Over the last few years, and now much more-so on a weekly and daily basis, I continually hear from other publishers and other professional songwriters that “we need an artist in the room” and that the “pitch game” is dead. It’s over. Finito. “It’s over, Johnny … it’s over!”
Now, I would 100% agree with you that “the pitch game is dead” and is truly an ACCURATE statement IF you’re writing the WRONG types (or even the “almost right types”) of songs. This is true no matter what decade you’re in.
And unfortunately, in my opinion, about 85% of the professional songwriting community, at any point of time, is writing the “wrong” types of songs. Sorry. I said it. Ask any A&R person and they will agree.
Truth bomb. This is also why your calls and emails aren’t getting returned.
On the other hand, there are about 20 “go-to” writer/producers and top liners at any given time (which changes year by year) who are the A&R person’s best friend forever. BEST FRIEND, I say! The A&Rs talk to these BFF writers every other day and are feverishly looking for new songs to hit their inbox (no pun intended, see what I did there?).
Wow, just think about that. An A&R person literally on the EDGE OF THEIR SEAT just waiting for that new song to come in from a writer.
“Aww – Where’s my email / text / next song from my favorite BFF hit maker”
In other words: IT’S ALWAYS A WRITER’S MARKET. IF YOU ARE THAT WRITER!
You see, those 10-20 hit makers literally see the “pitch” game through a different set of lenses and filters than you are. Their lens is … “I’m a hit songwriter, I write hits, A&R people pay attention to me, and thus, I get more songs placed as “pitch” songs and create more hits!” “They can’t wait to get a song from me!”
This is very different compared to the lens you may be (likely) operating within, which for most writers is – “it’s impossible to get a song recorded these days.” (And please if you really want to set me off – just be one of those managers that says “great idea for that writers session – just (you) get an artist in the room.” Thanks pal, big help there.) #useless.
Now, let’s go back to those “Top 20” writers getting all the attention and calls, and get that scenario in focus. No doubt, if YOU can be THAT writer (and really, why wouldn’t you be?), you’ll have people literally fighting tooth and nail for your songs. In other words, the pitch game is in FULL EFFECT for those top writers.
The problem for most of you reading this article is simply the following – and I’ll preface the following with a quote from one of my publishing mentors Steve Lindsey, which is:
“Hate me now and love me later.”
The fact is:
You’re just not writing “those” types of songs the A&R people and their artists need.
The Self-Reflective Universe of Making Hits
In other words (to quote Joe Dispenza, who I recently was fortunate to spend a week with in person) – if you think of your reality as a “self-reflective universe,” what you create and who you are, where you are in your career, and the level of cuts / co-writes and releases you have going on, is literally a direct reflection of who you’ve decided consciously or unconsciously to be (and the types of songs you’re writing).
I’ll say this again. It’s a direct reflection of WHO YOU’VE DECIDED CONSCIOUSLY OR UNCONSCIOUSLY TO BE in this present moment.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – but Benjamin, I’ve decided to be a hit songwriter, so where are my fat f’ing publishing checks?
The issue is you’re not writing level 10 songs to get the level 10 cuts in this self-reflecting universe…yet!
You’re also (probably) writing “tired” vibes of songs that might a) be comfortable to you and your co-writers (aka the “this is good enough” syndrome, b) your perception and assumption of the “type of song” which might get a massive cut is way off, c) what you’re writing today might have been great for that artist’s current or last album, but not now, or d) maybe you’re just aiming for the “juicy center” of what everyone else is doing = B O R I N G.
This is the wrong way to approach your mission in life to be a professional hit songwriter, in my opinion.
In fact – EVERYONE is doing mostly the SAME TIRED SH*T RIGHT NOW!
On one hand, writing a hit today is hard. Or is it? I mean on the other hand – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel – if you can set yourself apart from everyone else. I mean – really. What if this was easy? What if your / my / our “story” – which was reinforced on a daily basis – that getting massive cuts and hits is “hard” is just a “limiting belief?!” What if this is something you and the industry just “made up” in our collective heads?
Forget the Juicy Center – Embrace the Fringe or “Fresh”
In fact, in regards to just writing for the “juicy center,” the best way to compete against all the professional songwriters in the world is to literally – are you ready for this?
That’s right! Pick up your game and move to a DIFFERENT playing field that no one is playing in – so you can STAND OUT and write those “jump off the page,” level 10 hits! “Change the narrative” as one record label President recently said to me.
