Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Evolving Role of the Professional Songwriter in America Today

In an era where the visual appeal of the performing artist has become the focus of a song’s success, there is an increasing demand for the services of those of us who specialize in the craft of songwriting to introduce new compositions to those with vocal talent and a flair for entertaining live audiences. Mainstream major label artists are no longer the only vehicles for professional songwriter’s compositions. With the advent of the Web, we now have new electronic distribution means that open up the possibilities.

As with any industry, the music business is full of specialists and has few generalists. A single person isn’t blessed with the combination of gifts to be great at everything, and despite hard work, simply does not have the time to achieve mastery of all aspects. Chuck Berry had a unique combination of natural abilities and developed skills that allowed him to not only pioneer a new genre of music, but also a new level of participation in the industry by simultaneously wearing the hats of a songwriter, singer, musician, live performer and recording artist.

From the folk-rockers of the sixties, to the singer-songwriters of the seventies, to the video artists of the eighties, to the indie artists of the nineties, to the do-it-yourself online artists since the turn of the century, we’ve seen glimpses of a few successful individuals who could do many things well, provided they had a team of assitants picking up the slack in areas where they either didn’t have an interest or didn’t excel.

This didn’t signal the end of the professional songwriter, however. From MTV to YouTube, music video’s influence has spilled over into contemporary film music. In addition to symphonic instrumental film scores, today’s movies now intermittently feature pop and rock songs as well, with soundtrack compilations sold separately.

Individual songs either written specifically for the context of a film, or retroactively selected because of their unique ability to complement a script, allow professional songwriters more opportunities than ever before.

The recent advances in recording technology, including both the decrease in size and affordability of equipment involved, has made it easy for songwriters to work alone and from their homes to produce quality demonstration recordings. The internet, with it’s e-mail and audio transmission capabilities, make it easier than ever for the marketing and pitching of songs to their would-be vehicles mentioned herein. Despite the increased competition, it still takes some drive and perserverance beyond creating the demos.

From Leibler & Stoller to Brian Wilson to Carole King to Diane Warren, today’s professional songwriter still has the same qualities of their predecessors: a tendency to be introverted and shy from the spotlight; a tendency to enjoy the creative process more than the selling of the creation; a tendency to prefer to writing more than performing; and a tendency to have talents and skills more suited to writing than performing.

As an amateur songwriting hobbyist who is contemplating taking action to increase my chances of being able to call myself a professional, I’m faced with stepping outside of my comfort zone of favoring the woodshed/mad scientist side of the craft and taking my arsenal of exisiting songs and polished writing abilities into the uncharted territory of marketing and pitching. Stretching ourselves is what makes us feel most alive and stay young, but talking about it and actually making it happen are different things.

A logical place to start is to enter a songwriting contest or two. Many ask for electronic press kits that include gig schedules, and some offer as awards to winners the opportunity to play at live shows – both prompting me to curb the enthusiasm about the prospects. Past winners all have their own Web sites, CDs, and even merchandise available for sale online, in addition to having beefed-up performances schedules as a result.

Winning would mean a venture into self-marketing, vanity, and actually memorizing my own songs in preparation for the live performing. Could it be the kick in the ass I need to foray into the world of the travelling singer-songwriter, or the way more appealing need to move to one of the big music hubs like Nashville to start working my way into the whole open mic writer’s night scene, and also as all industry insiders advise as being the most important thing of all -the dreaded Networking thing? Time will tell, and when it does, I’ll be chiming in this blog to keep you informed on the progress.