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If you're a songwriter, here are some helpful tips to consider.
“May you live in interesting times” is an old Chinese curse. As a songwriter, every day is an “interesting time” for us. As an effort to demystify what may be coming our way in the future, the best place to start is what just happened in the past. Paying the bills doing what we love doing is not only essential to us and our families financially, but we need the approval and validation that on a creative level having a hit brings.
Bearing in mind that this is the music “business,” lets take a look at what held the listener for the amount of time necessary for radio to “move those microwave ovens.” In other words, connect the jingles so that the pockets of songwriters and publishers could jingle.
2008 was twelve months of amazing change on a lot of levels. As I hadn’t done a “what happened at number one” in country since 2004, I thought that 2008 would be a good window to look at the “new” business of what holds women from the burger commercial to the car jingle. Basically, how creators do their best to help our radio friends keep their listeners and make a living at drive time.
Writers follow their heart and write what they write, but when it comes to pitch time we have to think like horse breeders. We have to be smart about which of our ‘ponies’ are capable of functioning in the situation we place them. Some will be brilliant at harness racing, some have personalities that make them great for children to ride, some will be perfect at pulling carriages, and a few, very few, will be entered in the Kentucky Derby.
Even fewer will win!
Well, some songs work at drive time, most don’t!
As all of you who have read the “Murphy’s Law” articles have heard me say before, more people are struck by lighting each year than have a number one record on the Billboard chart. So now lets get started.
We have seen the number of #1’s on the billboard country chart in the last few years (24 in ’06 to 25 in ’07) so one of the more unusual things about the year 2008 was the number of number one’s. Although there were 26 chart toppers in 2008, up at 25% from 2004. The number of writers participating in the rush of writing a number one song grew at a much smaller percent. For instance, back in 2004 there were 46 writers that had 21 #1’s.
In ’08, there were 49 sharing 26.
The race to number one really accelerated.
Setting the record in 2008 was “Love Story” – (Swift) screaming up the charts in just nine weeks. Only seven of the twenty-six number ones took twenty weeks or more to get to number one. And only one, James Otto’s “Just Got Started Loving You” – (Otto/Femino/Williams) enjoyed more time [thirty four weeks total] in the sun, with the other six garnering significantly less time on the charts.
Looking back a year to ‘07 we see “If You’re Going Through Hell” – (Berg/Tate/Wright) with 43 weeks on the charts and “Before He Cheats” – (Tompkins/Kear) with 46 weeks on the charts. What a difference a year makes.
Another unusual feature of ‘08 number ones is that 50% of them were written or co-written by the artist. Yes, 13 of these hits had the artist involved, and six of the 13 were written by the artist alone.
Leading that pack of lone writers was Taylor Swift with three, “Love Story,” “Should’ve Said No,” and “Our Song.” Next, with two solo writes is Alan Jackson with “Good Time” and “Small Town Southern Man.” Brad Paisley really did write a letter to himself, “Letter To Me” by himself, but as an artist invited his pals to join him at the top with “I’m Just A Guy” – (Paisley/Miller/Lovelace) and “Waitin’ On A Woman” – (Sampson/Varble). Of the three number ones Carrie Underwood enjoyed, the only one she was not a co-writer on was “Just A Dream” – (McEwan/Lindsey/Sampson). On the other two, “All-American Girl” – (Gorley/Lovelace/Underwood) and “Last Name” – (Lindsey/Laird/Underwood), she helped row the boat. The other artist/writers, James Otto “Just Got Started Loving You” – (Otto/Femino/Williams), Sugar Land “All I Want To Do” – (Nettles/Bush/Pinson), Darius Rucker Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” – (Rucker/Mills), and Zac Brown Band “Chicken Fried” – (Brown/Durrette). So with 50% of the ‘08 number ones written by the artists, more songs achieving number one status, songs spending less time on the charts and sales plummeting 24% from ‘07 “may you live in interesting times’ takes on a new meaning for the non-performing, or stand alone writer and the publisher working in the market.
Well, there was only one waltz, “I’m Still A Guy” – (Paisley/Miller/Lovelace). All the rest were 4/4 time signature.
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