You literally need to be imagining what that “juicy center” is and what will be popular 2 years from now – and write that. In fact, imagine teleporting to the future and dropping yourself in a club or a music festival or dialed into KIIS.FM, 2-5 years from now. What is the DJ playing in the future? – and write that song!
You Are The A&R Person
Say what you will about A&R people. But it’s still all on you in regards to your songs being picked or not. Yes, it’s you who has decided to write the latest 10 songs that didn’t get picked as a single.
To that regard, let’s flip the script for a moment with a mindset piece.
Imagine that you – yes YOU are either the artist, the A&R person or manager – or whomever is helping forge the direction for that artist’s next album. Maybe it’s you who is executive producing this superstar artist?
What would be exciting? What would be an event? What would be fresh? What would make people say, “I didn’t expect that coming?!”
To that regard – someone like Beyonce, who at the time of this article, just put out an old school meets 2023 R&B house record that went straight to #1 (which I’m pleased to say I publish!), “BREAK MY SOUL” – was sooooo unexpected, right?! But was it really? I WAS actually expecting something different and fresh from Beyonce – and she delivered!
In my opinion, the best artists are always shooting for the fringe, redefining their own narrative, and bringing the fresh vibes, excitement and overall “business” to the finish line. It’s up to you to help them.
So, what the literal f*ck are you going to do to redefine yourself and your writing and/or producing game? I’m sorry but let’s not dilly dally here anymore…because it’s too expensive for you to NOT be playing in the “big game!”
Let’s look at it this way. If you look at the diagram below, you’ll see that maybe 1,000 songs were written today alone by career-professional songwriters, globally. And that might be a conservative number for sure. And guess what – they’re all generally in “the zone of meh.” Not special. No risks. Playing it safe. And as Seth Godin would say “not purple.” (Everyone reading this blog post needs to read Seth Godin’s “The Purple Cow,” which is required reading for all the writers I work with.)
You see – the “money” songs – the songs that A&R people will likely respond to – are counterintuitively on the fringe. Exciting. Wow. Pops off the page. They STAND OUT. Who wrote and/or produced this?!
So, how can you accomplish this? First – let’s do what I mentioned and pretend that YOU are the A&R person for that superstar artist … and workshop this concept: what would be fresh and exciting? How can you do the A&R’s job for them and help them actually look like a genius?
NOTE: I have about 20 conceptual A&R directions and ideas towards the end of this post.
Creating Fire Upon Fire!
Besides that question – Let’s look at another “song prompt.”
What would be a suitable stadium-level song that an artist could perform as their “entrance song” for their new tour in front of 20,000 people!?
Can you imagine that concert and write that corresponding song!? In fact, I wrote a whole article about this and it’s called the “20,000 Screaming Fans Song Test.”
Literally – imagine you have to create a hit song that MATCHES that level of energy!!! Reverse engineer the song you’re writing to match this! I can assure you it won’t be your snoozebomb / anti chorus song that’s going to make those 20,000 people lose their mind!
Now, you guessed it – the above are questions the aforementioned 10-20 key writers will intuitively ask themselves during their writing sessions, and subsequently navigate, create from a different mindset, and deliver home runs for their A&R BFFs.
Entrance Ticket Songs
If I was a professional songwriter today, this is the mindset and playing field I would exclusively be playing in, which is: the unexpected and exciting! And yes – writing with other artists is great. But I can point to so many hits on the charts that were originally “pitch” songs that became the “entrance ticket” to writing with that artist.
And what is an “entrance ticket” song? An entrance ticket song is one that’s so good that the A&R person or manager will immediately send to their artist. The result should be the artist saying – “I need to record this song – tomorrow – and book me 2 weeks with this person.” That’s how you cut the line from being writer #112 who wants to write with _______ (insert inaccessible artist here) to writing with them tomorrow. I also wrote a whole article about this here called “Getting Your Foot In The Room with Inaccessible Artists.
So, circling back here to the premise … writing for pitch and getting cuts is not dead by far!!! In fact, as a publisher, myself and my team have placed so many songs and singles with superstars such as: Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Alesso, Beyonce, aespa (one of the biggest selling K-Pop female albums of all time), Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson, etc…I could go on and on.
I’ve bought people’s houses with pitch songs. Word!
But but BUT!!!! …. YOU HAVE TO DELIVER THE M*THERF*CKIN’ GOODS!!!!
This is where you win!
Otherwise WHO CARES!
