Contributed by Janet Fischer of Good Night Kiss Music.
Are your lyrics too repetitive? Do the same words (or phrases or ideas) repeat in the chorus that are already in your verses? If so, replace them with more storyline or more aspects of the situation.
Are your lyrics really special? Get rid of fluff and tired rhymes. (How many times can we hear about the rain??) Think of wonderful songs like “Wind Beneath My Wings” or “The Gambler.” Paint unique but acceptable pictures, and remember a song must be more than just a “list” of pictures or feelings.
I am a stickler for true rhymes, and I am here to swear it is part of being a great songwriter. That doesn’t mean all hit songs have true rhymes. But if you want to explore and experience the most professional and artistic aspects of songwriting, you will seek true rhymes. (No, not at the cost of the feeling of the song. But that’s rarer than most think.) The words are almost always there. You just haven’t looked for them.
Lots of people write good songs that are not competitive with what is being played on National Radio today. (National and Internationsl Radio/TV Airplay and Record Sales are how most writers make their income.) We want to be competitive. Remember, your competition is NOT the bad songs and artists you hear. YOUR COMPETITION IS THE BEST OF WHAT IS BEING AIRED.
Make sure your song is targetable. By that, I mean that there are artists with major record deals at this moment who do not write their own material. Those are the ones Publishers seek. Be sure you are acquainted with the artist’s image (and their material) of whom you wish to pitch your song. The worst thing you can do is pitch someone a song totally wrong for them. Consider not only the musical sound and style, but lyric stance and artist image. Be sure the artist doesn’t write their own material. Suggest appropriate artists to your publisher when you present your song.
You think of a target like Whitney Houston or Celine Dion (either could sing the phone book and it would sound like a hit… but they don’t.) Mostly, the question is, WOULD they sing that song? The other aspect of trying to pitch MEGA stars, is they are (and have been) being pitched by writers with much better track records than you (no offense), so your percentages are very low. If you can find an emerging act on a major label, you have a better chance of placement.
A GREAT song is a GREAT song, regardless of whether its style happens to be in vogue or not. On rare occasions, I have signed GREAT songs, all the while telling the writer(s) that we would probably never get a cut on it, but I was honored to work with it. (We almost never got cuts on them.) If you have one of these, celebrate it. Know in your heart what you have done, thank God for your talent, enjoy it, demo it up for posterity (if you can), and maybe the day will come around for its use. If not, it’s still a GREAT song.
Make sure that your song is likeable melodically! It’s easy (especially in country or ballads) to fall prey to a pedantic and unimaginative melody or chord structure. Changes need to be fresh, but comfortable. Lead melody lines (and therefore lyric lines of verses) need to be as consistent as possible in structure, but should have some surprises for us. Sometimes writing a melody without the confines of your instrument helps, or if you are not an experienced or trained musician, find a collaborator who is. Your competition has studied everywhere and worked all venues.
Review your songs (HONESTLY, dang it), before you spend money demoing them. Run them by other writers you respect or a meeting at your local songwriter organizations.