How to successfully differentiate your songs

Writing at the edge of the table

When you are writing for an artist’s new project, it can be tricky to decide between writing something familiar and something new. If you are serious about making the cut you will certainly have listened to their last two or three projects, Googled their musical preferences, what’s going on in their lives, and maybe even have gotten a feel for where they want to take their music next. But, after all of your research, how do you decide whether to make your new song just like their last single or just like the last 2 or 3 similar artists that reached the #1 spot? In this post, I share an important lesson I learned a long, long time ago that I still use today.

Sleek Bamboo Table Edge on Black

20 odd years ago I took my first bold step on my journey as a songwriter: I booked to attend a songwriting seminar in Dallas TX run by GMA (the Gospel Music Association). It was a big step for me since:

  1. I was living in London at the time so it was pretty expensive to get there
  2. I had never been to a GMA event before, and
  3. I didn’t know anyone that would be there. Not even a faculty member. Apart from Charlie Peacock.

Even at that time, the music business was very competitive and for songwriters, it was still a matter of working your craft, technology, and (importantly) relationships to get a song cut on an artist’s project. There was a lot of discussion about this, how to compete across every area of what I would call now the songwriter’s ‘value chain’ from idea to royalty statement.

Of all the seminars I went to one piece of golden advice stood out:

Be aware of where your songs sit on the table

What does this mean? As songwriters, we are faced with an infinite set of decisions when it comes to crafting our songs. When writing for a particular artist, most songwriters are likely to go through a similar process to try to anticipate what kind of song the artist would be most likely to cut, regarding:

  • Genre
  • Subject matter
  • Language
  • Tempo
  • Musical hooks
  • Vibe
  • Groove
  • And more

If most writers go through a similar process, then the songs written are likely to end up being similar also. This is where the metaphor of the table comes into play: If you were to plot these songs on a round table, they would mostly sit in one group around the center of the table. Now the problem of writing a song like this is that, while it might be an amazing song, it will be up against a vast number of competing amazing songs.

So, to help your chances of getting your song cut, the golden advice is to make your song ‘edge of table’. That means taking it some way from where everyone else is writing, but not so far away that it falls off the edge i.e. is so differentiated that it becomes too much of a risk for the artist to think about cutting (i.e. it falls off the edge of the table onto the floor).

This has been helpful advice for me over the years because, frankly, anything that increases the chances of getting a cut – whether from 70% to 80% or even from 10% to 11% – has surely got to be a good thing in fulfilling our calling as songwriters.

Happy “edge of table” writing!

Simon.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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