And BTW I can’t ever apologize for the directness of this post. Just for some context – I’ve personally had more songs rejections than any active publisher on the planet. Really. So, please – let me save you years of frustration – and just jump to your future timeline now.
Remember – it’s you who is actively deciding to be frustrated. Yes, you. You wrote that last song that is just a B+, sounds like everything else and doesn’t have the “hit song DNA” (which I’ll detail at the end of the article).
And if you want to know more about this “Hit Song DNA) you could also (I highly recommend) check out my 5 hour course on this subject called “Insider Secrets to Hit Songwriting,” which is designed to take years off your journey as a hit songwriter).
So, what are you going to do about it?
You can actively decide to write “those” usual types of songs (and how has that been working out)?
Or you can be the new hit maker in that A&R BFF circle.
Did that shake your cage? Good.
Now – here’s the important part of this blog post. (I know – finally something “really” important, right?).
Seriously – this could be the most important blog post you’ll read this year – so please, let me keep your attention for 5 more minutes. It’s worth $1 Million dollars, in my opinion.
Below are some prompts and ideas to set you forward in what I’m talking about, as far as SONG CONCEPTS and a plan on how you will NO LONGER COMPETE with the competition.
That’s right – you are creating your own lane! With that in mind…here’s a template of how you might use the below ideas (or ideally create your own CONCEPTS) in your next songwriting session to launch you on the right path (and it will be the “right path” because it’s only you traveling on it).
And PLEASE PLEASE see the other pillars of Hit Song DNA at the end of this article! That’s another million dollars. Please send me paypal.
Song Concepts + Outside the Box Direction
If I was a professional songwriter today – I’d build a list of concepts … just “different direction” type songs and stockpile those. And if you’re looking at this and you’re thinking – well that’s a bit specific and no one is really making that type of vibe – HELLLLLOOOOO! Mcfly?!!! You’re absolutely correct! That’s my point!
Let’s take a look. This would be my conceptual “song start” palette if I was a writer, and/or ideas I might want to kick start a session with.
– The Police meets Hip Hop or ______ ?
– Goth 80s ala The Cure, New Order, London After Midnight – dark music is always in!! (Halsey had the right idea to reach out to Trent Reznor.)
– Miami Bass Style
– New Jack Swing Style
– Pretend you’re writing a song for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. Yes, model Michael Jackson (except the “kids” part). Michael Jackson style songs are always “in.”
– 80s Hair Metal – what if Miley Cyrus did something ala Def Leppard style or AC/DC? I’d buy that!!
– Motown – every 5 years or so, an artist comes out with something in the Motown direction and the Motown sound and it blows the lid off the charts. Motown is always in fashion!
– Baile Funk style – this is where Diplo got his start 20 years ago.
– 90s House.
– What would Moby do in 1999? Ala something from the “Play” album? Hell yeah!
– Blues – what about an uptempo blues song. “Kiss” by Prince is a blues song!!! Just different. Also see Tracey Chapman “Give Me One Reason.”
– How about an Electroclash vibe from the early 2000s (yes this was a thing!) Look up Peaches, W.I.T., Larry Tee, Felix Da Housecat, etc. This was way before there was PC Music and Hyperpop. It also died because there was no “real” hit from the genre. But maybe you can use this as a starting point?
– What about something ala The Cars?
– Hyperpop vibes. Hyperpop NEEDS an actual hit. Can you provide it? Or what if Rihanna released a proper Hyperpop / PC Music type single?
– Alternative 90s see Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soup Dragons, Jesus Jones, Spin Doctors to The Cranberries, Beck.
– 90s Galloping Dance Hits … check out Crush “Jelly Head” or Gina G “Ooh Ahh…Just a Little Bit.” There was a producer/remixer named Motiv 8 who for a year dominated dance / pop in the 90s. Also, see ala La Bouche “Be My Lover.”
– Early Rap vibe – Grandmaster flash, Kurtis Blow, Run DMC meets ________ ?
– What about something in the “electronica” or “big beat” late 90s lane – look up The Crystal Method, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, etc.
– What about a classical theme that you can put in a modern vibe and remake? Those songs are already in the conscious and subconscious of people – it’s already a proven hit! So maybe start there and build a new melody around that.
– Lastly – and bottom line…Something unexpected!!!
Lastly, Please. I beg of you – no snoozebombs. We need UPTEMPO FIRE! So please – step into “Life in the Fast Lane” as Don Henley would say. Those aforementioned song concepts / prompts in my opinion should only be viewed within uptempo context.
