There’s a tempo they want. A sound quality they want. There are subjects they won’t air. The music industry (like any other successful industry) is about formulas and rules.
Follow them, and you will succeed in it as a songwriter and, for better or worse, likely remain a part of it for life. Incidentally, the formula looks like this:
This Brightness plus that Tempo plus this Timing and that Song Duration
multiplied by LOUDNESS (imperative for chart-topping success this century),
divided by such-and-such Chord Structure plus Harmonic Complexity = Chart Hit
If that’s the business you’re in, you keep doing this, because it brings you rewards. The tradeoff is that you end up with a body of contemporary hits that are cookie-cutter and calculated. Not anything meant to last.
If you’d made the choice not to follow the rules, then you have freedom to make something that could last. Like, living room music.
Before it was an industry, before Nashville, before Honky Tonk, before Rockabilly, country music truly was living room music. It had this timeless, front-porch quality to it. Much of it very dark and brooding, and depressing and tragic. And beautiful.
I aim with most every song I write to absorb some of that and evoke the past time, but at the same time make something new. Hopefully, something special and very cool to enough people.
This lofty height can only be reached from a place of autonomy. Without record companies, or radio dials, or A&R executives in the middle.
I have never made up a song with an ear or an eye for the marketplace. “Will it touch someone, and will it last?” is always what I’m up against.
I know how to make up that other kind of music. I choose not to. I choose to make quirky, alt-country songs I believe in, instead.
When a song is a hit and makes the artist famous, popular culture declares the song is great art. But of course, popular is not a measure of art. There are many things you can do to get everyone to hear and download your music that have nothing to do with whether it’s great art, just as there are many ways to sell a novel or increase your blog readership.
Do what you believe, not what’s going to make you popular.
OK, break time’s over. Back to my plain but very wonderful little studio up the stairs.