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Taking The Next Step: Moving your songs from the livingroom to the world
By Andrea Stolpe - 12/08/2007 - 06:27 PM EST

Making a career in the music industry can appear deceptively straightforward.  A common misconception is that once you write a great song, it just magically finds its way onto the radio airwaves.  But getting our songs heard by people with the ability to catapult our careers forward is more often a result of patience and persistence rather than sheer talent.  No two success stories are alike, and that makes wading through the forest of options to pursue our dreams even more confusing.

For the singer/songwriter, playing our songs at live music venues can be our first step in getting our songs out there.  Playing out is a valuable experience for any songwriter, whether we view ourselves as an artist or not.  We get to see first-hand how our songs are received by the audience.  After a while, we learn which songs are our strongest, which are our weakest, and why.  Observing the audience can teach us who our target market is.  Do we consistently draw a younger crowd, and does our music appeal to males more than females?  From whom do we receive specific compliments and what feedback do we receive most?  These experiences afford us a view of the artistís reality.  If we write a song for another artist, we know the importance of that artistís audience understanding the song in the context of that artist.  A great song isnít great for everybody.  The audience has to believe it is true and relevant to the one singing.  Sometimes as writers we forget about that powerful truth, mired in our own expression and excitement about the song.

I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to decide what kind of songs I wrote and for whom I was writing.  Now, I know that my best songs are those I would also sing myself.  When my message is believable to me, it is valuable to my audience.  Thatís all I need to accomplish as the songwriter Ė to make a connection with the audience that is based on a shared truth. 

As I gained experience in my craft, I was also working to understand the industry and where I might fit into the maze of opportunities.  For me, a publishing deal was a natural choice.  I was interested in writing songs primarily for other artists, and what I needed was a team of believers to get those songs through the iron gates that separated me from Celine Dion.  For writers interested in signing with a publishing company, there are several steps you can take now to start working in that direction.  Networking with other writers and industry professionals is critical in getting your songs heard.  Whether youíre simply going to shows or playing them, get to know the engineer running the live sound that night, the other musicians booked that evening, and the fans who show up to support those other writers and artists.  When you observe a writer whose music you enjoy, introduce yourself.  Ask where and when you can hear his/her music again, and share that you yourself are a writer and interested in working in the industry.  Be genuine, and aim to support the careers of those around you.  Your support will not go unnoticed, and will help to open doors for you and your own music in years to come.

One of my first co-writing situations resulted from a show I attended at the Bluebird Cafť in Nashville.  I often went there in the evenings to familiarize myself with the local talent, and learn the writing styles that made Nashville the premiere songwriting mecca of the world.  I heard a writer whose music I enjoyed and talked with him afterwards.  I asked him when and where I could hear his music again, and made sure to attend his next show.  I also made sure to let him know that I was also a songwriter and interested in making contacts.  Eventually, I asked if I might give him a tape (yes, a cassette tape back then) with some of my songs.  He listened, and liked my material, and when I followed up by email a few days later, he mentioned that we should find some time to co-write.  The more I co-wrote, the more immersed in the community I became.  Gradually I got to know the publishers of my co-writers.  That led to the first publishing deal I signed with EMI Music Publishing.

Getting our songs heard has followed a narrow method in the past, one that revolved around major labels and publishers.  The lines today are blurred, and artists and writers have more chances than ever before to expose our voices to the world.  With internet marketing tools, we can post our music for the perusal of music lovers world-wide.  We can even market our songs to particular groups, getting involved in communities serving a purpose outside of the music industry.  With so many options, it's difficult to know where to start.  I suggest starting by defining what it is you do.  Move beyond describing your style of music as pop, rock, alternative, reggae, jazz, blues, jungle, world, singer/songwriter, etc.  What are you trying to accomplish or convey with your music?  Write a few pages about that, perhaps beginning with the sentence, "When people listen to my music, I hope that they ___________."  Now take a look at your songs individually.  Write a paragraph describing what the song is about.  Look at your paragraph descriptions and ask yourself if a common theme is emerging.  Does it match your initial intentions about what you want to convey to the listener?  If not, then revise your statement to what you're actually conveying through your songs.

Take a few days to think about what kinds of venues, communities, individuals, businesses, chat rooms, support groups, products, or services also convey the same message.  Make a list.  Start thinking about how your music might be useful and productive in these areas.  The internet is an excellent tool for creating and researching opportunities.  Take advantage of this tool, and begin to think outside the record deal/publishing deal box.

Let me give you an example of how creative marketing can open doors you never expected were there.  A friend of mine in Minnesota lost her husband suddenly, and after several months, slowly began to feel the desire to write again.  Looking for a way to begin, she recalled many wonderful memories of her husband and their years together.  He was very involved in their local food shelf organization, and so as we talked about that while, the idea came to write a song to benefit the organization.  Not only could she work with the organization to use the song on their website and as part of their mailings, but sell CD's and digital downloads with part of the proceeds going back to the cause.  Besides benefiting the organization and the opportunity to give to the cause her late husband felt so strongly about, she was able to create some awareness for herself.  That is the goal for you as a growing songwriter and artist - let the public know you're there.  When we become an active participant in the lives of those in our communities and cities, only then will the money follow.  Many of us approach our careers the opposite way, considering all the ways we can convince the public to purchase our music.  Music is not a commodity, but an experience.  When we create an experience for people our music becomes valuable to them. 

Good luck and have fun excavating who your music is showing you to be, and what audiences you will be extremely effective in reaching.  For examples of some song descriptions, refer to my website http://www.andreastolpe.com.  Click on "music" and read each song description.  Click on the link "View Lyric" and read the song lyrics from which I gathered my paragraph description.  Hint: I also implement these descriptions into my live show as introductions to the songs before I perform them.


Andrea Stolpe

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