That’s a HUGE difference! And we need this mindset in creating the “Annihilation Song.”
So, do you start your sessions thinking - “I hope we get on Spotify New Music Friday with this one.” “I hope we can make it on the album” (which by the way, is nearly worthless these days for your time and effort).
Or are you going to step up with a different mindset and self-talk and make your intention a radio smash aka “The Annihilation Song.”
(I told you I’d come back to the “annihilation song” concept!).
So, now that we’ve laid the groundwork there for reframing self talk and reframing what success looks like....
So, re-enter Steve Lindsey.
“You ever been in a company-wide major label A&R / marketing meeting?” Steve asks me.
He goes on to paint the setting.
There’s this big major label conference room, like literally an “A&R” mega-meeting where it’s basically decided - which artist gets awarded the radio and marketing promotion money for the month, the quarter, etc.
It’s a label priorities meeting … essentially answering the question: “which artist is going to get the million dollars.”
Think of this as survivor island. There’s only going to be 1 (or 2) real winners here … and yes, the sharks are swimming in the water.
Let’s say there are 20 + A&R people in this room, each presenting their 1 (maybe 2, maximum) priorities. That makes 20-30 artists competing for that major label radio budget.
On one side of the table you have (this is totally fictitious by the way and used only as an example): Rihanna with, let’s call it an, um how we should say, an “OK” or maybe “B-” level song made by a well known superstar writer/producer.
In other words, if it wasn’t Rihanna singing it - you wouldn’t even care.
Then, you have the new single from a viral hip hop TikToker. Let’s say that song is a “B” but it’s taking off virally. It’s already working!
Then, you have a new rock band, who has an “A-” level song. And wow - legitimately, this is a solid track - and could be a hit.
And then you have your song ... maybe you’re the artist.
Or maybe you’re the songwriter who is just getting their first (or 10th or 100th) cut on a new or even an established artist. You certainly have high hopes because this artist has great social media traction, a good amount of following and fanbase, maybe some TikTok virality happening and, above all ... you know it’s totally an “A” level song. Yes, this song really sounds like it deserves to be a hit! In fact, it’s the best song you’ve ever written!
Based on above scenario, who’s going to get the million dollars and the focus from the label in this meeting?
You probably want to say - it’s your “A” list song we just talked about because - the best song should win, right?
“Wrong.” (Spoken like Arnold Scwarzenegger in “Commando”).
You see, the artist who is most likely to get the million dollars is probably Rihanna.
Enter the “layup” record.
What? And Why?
Well, first … Rihanna’s a superstar. She has a HUGE fanbase. She’s an icon. Maybe the label will co-brand this single with a big brand / ad campaign. Rihanna releases a single and BOOM!
There’s also a HUGE writer/producer attached to it. It feels safe. It is what the labels call - a “layup” record.
And what’s a layup?
A layup is exactly that ... the artist, A&R and the artist’s management have tossed the ball up in the air with a proverbial and juicy “layup” … and now it’s up to the label’s marketing and promo team to come in and slam dunk it. It’s not a guarantee ... but it’s 1000x easier to get this record in the Top 10 than what they call…
A work record is a song where ... you might have all the elements and perhaps a great song ... but it’s work.
This is maybe a new artist, an unproven producer, etc.
The execs really have to hustle, ask for favors, do some trades (i.e. “Hey, radio station, we’ll give you “x” super star for your end of year “jingle ball” if you “add” this single to your playlist this week”).
Essentially, the “work” record is exactly that. It’s a “work your ass off” type of song for the record label promo and marketing team to get this song to “go.”
In other words … Sorry.
That “A” list song you made, and all your efforts just didn’t quite pay off in this meeting … that is, to kick the door in and grab that $500,000 - $1 Million dollar radio promotion budget.
That’s OK though. You still will probably get a solid push in some other areas. You might have just landed a “double” (to use our friendly baseball analogy) and that’s not bad! Certainly for a new artist.
But what about … the other “song type” category we didn’t talk about.
You know, the title of this blog post.
Yes. It’s what I call “The Annihilation Song.” This is the one you want.
The “Annihilation Song” is - from the moment you hit “play”… you’ve achieved something that is beyond a no brainer.
It’s a SMASH. It’s a new sound. It’s a new genre. It’s a new MOVEMENT. You have just literally annihilated the competition. This song EXPLODES.
You see, you need to write and play the song in that meeting, that makes Billie Eilish look like a grandmother and … that makes Billie totally irrelevant. Old news.
Yes, I said that.
You know why?
Because that’s EXACTLY what Billie Eilish did to all of her female contemporaries in March of 2019 with “Bad Guy.”