OK so, I’ve given you almost like 20 friggin awesome song start ideas or places of inspiration. Can you come up with another 10, document and keep this as an open file for your inspiration or to take into your next session?
From each direction and idea – you can start your next session with a predetermined level of awesomeness and originality. This is what I call “stockpiling your inspiration.”
Write Your Song Blueprint – Hear It – Manifest It – And Then Write It!
I would even write a 200-500 word blueprint on each of these concepts. Get very, very specific here and write out exactly what this song sounds like from your IMAGINATION…you might even want to have a handheld recorder ready to just “blueprint” and outline this or imitate sounds you are hearing – and then write the song!
And guess what – THIS IS GOING TO BE A BLAST!! Why not have fun doing this!
And also, BTW – am I saying to rip off these styles above? Well – not exactly – but all songs and art ARE usually imitation of other great art and that art was inspired by something else, and something else before that.
On that note, I do want to touch base on “modeling.”
Modeling the Greats
Notice in this article I referred to “modeling” or “model” a music artist or a song. “Modeling” – is how you become great. If you want to be the best tennis player in the world, or if you want to be the best CEO or executive – no matter what, if you’re working with any great coach or coaching program, they’ll tell you to model the greats.
Or maybe you think that you can just recycle your limited vocabulary of songwriting “genius” (note that is in quotes on purpose) and bring the #1 on the Hot 100 right to your doorstep … doing what you’ve always done … because you’ve got this, right? : ) Sure, because that has definitely worked in the past.
That would be like me saying, I’m just going to be a publishing executive with limited experience and just jump blindly into that world without getting any advice or knowledge transfer or coaching from anyone.
Or I could look at someone like Berry Gordy, how he built his empire or perhaps it’s getting mentoring from my previous amazing bosses and / or what made the creative environment of certain decades or certain teams of writers so great and … model that.
Of course, you’re going to want to study the greats, as well as what’s working today. How can you do that? How can you build your daily curriculum of study?
These are all questions you should be asking yourself as a professional songwriter (or artist).
The “Songs I Need More Of” Playlist
To that degree – I present to you the “Songs I Need More Of / Song Concept Directions” playlist.
No matter at any time in my executive career – no matter what publishing company I was at – I would be lucky…I mean LUCKY if I had a song even once a year that crossed my desk as good as one of these on the playlist. Keep in mind here that each of these records is at least a $20 Million Dollar + song.
I know what you’re thinking – maybe that’s scary! Could I actually write one of those? Well, that’s also a whole mindset piece to perhaps work on yourself in your own beliefs.
But, BUT – can you use one of these songs in that playlist to learn thoroughly – I mean really PLAY on your instrument and transcribe it (if you can), dissecting all the nuances going on here like:
- Melodic rhythm – what’s going on with the rhythm of the melody?
- Producer hooks?
- Chord progressions?
- A solid melodic range – at least an octave, usually (don’t forget singers want to sing!!!)
- The use of contrast throughout the song?
- Rhyme structure?
- Concept / song titles?
I’m just scraping the surface here.
Next, model your own greatness from this song. I’m not saying rip it off, but can you tap into the greatness happening here, what makes this song tick and then – THEN ultimately be mentored by that writer/producer/artist whom you love, and be inspired by that?
There’s more on this here (I call it the Songwriting Vocabular Expander).
And this might be a new idea to some of you. But it’s a NO BRAINER STARTING POINT AND ACCEPTED that if you want to be the next Charlie Parker – if jazz improvisation is your thing – then you LEARN CHARLIE PARKER – every solo, and transpose them to every key on the fly on your instrument.
But when it comes to songwriting – for some reason it’s like “uhhhmm, yah thanks but I got this, bro – I’m going to create out of my own, usually tired, circle of creativity and limited songwriting and musical vocabulary.”
There – I said it.
Lastly – and probably most importantly…when modeling or analyzing songs, as well as WRITING YOUR OWN FUTURE HITS, consider and embrace this.
