It was 1976. I was just a young child looking out of the window in the huge backseat of our Buick when I heard a song that put the essence of good songwriting into perspective for me. It was Barry Manillow’s “I Write The Songs.”The song was disgustingly catchy. Almost cheesy. As I grew up, this song just kind of haunted me everywhere I went. I’d hear it on the radio, television shows, movies, and karaoke bars. It was only after I got older and became a songwriter and subsequently started representing songwriters that I realized that the song was a “Classic.”
That was decades ago, and the song is still haunting me and making Barry Manilow a very rich man in the process.
If you are a novice or veteran songwriter and you’ve ever wondered how A&R people and publishers define, distinguish and categorize the songs you create, this article will provide you with insight into the industry thought process.
Filler: A song that is used to fill out the overall number of songs offered on a CD. Also known in industry circles as “throw-away tracks.” These songs are not considered strong enough (i.e. “good enough”) to be chosen as singles and often lack commercial value. No one aspires to write filler. Consider it a wake-up call when your songs are thought of in this way.
Good Song: Everyone aspires to write good songs. Some even take private lessons, classes, and collaborate as a means to that end. But what exactly are good songs. These are songs that have memorable elements such as good structure, good performance, good production, and mainly a good melody, but if they have weaknesses in any of the above areas – which they sometimes do – it prevents them from becoming great songs.
Great Song: These songs have the qualities that good songs have, but are especially strong in the areas in which good songs are weak. A great song has to be embraced by the masses; therefore, it can’t be a song that is only heard by you and your friends – unless you have thousands of friends who share the same opinion about it.
Hit Song: As a songwriter, you don’t make hit songs: heavy radio rotation makes a song a hit. If your song is not being played on the radio, it can still be a good song, in some cases a great song, but definitely not a hit. Most hits are characterized by a really catchy hook, high production values, mass market appeal that makes it fit into tight radio formats, and an emotional connection to its audiences. Please note: A song does not have to be a good or a great song to be a hit; however, when good and great songs find their way onto the airwaves, they tend to be embraced by the masses and qualify for Classic song status.
Classic Song: These are an elite group of great songs that have the potential to stand the test of time for decades. A random sampling of classic songs would be “Imagine” by John Lennon; “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon; “Always And Forever” by Heatwave; “My Girl” by The Temptations; “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston; “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by The Carpenters; and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones. All of them are playing right now on some radio station in your area.
Hopefully this gives you a solid reference by which to gage your work and the inspiration to write the songs that make the whole world sing.
Gian Fiero is a seasoned educator, speaker and consultant with a focus on business development and music/entertainment industry operations. He currently teaches at San Francisco State University where he conducts courses on Music Industry Career Planning and Publicity/Public Relations. His affiliations include National Association Of Record Industry Professionals (associate director); CLA (speaker); West Coast Songwriters (consultant); The Muse’s Muse (producer of the Muse’s Muse Awards); and SBA (business advisor).
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