It all boils down to what type of songs are selling records right now. The trends in today’s market are country rock, country pop, and very little good ole country music. Publishers want songs that appeal to all demographics and will take these things into account when looking for an artist to sign. For that reason, they mostly look for 3 different types of songs: upbeat, mid-tempo, ballads, and any combinations of those.
But what types of songs should you stay away from? If you listen to the top 10 country playlist, how many duets do you hear? It’s best to stay away from duets and instead focus on songs that seem logical. You’ll also want to stay away from writing songs with syncopated rhythms. If you’re looking to get a cut at a publishing company, then try not to make them think about counting any rhythms or time signatures. Syncopated rhythms are okay if you’re a jazz artist, but not for the country market.
While up-tempo and upbeat tunes are great, there is one type of song that works very well on radio airplay charts. Therefore, artists like Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and the late and great Merle Haggard (to name a few) have focused on writing ballads; and have brought them great success in selling records.
So as you can see, ballads have a better chance of making it on radio play charts than any up-tempo tune would.
With all this in mind, if you’re interested in getting cuts at major labels, focus more on ballads, mid-tempo, or upbeat songs. Alternating between the styles could also make you more competitive than other writers who might just concentrate on only having one style or form of songwriting.
Upbeat songs should also have a catchy melody and memorable hooks but be careful about how much production is on them because up-tempo songs don’t need a lot of trappings to make them sound good even though they can be produced with all the bells and whistles that technology now offers.
Listen to the top 20 songs and learn how the song is structured, the phrasing, the rhyme scheme, the length of the song; from the intro to the fading ending chord.
Keep in mind that what sold records ten years ago might not be selling now at all. So always listen to the radio airplay charts and try to figure out why a song is moving up the chart and what type of songs are getting cuts right now.
Now let’s talk about mid-tempo material because this has been selling records for some years now and still is, like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah”. Most songwriters are writing mid-tempos because they know that these songs have the potential to get recorded.
As mentioned above, most up-and-coming mid-tempo material is produced with a lot of production and features big vocal choruses. The music has to sound interesting, full, and rich because you don’t want the listener to tune out during your song. Also, the melody should be strong enough that it’s not lost in all this production, so make sure there are no unusual time signatures or syncopated rhythms.
Stick with four-chord progressions and simple lyrics so they can get down to business when they record it. You want your lyrics to be catchy but also easy enough for people to sing along if that becomes a single; you don’t want something too complicated that people get lost in, so keep the message simple. Also, make sure your lyrics fit within your sixteen lines (or fewer), otherwise, people can lose interest if it’s too long.
Now let’s move on to ballads. Ballads are hard to write because the melody has to be strong enough so people can remember it, the chord changes have to be subtle, and the lyrics have to be from the heart.
If you listen to a Tim McGraw song like “I Like It, I Love It”, you’ll see that the melody is strong, the chord changes are subtle, and the lyrics come from the heart. This is what you want to aim for when writing a ballad.
For a ballad to be successful, it has to be about something real; it can’t be a love song that’s just surface deep. You want the listener to feel what you’re saying and connect with the lyrics.
When writing a ballad, think about what has happened in your life that was tough to get through. Write about that experience and how it made you feel, if that experience connects to others on a deep level then you’re on to something.
Lastly, make sure the melody is memorable by using repetition, if people can hum your melody or whistle it a day or two after hearing it, then you know you’ve got a good one.
In conclusion, Nashville is looking for any song that sounds different from what’s already out that doesn’t sound like the same old tune over and over. They want something fresh but easy to sing along with, something that will make listeners say “Wow! This makes me want to dance!” or “Wow! This makes me want to cry!” and the only way you can accomplish that is by writing songs everybody can relate to.
Try to stay within a four-chord progression because up-tempo dance tunes don’t need such distractions during their choruses, but most importantly, write songs everyone enjoys listening to.
Thanks for reading this article. I hope it helped you understand what Nashville is looking for in today’s market.
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