Again, this is important. Please, I’m literally begging you here. Embrace and consider the following. Are the songs you’re modeling – or your all time favorites or singles on the charts right now – or your own biggest, top earning songs have the following:
The “Firemaker” Hit Song Blueprint
- A Locked in Melodic Rhythm that is repeated (often one per section) – this is the DNA of hits. The God PARTICLE! This is how new neurons are formed in your brain. I’m not making this up! A “Firemaker” Melodic Rhythm + Repetition. I have scientific proof coming in the next post… I’ll give it to you! If you weren’t doing this in your songwriting – you should start ASAP and STOP FIGHTING BIOLOGY! Full article on this here: https://www.benjamingroff.com/blog/hit-songwriting-secret-melodic-rhythm
- A “Producers Hook” – (apparently that’s what Stargate calls it). Personally, I call it a “2nd Melody” or simply a “riff!” All your favorite songs and the biggest hits on the charts – have this! WHY WOULD YOU NOT HAVE THIS IN YOUR SONGS?! Unless you want to do it your way because – you know, you’re the best and already have too many ASCAP Awards to count. Or maybe you didn’t have the courage to bring up this concept to your producer / co-writer who “doesn’t get it.” LISTEN UP – the sooner you get #1 and #2 here – the sooner we get your house in the hills and as / more importantly – stop being frustrated and become your future hitmaker now. Full article on this here: https://www.benjamingroff.com/blog/2nd-melodies-aka-the-riff
- A Unique Concept or Song Title that Evokes an Emotion. Note – that emotion is not limited to “love” or “heartbreak” by any means – it can and should encompass things like “let’s get on the dance floor,” “revolution / teen angst,” “let’s get it on in a new freaky way,” freedom, revenge, etc! Full article on this here: https://www.benjamingroff.com/blog/the-secret-equation-of-hit-songwriting-pt-1-unique-concepts
- I’ve said it before – but UPTEMPO. We NEED HELLA ENERGY FROM YOU!!! So, we can power through our day no matter where we are and what time it is! Uptempo = Energy = Life!
Now, for every 9 people, there’s also 1 person who is like – “thanks bro, but I got this – Imma gonna do my thing. Because…hit song a,b,c and artist x,y,z didn’t do any of your lame suggestions and they had tremendous success. I’m just gonna do what I feel.” In fact, someone just wrote that to me the other day.
And you know what – first … I literally just gave you the promised land. I just opened the door to your million dollar house in the hills. But, you’d be surprised how many people – still like walking right into walls. I know you know better.
Second – you are indeed, probably right. There are always exceptions to the best examples.
But do you want to bet in Vegas with a 90% advantage in your favor and bet on what is consistently paying out?! Imagine you could find that roulette table! (And trust me, I’ve looked).
Or you can do it your way, which is, in my opinion, likely the long road of perpetual grind. Again, you know best here. Oops, I said it.
Personally, I’d rather work with those who are the students (who become the masters), the leaders, the provocateurs, the renegades and ultimately the hit makers who know what works and acknowledge and study the greats who have come before them. Because eventually, maybe someone will start modeling…YOU!
So – here’s my question.
When are you getting started on this mission?
When are you getting off the bleachers and on the playing field?
When are you going to stop playing small?
When are you knocking someone out of that Top 20 writer / producer “A&R BFF” list?
What’s it going to take – and how long is it going to take for you to stop being frustrated?
It’s likely that if you’re reading this – I’m writing this specifically for you. And I’m deadly serious. Because this is / can be life and death. Why?
The life you want to live and which you were destined for.
Make the moves you need to make RIGHT NOW so we can get on the fast track.
The FIREMAKER – Your Job as a Professional Songwriter
Writing a Billion Streaming Song
This is the world and sandbox we AND THE WORLD want and need right…Hits and Billion Streaming Songs!!
That’s cool, right?!
This is the life we want and that WE DESERVE AND ARE WORTHY OF.
So, what are you waiting for?!
Are you worthy of this?! Or are you addicted to your past?
Do you like being frustrated?
Let’s start getting addicted to our amazing hit making future – right now.
One last thing – if someone emailed you this article – and you’re writing with them later today or tomorrow – it’s because they do NOT want you to fuck up their future. They want to enroll you here on this mission. It’s vital that your collaborators are on the SAME PAGE here! Otherwise it will be a tug of war – one side tired of being frustrated of not having hits – and the other side addicted to it. (You think I’m making that up – but that’s really what’s going on within a subconscious level).
LET’S GET IT…and together we can prove to the world correctly that what I’m saying is TRUE … and that the Pitch Game is INDEED alive and well and you’ll make hit after hit after hit – time and time again.
BECAUSE YOU ARE WRITING THE HITS THAT EVERYONE WANTS.
IT’S NORMAL FOR YOU TO HAVE A HIT ON THE CHARTS!
YOU ARE THE FIREMAKER.
YOU ARE THE HITMAKER.
YOU ARE THE GAME CHANGER.
SEE YOU AT THE ASCAP / BMI AWARDS.