In today’s music industry, you have to shout louder to be heard above the noise.
Once upon a time, music production was so expensive that it was common practice for songwriters and artists to cobble together basic sounding demos via any means they could, and send cassette tapes of these to record companies and publishers in the hope that some enterprising A&R would spot their talent and call them in to record the song in a professional facility.
In some ways, this was a great deal for the artists – low risk, with a huge potential upside. However, as we all know now from countless major label horror stories, it wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be. Because the label was fronting all the cash for this, they retained total control of the music – failing to meet the label’s standards meant losing your funding / contract, your shot at the big time, and potentially being liable for any money spent on you so far!
And you still ended up paying for the recording session in the long run – the cost of producing your record in a multi-million dollar facility would be reclaimed from your royalties by the shrewd labels before a penny was paid out to you, the artist.
Fortunately, the advent of cheap recording technology and the boom of the home recording industry has wrested control away from the major labels and put it squarely back in the hands of the artists. Now, you can record your Javanese nose flute and sitar album just the way you always wanted, without those pesky suits telling you it won’t sell and threatening to pull your funding!
But is it all upside, the home recording revolution?
Well, not exactly. The problem that unsigned artists and songwriters now face is that every man, woman and their cat is writing and releasing music, and bombarding labels and publishers with it.
Ironically, the main problem you face as a songwriter isn’t bad music. That’s not to say there isn’t any out there, there is. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it…
A much bigger problem for songwriters is the vast quantity of mediocre, just-about-good-enough music that is readily available.
Let’s look at things from the A&R’s point of view.
She arrives in the office on Monday morning. Over the weekend, 100 songwriters have recorded songs and sent them in hoping for a break. These songs can quickly be classed as follows:
- Song quality:
- Production quality:
The A&R is ideally looking for songs with good songwriting AND good production, but remembering her early days as a struggling musician herself, is willing to keep an open mind and try to give a young songwriter a break.
For the first 20 songs or so, she struggles to find anything in the top category. Eventually her ears start to tune out and soon, anything that’s not well produced will hit the bin instantly, as it requires more effort to hear through the poor production to the song underneath.
Out of 100 tracks or so, maybe 2-5% will tick both boxes. That ain’t a great hit rate, and requires a lot of listening to find those gems.
Well produced songs will always get more of a look in, because at least the songwriter has gone to the effort of making their music sound polished and professional. And, in truth, many TV and ad placements will be looking for instrumentals anyway, so if the underlying production is solid, there may be some value in signing a well produced, bad song.
But surely I can still get picked up with a good song and bad production – a great A&R will hear through that?
Maybe – but think about it. Even a great song that’s badly produced is still something that needs work. If you have a well produced, not-great-but-passable song, then from the A&R’s point of view she still has usable piece of music on her hands that requires no additional work from her point of view:
For an A&R, pushing you to get your song production up to scratch will require them to invest their time and effort, so you will need to have something truly exceptional for them to want to go the extra mile, rather than just settle for the “ok” song which will still work for them, with much less effort involved.
So, what – I gotta learn to produce my own records now?
That’s one way to go – there are plenty of videos and tutorials on this very website that can help you up your game if you want to go it alone. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and get plenty more tips and tricks straight into your inbox!
However, if you’d rather let an experienced producer with dozens of releases and music library placements help you get your songs in the best shape possible, feel free to drop me a line via the Services page and we can talk about your music in more detail.