Yes, “Bad Guy” came out around that time.
Suddenly and literally almost overnight ... all of her female contemporaries (at least to me) felt a little, how should we say: outdated, silly, overly commercial and polished, not cool, and perhaps even as aforementioned - like a grandmother.
And if I’m thinking that ... surely a 12 year old who’s had to listen to her grown up sisters' music and “that” lane of pop artists is suddenly saying to themselves … ”Billie is MY ARTIST!”
Guess what else?
After this “Bad Guy” moment (we can call time period b.b. “Before Billie”) - a lot of the artists sharing the radio dial with Billie in March 2019, soon afterward … pretty much evaporated in relevance - or had to radically pivot and come up with a sound and direction equally new, fresh and exciting - reinventing themselves with guess what...bringing their own “Annihilation Song!”
(See Madonna - through the key years of her career … she brought one of those “annihilation” records, along with a whole new visual direction on each new album.)
One last note here. Not naming names, but each of those superstar artists that Billie Eilish made irrelevant - each, originally had their own “Annihilation Song” that they brought to the table in one of those A&R meetings.
Yes - that’s right!
Each superstar artist, at one point in their early career, had that magical moment, that “lightning in a bottle” song, where everyone was like - “this is undeniable.” You win! Here’s the million dollars!
And here’s where the rubber meets the road.
When you start your songwriting session (or even if you’re writing by yourself) …
What’s your mindset? What’s your identity? What’s your INTENTION in this session as it relates to the ‘annihilation song.”
And while I am always “all in” for artist expression ... the following is not to “limit” your creative freedom. Especially, if you’re a “professional songwriter,” or an artist on my roster, I’m going to ask you to step up to the plate with an “Annihilation Song” mindset.
Here are some questions to set you off in the right direction.
Again, mindset and identity are crucial here. If you only think you’re going to get to first base - well, you might likely bring that reality to fruition. And first base - in my opinion, is not why we are here!
Here’s some potential “internal dialogue” of two different mindsets from two different songwriters:
Mindset #1 Person
This is different from a lot of self-talk that may more commonly frame the beginning of a session, especially for newer writers and artists, if I were to guess.
Mindset #2 Person
You see - these are 2 very VERY different mindsets and identities there.
Mindset #2 person is a songwriter or artist who is pre determining their “mediocrity.”
The other (Mindset #1 Person) - is literally right now, any of the biggest writer/producer or artist’s in the world (or the next one) That’s how they think!
And for more of this mindset concept, I implore you to please PLEASE check out one of my recent posts on Skills vs Mindset. In this post - you’ll learn how mindset, identity and beliefs will always win over “really great writing skills” almost every time.
So, there you have it.
The Annihilation Song.
We all want it ... but few can hit that home run, strangely?
The first step in my opinion, is stepping up to that plate in the first place with that right identity and mindset.
The second, is acknowledging the level you must play at - if you are intending to be a firemaker (read that post!) level artist and/or songwriter and crush it in that aforementioned Million Dollar A&R meeting.
The third step - is to approach your writing by not playing it safe. Sure, you’re probably not going to write an atonal 12 bar blues...or make a white noise production. But please, can you do something adventurous and unexpected and fresh (or even retro meets 2028) that makes us say, “Wow, yes...this is why I love music.”
And if, in reading this blog post, you feel uncomfortable with the premise of perhaps - even being that person, or that this is a possibility … you know, that you could be that artist or songwriter who can deliver that level of “annihilation,” who can hit it out of the park - well, there might be some other deep work beyond just learning some new songwriting skills and doing a hundred writing sessions. And that’s OK too.
In that previous paragraph, I mean topics of self-worth, self-value areas to explore. Because your vision of success has to be congruent (meaning “the same”) with your own picture of yourself and what you deserve, limiting beliefs, etc.
In other words, learning a new skill, or downloading a new Splice pack, or learning some new chords, or doing the 10th session of the week, probably won’t help you as much as coming to the table with the right mindset in the first place.
As mentioned ... in the above example: Mindset #1 (the home run mindset) and Mindset #2 (the get on base mindset) are 2 clearly different people.
You want to (and need to be) the person coming with the “annihilation” mindset, in order to write the “annihilation” song.
One last thing.
If I was in a scenario where I could only sign either Mindset #1 person (who has the undeniable mindset) but has less skills and/or experience than say, the Mindset #2 person, who has amazing skills but not a great personal belief system ... I’ll sign that 1st writer, every day of the week.
As I'm signing off here, I’d like to reference the movie “The Matrix.”
It’s that amazing segment of the film where Morpheus said to Neo during the “Dojo” program: “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!” That’s right. Except…
I want you to annihilate me.