With the debut of the TV show “Songland” and the announcement that Billboard just introduced a Hot 100 Songwriters Chart, it feels like the world is changing for songwriters.
There’s also the recent legislation, the Music Modernization Act, that passed last year to streamline the music-licensing process to make it easier for rights holders to get paid when their music is streamed online. (Good news for producers, too, as the legislation included producers receiving royalties and Billboard introduced a Hot 100 Producers Chart at the same time as the Songwriters Chart.) However, it is still difficult for many songwriters to make a living from songwriting.
When shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” came out, I thought it was great that the shows provided a way for performers to be discovered, but never considered becoming a contestant on those shows. “I wish there was a show like that for songwriters,” I thought. And now there is! However, in the first three shows, all the songwriters featured so far have also been great singers and performers. So far there isn’t been anyone whose backstory included being a midlife songwriter who has written songs for many years and has performed extensively in their bedroom and sometimes their living room.
No, the contestants so far have included a former boy band singer, a backup singer, and a variety of other music-related backgrounds. Not one of them even seemed nervous at all, just extremely grateful at the opportunity they’ve been given.
It’s been so cool to watch. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the format: Four songwriters perform their original song in front of three very successful producers (Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean and Shane McAnally) and one guest musician. They receive some feedback (all in a very kind way with no mean-spirited comments at the expense of anyone, which I think is such a relief in today’s society). Then the musician picks three of the four to continue work on their song with the three producers. There’s no “You’re fired!” or any dramatic suspenseful music, it’s all done very respectfully.
Then the songwriter works one-on-one with their assigned producer and, with some input from the musician, they develop the song to pitch to the artist. Along the way, the viewer learns some great songwriting tips.
For instance, if you’re writing for a certain singer, you need to write in the key that works best for their vocal range and the content needs to be something that they’d sing. For example, one of the songwriters on the episode with Kelsea Ballerini (who I first learned about after seeing her perform “Miss Me More” at the CMA Awards and I was instant fan) had a song that was very personal to the writer and it would be difficult to translate that content to a different singer.
At the end, the musician picks one of the songs to record it and the show concludes with the musician performing the song of the winning contestant.
So far, the guest musicians – which also included John Legend and will.i.am – have been so supportive and kind to the songwriters. One fun surprise was that will.i.am offered to help the fourth songwriter record his song (the reason he didn’t pick him was that because his powerful song was from a younger person’s view and will.i.am felt like the songwriter should sing it himself.)Then he surprised the other three songwriters by saying that he was going to record the song he chose, but he would also record the songs from the other two contestants for the next Black Eyed Peas album. How cool is that?
Never did I ever look over the eligibility requirements for “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” or “The Voice,” but I admit that I did check out the “Songland” page. I don’t think I’m quite ready for primetime yet, but maybe if I venture out of my bedroom and living room to get over the performance anxiety that I’ve faced in the past, then that might be a possibility.