An Aspiring Songwriter’s 2nd Job

Rand_color_shotPart Two of a Two-part series

By Rand Bishop

At the risk of appearing arrogant, pedantic, professorial, or even coldy academic, I have distilled the work required to become a successful professional songwriter into three general job descriptions: [private_freebie]

  1. Learn Craft
  2. Make Friends
  3. Produce great demos

In my own experience — more than four decades in the trenches — some years have been incredible. Quite a few, however, have been less than spectacular. Now, as I look back, it seems obvious why I’ve had my winning streaks and why the lightening struck when it did. Although the exact details differ, my own rollercoaster career bears distinct similarities to the journeys of pro songwriters since Stephen Foster invented the profession in the middle of the 19th century. And no, despite what you may be thinking, I was not around to personally witness Mr. Foster as he collected the first pennies ever made for the sale of a copy of sheet music. I may be long in the tooth, but at least I still have my own chompers. And, I do have a number of friends, who have enjoyed considerable compensation, as well as industry and public acclaim for having penned some of the most lasting classics in pop music history. For the most part, their stories are strikingly similar to mine.

Here’s what I’m grasping at: To be a pro, one first has to hone his or her craft. This part of the job is a never-ending process, and one that I discussed in some detail in my last blog in this publication. I’ve also written two books on the subject. So, if you wanna go in depth into the really nitty gritty, I encourage you to invest in those labors of love and read ’em. Not to boast, but numerous writers (both pros and developing writers) have given testimony to how my books have helped increase their awareness and/or accelerated their progress.

This month, we come to job # 2: “Make Friends.” Here’s the cold, hard truth, or as Jack Webb’s character on Dragnet used to say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” You may be the greatest tunesmith in the history of tunesmithing. You might write a “smash” every single day for 30 years, but there is no guarantee that your labor will ever earn you a dime. So, my goal is to help you do the basic, essential stuff that will give your original compositions their best chance of achieving success in the marketplace. Great songs don’t record themselves, and great songs rarely get cut just because someone of influence heard them and loved them. Great songs invariably find their way into the public consciousness because someone involved in a project has a reason to prefer those particular compositions over every other song submitted. More often than not, assuming that it’s great, a song ultimately achieves its due because of one reason, and one reason only: A RELATIONSHIP. Out of my more than 250 cuts, my compositions recorded and released over the years, on vinyl, cassette, CD, in feature films, on television, performed on theater and concert stages, only a mere handful found their place through pitches. So, from that, I conclude that it’s hardly ever about “getting your songs heard,” it’s about getting your songs heard by someone who cares — not just about your song, but about you. That’s why making friends is equally, if not more, important than learning your craft.

The most important friendships are those you cultivate in your “peer network.” In that regard, as I quote my good pal Tim James in my latest bookThe Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success (Alfred Publishing, 2010), “If you’re starting this business fresh, I don’t think you can set out and say, ‘I’m gonna make friends with So-and-So.’ You might as well find a group of people (who) are at your level and your age and everybody kinda works together. And then, you hope and pray that in ten years, if you’re still around, that one of your boys has made it, or that you’ve made it.”

On that same wavelength, Mark D. Sanders (look him up, if you’re not familiar with this contemporary Nashville legend) once explained his mid-90s breakout success in these terms: “My friends are now in a position to say ‘yes.’” The people you hang with, write with, do shows with: those are the characters who make up your peer network. If you’re smart (and a little bit lucky), some in your posse will become the hit songwriters, the successful artists, the producers, the managers, and even the top record execs of the near future. Hooking up with a complimentary team of aspiring pros is where you begin creating the relationships that will ultimately lead to your success. As you meet and begin to collaborate, you know people they don’t know, and visa versa. Exposing your collaborative work to a pal’s fan-base and industry connections automatically increases your network (and therefore your chances of success) logo-rhythmically. Assuming that you’re collaborating with people who’ve won your respect and admiration, you can feel free to share your connections with one another unselfishly and root for each other’s success. In that way, you will ultimately share your success.

This is exactly where an organization like Indie Connect comes in, and what Vinny Ribas’ amazing vision is all about. At any Indie Connect Networking event, the first question one answers (after a personal introduction) is: “What am I looking for today?” Is it a producer, a co-writer, musicians to join your back-up band? As everyone there is presumably dedicated to helping each other, if you go to these meetings with an honest heart and a clear request, you will never regret it. You will invariably find allies in your quest. This is how peer networks take root.

Establishing and cultivating industry relationships is a somewhat trickier proposition, one that requires an adherence to an unspoken code of ethics. There are times when it is appropriate to mention your career aspirations and there are times when you should just keep your mouth shut and your business cards and CDs in your pocket. Gherming is ALWAYS taboo. Pushing a business card or a CD into a professional’s hand without their permission is not only uncool, it runs the risk of burning a bridge quickly. Always remember that, unless an industry pro is emotionally or financially invested in you, imposing your music on that person can be more counter-productive than productive. In this modern age, even sending an email or Facebook message to a new “friend,” saying: “Check out my new song at whatever URL,” can potentially be off-putting. To assume that anyone is already interested in you and your work runs the risk of offending that person. Unless you’ve established each individual’s receptivity to such requests, don’t do it. Be patient. Cultivate the relationship carefully. Don’t push it. After all, a guy would be foolish to grab a girl’s breast on the first date. Occasionally, it’s gonna work for him, but most times it will result in that desirable lady not only crossing the grabby fellow off her list — permanently — but warning her friends not to ever give him their number.

About Rand Bishop:

Rand Bishop began his show-biz career as a recording artist for a series of major labels. More than 40 years hence, as a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning, Million-play songwriter, Bishop now counts close to 250 diverse credits: from the Beach Boys to Toby Keith, Heart to Indigo Girls. Along the way, he rocked stages across North America, sang on countless sessions as a studio vocalist, produced dozens of records and film soundtracks, and spent years as a talent development executive and music publisher. If those accomplishments weren’t more than enough, Bishop is an author, award-winning screenwriter, produced playwright, esteemed songwriting coach, and an in-demand speaker. At the end of the day, Bishop refers to himself simply as “a writer.”[/private_freebie]

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.